A career con artist who was accused of using Canada as a base to defraud Muslim associations around the world for two decades pleaded guilty in Alabama yesterday to trying to bilk a U.S. mosque out of cash.
Mohammed Agbareia, a Palestinian man with Israeli citizenship, told a federal judge in Mobile, Ala., that he had been phoning mosques throughout the United States from Canada and pretending to be a representative of the Islamic Development Bank coming to visit.
He called them again a day or so later to say he was stranded at the airport in Montreal because the airline said their tickets were invalid. He said he and his wife needed to buy new tickets but he had no money with him and sought a loan of US$1,500 to be wired to him, money that would be paid back as soon as he arrived for their visit, he admitted in documents filed in court.
After the money was wired to him, he and an associate, Zouhair Hissy, would collect it and divide it between them -- with Agbareia usually taking 60 to 80% of it, he told court.
The money was never repaid.
"He fully confessed on video tape to everything in an interview with the FBI," said Chris Knight, Agbareia's lawyer.
"He basically had no defence for the case and recognized pretty quickly that he needed to plead guilty," Mr. Knight said.
Agbareia faces up to four years in prison but Mr. Knight is arguing for a lower sentence. That will be decided by a judge in July.
His co-accused, Mr. Hissy, was arrested in Windsor in January and is fighting his extradition to the U.S. He has a bail hearing today in Windsor, according to Canada's Department of Justice.
Agbareia's quick admission of guilt is in contrast to his fierce battles in Canadian courts and repeated appeals against deportation orders.
He accumulated dozens of fraud charges and several convictions in Toronto, Hamilton and Orangeville since arriving in Canada in 1985 and has twice been deported from Canada. Each time he returned to Canada to be with his wife and child, who are both Canadian. . .
Muslim associations in several countries have complained that they have been victimized in a similar fashion -- allegedly by the same man -- for decades.
George May, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Mobile, said he will seek to have the judge take the other victims into account in Agbareia's sentencing.
"I believe there will be some evidence of other victims," Mr. May said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C., has issued repeated warnings to Islamic organizations to be cautious of such overtures for money.