Mission Viejo's Hossein Kalani Afshari and six other Iranian-Americans who pleaded guilty last week to raising funds for a U.S.-designated terrorist group made the plea so they can appeal their case before a higher court, claims the ACLU.
Besides 52-year-old Afshari, Roya Rahmani, 48, of Vienna, Va.; Alireza Mohammadmoradi, 38, of Los Angeles; Moustafa Ahmady, 54, of Los Angeles; Hassan Rezaie, 54, of Los Angeles; Navid Taj, 58, of Santa Monica; and Mohammad Omidvar, 54, of Corona entered guilty pleas before a jury was even selected for the case. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 10, and the charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California says in a statement the group made the guilty plea agreement to enable them to head straight for an appeals court "on the grounds that their prosecution violates the U.S. Constitution."
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The seven had been indicted in 2001 by a federal grand jury in LA on charges of providing funds to the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. Their appeal will focus "on the fact that the MEK does not threaten U.S. national security, in large part because the U.S. government has itself provided material support to the same group, as court documents obtained in the case revealed," says the ACLU statement.
The accused apparently admitted in court to raising funds from supporters and others at public places like the LAX for the MEK, which the U.S. designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. Opponents of Iran's Islamic Republic, the MEK carried out operations against the clerical regime in Tehran from Iraq, under the protection of former president Saddam Hussein.
One defendant's attorney claims the money raised went for humanitarian purposes such as purchasing shoes.
The guilty pleas included an agreement that the government would drop more than 100 charges to which the seven pleaded not guilty, says the ACLU.