The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Iraq Charity Director Sentenced to 22 Years for Nonviolent Crimes

by Brian Dominick

Nov. 3, 2005 – The Central New York physician who founded and ran an unregistered charity for Iraqis suffering under UN sanctions and the rule of Saddam Hussein was sentenced last week to 22 years for a series of white collar crimes including fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and violations of the US law enforcing the Iraq sanctions.

A jury convicted Dr. Rafil Dhafir on 59 counts of nonviolent crimes in a 17-week federal trial earlier this year. For those hearings, prosecutors successfully demanded that Dhafir’s defense team not be permitted to raise questions about the government’s motives for prosecuting Dhafir, a 58-year-old Iraqi-born oncologist. Prior to trial, some politicians and officials, including New York Governor George Pataki and then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft, had stated or insinuated that Dhafir, a Muslim, was involved in terrorism.

No evidence of any connection to terrorism or the regime of Saddam Hussein was raised at trial. Instead, Dhafir was charged with violating the sanctions by sending money, donated to his charity by individuals throughout the US, to Iraqi individuals and organizations. US prosecutors also charged Dhafir with a number of other crimes, such as overbilling Medicare in his oncology practice.

Nevertheless, during the sentencing phase, Judge Norman Mordue heard arguments that Dhafir is a "threat to US National Security," based on evidence never heard by a jury, such as old connections to groups now accused of links to violence.

Speaking to Democracy Now radio, the executive director of the Central New York chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Barrie Gewanter, said her organization considers it "inappropriate to bring in allegations of terrorist links through the back door of sentencing."

Dhafir was also convicted of defrauding donors to his charity, Help the Needy, by diverting their contributions to his own personal use. The prosecution produced no donors, however, to testify against Dhafir. Many supporters of Dhafir’s charity work, as well as his patients, testified on his behalf.

At his sentencing, Dhafir told the court that prosecutors had grown obsessed with pursuing him, and said investigators hated everything about him.

Lead defense attorney Devereaux Cannick said the sentencing demonstrated that it is "not a good time to be a Muslim in this country, especially with regard to the judicial system," the Syracuse Post-Standard reported.

Dhafir’s supporters point out that others accused of the same crimes are rarely prosecuted, and that among those who are, most receive only monetary fines or relatively minor prison terms.

"The feeling in the Muslim community is that Dr. Dhafir has been singled out because he is Muslim," Mohamed Khater, president of the Islamic Society of Central New York, told the Associated Press.

Send to Friends Respond to Editors or Reporter

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brian Dominick is a staff journalist.

Recent contributions by Brian Dominick: