Leaders of what was once considered the largest Muslim charity in the United States were sentenced to prison for funneling money to the Hamas terrorist organization.
A federal judge in Dallas, Texas handed down sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years in prison to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and five of its founders and former fundraisers on May 27, 2009. Both the charity and the five defendants supported Hamas in its goal of "creating an Islamic Palestinian state by eliminating the State of Israel through violent jihad," according to the Department of Justice.
The sentences were handed down after a federal jury in Dallas returned guilty verdicts on all 108 counts against HLF and its five former officers on November 24, 2008. During the trial, the federal government proved that HLF and its five leaders had funneled more than $12 million to Hamas since the U.S. government designated it a foreign terrorist organization in 1995. The convictions followed an October 2007 mistrial in which the jury failed to come to a unanimous decision on all counts.
The two HLF cofounders, Shukri Abu Baker, 50, and Ghassan Elashi, 55, were each sentenced to 65 years in prison for providing material support and services to a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering and tax fraud.
HLF's top fundraiser, Mufid Abdulqader, 49, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on three conspiracy counts, including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The director of HLF in New Jersey, Abdulrahman Odeh, 49, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on three conspiracy counts, and the group's chairman, Mohammad el-Mezain, 55, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on one conspiracy count.
The now defunct HLF gave money to charity organizations, known as zakat committees, that operated in the Palestinian territories. These zakat committees, which were not listed as terrorist entities, were controlled by Hamas, and the money they collected benefited the terrorist organization's structure. According to the Department of Justice, "HLF intentionally hid its financial support for Hamas behind the guise of charitable donations."
HLF was founded in 1987 in Los Angeles, California as the Occupied Land Fund to raise funds for Muslim families left homeless and poor by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to defense lawyers. In 1991, the organization changed its name and, in 1993, later moved its headquarters to Richardson, Texas. HLF, which operated as a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity organization, also ran several offices in California, Illinois and New Jersey.
The Treasury Department shut down HLF in December 2001 after the organization was designated as a charity that provided material and logistical support to Hamas. HLF's assets were seized as part of the Bush Administration's policy designed to choke off financial support in the war on global terrorism.