JEFFERSON CITY — A Columbia business owner and community leader has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for illegal sending of more than $200,000 to friends and family in Iraq while the country faced U.S. sanctions.
The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that Shakir Hamoodi, a Middle Eastern grocer and former University of Missouri nuclear scientist, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Jefferson City. A sizable group of Columbia residents attended the hearing in support.
Hamoodi pleaded guilty in December 2009 to violating federal sanctions against Iraq by sending money overseas from 1991 to 2003. He faced up to 71 months in prison, but Judge Nanette Laughrey cited Hamoodi's efforts to increase cultural understanding of Muslims in mid-Missouri in giving him a lesser punishment. He is scheduled to report to federal prison on Aug. 28 after his observance of Ramadan.
"I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry," Hamoodi told the judge. "All money sent was used by friends and family."
Laughrey noted that while others facing similar charges received lesser penalties, those defendants sent less money and committed fewer transactions. Hamoodi's efforts evolved into what the judge called a nine-year conspiracy.
In September 2006, federal agents searched Hamoodi's Columbia home but found no proof that the Iraqi native and vocal critic of the war in his home country was aiding the Iraqi government through his financial contributions.
U.S. Department of Justice attorney Garrett Heenan suggested that the final destinations of Hamoodi's contributions were difficult to determine. Hamoodi could have obtained a license during the sanctions through the Department of the Treasury, but that would have only allowed for the transfer of goods, not money. His shipments included money sent by other Columbia residents to help their own families.
"The problem during the (Saddam) Hussein era is that we don't know where the money went," the government lawyer said. "I understand money could go to family and charities, but the money could be taxed by Hussein."
Hamoodi said the search on his home caused his family to be ostracized by some neighbors and hurt sales at his World Harvest market. Charles Atkins was among the more than 20 supporters who gathered after the sentencing to express their support for Hamoodi.
"He really has a heart for helping people," Atkins said. "Now it is our turn."
Hamoodi's case is not related to the federal investigation of the Islamic American Relief Agency, a defunct charity that was based in Columbia but closed in 2004 after the government said it helped finance global terrorism.
Mark Siljander, a former Michigan congressman and U.S. delegate to the United Nations who lobbied on behalf of that charity was sentenced in January to a year and one day in prison by the same federal judge. The group's former executive director, Mubarak Hamed, was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for sending more than $1 million to Iraq through the charity in violation of U.S. sanctions. Three others involved in the charity were sentenced to probation.