Three men convicted of plotting to bomb synagogues in New York City and to shoot down military airplanes at an airport north of the city were each sentenced in New York Wednesday to 25 years in prison.
The three men were convicted last year on a number of charges related to the plot. A fourth convicted defendant is undergoing psychiatric testing and did not appear for sentencing.
Judge Colleen McMahon, who handed down the sentence, said that in this case the government did not infiltrate and foil an existing plot. In fact, she added, she had never heard anything like the facts of the case. A government informant had infiltrated a mosque in the town of Newburgh about an hour north of New York City. Working with federal agents, he supplied fake bombs and fake anti-aircraft missiles to the convicted defendants, who were arrested in May 2009 after they planted the fake bombs.
Defense lawyers argued in court before the sentencing that the government had in fact induced the defendants to commit a crime, selecting the targets and providing the weapons. The lawyers argued that what they called outrageous government conduct allowed the judge to sentence the three men for prison terms shorter than those mandated by law.
A prosecutor countered that the three convicted men had a choice and joined the operation on their own. He said they drove to the synagogues knowing people would die in what he said would have been a colossal terrorist attack.
James Cromitie, one of the convicted men, stood before the judge and said he has never been a terrorist and never will be a terrorist. Cromitie, who was recorded making anti-Semitic statements, said he knew he had said a lot of “stupid stuff.” Like the two other defendants, David Williams and Onta Williams - who are not related - he apologized for his actions.
Judge McMahon had the option of giving the men life sentences, but chose instead to sentence the men to the minimum 25 years required by law. Blaming their motives on hatred for Jews, she said all the evil in this world is due to bigotry and mindless hatred rooted in human beings’ ridiculous and unjustified suspicion of anyone we can categorize as the other on grounds of race or ethnicity or religion or nationality. What you attempted, she told the defendants, is beyond despicable. However, she also, pointed to what she called the unique and troubling circumstances of the government’s role in this case. Lawyers for the defendants said they will appeal the convictions.
“We’re glad that she recognized that it was extraordinary and rejected the government’s request for a life sentence and gave Mr. Cromitie the lowest possible sentence she could," said Kerry Lawrence, an attorney for Cromitie. "And we hope that ultimately the case will be reversed on appeal and maybe we will be back in front of her down the road. We think there are many, many legitimate issues and hopefully at least one of them will result in a new trial.”
The chief U.S. prosecutor in the New York area, Preet Bharara, said in a statement that, as reflected in the sentences imposed by Judge McMahon, these were extremely serious crimes that targeted New York and its citizens. Today’s sentences, he went on, ensure that the defendants will be punished for their actions.