COLUMBIA — More than 100 people gathered Wednesday morning for a press conference at Rock Bridge Christian Church to show their support for Shakir Hamoodi, a Columbia man recently sentenced to three years in prison for illegally sending money to family members in Iraq.
Hamoodi pleaded guilty to violating federal sanctions by sending $200,000 to Iraq from 1991 to 2003. His sentence will begin Aug. 28 after the observance of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Hamoodi's home had been raided by FBI agents in 2006 for reasons unknown. The former nuclear scientist at MU has five children, all in high school or college. His store, World Harvest Foods, is now the main source of income for his family. Once he begins his sentence, its future is uncertain.
The event's goal was to inform the community about Hamoodi's plight and to kick off a petition that, if successful, would reduce his current sentence.
At the event, six panelists, all friends of Hamoodi, shared stories about their experiences with him. Their testimonies were followed by a question and answer period in which several audience members also shared stories about Hamoodi.
“I start talking about this and start choking up,” Paul Pepper, a panelist and the former host of KOMU-TV's "Pepper and Friends," said during the conference. “Here is a man who really is living family values.”
The panelists included Pepper; Kit Salter, chairman emeritus of the MU Department of Geography; Margie Sable, member of Boone Tikkun, a group that advocates for peace in the Middle East; Steve Jacobs, member of the St. Francis Catholic Worker Community; and Rev. Maureen Dickmann, the pastor of Rock Bridge Christian Church.
The petition introduced at the conference is in its early stages, and organizers are currently looking at putting it online. No set number of signatures is required, but Dickmann said the more that can be gathered, the better.
“We are navigating unknown waters here,” Dickmann said.
As this was a federal case, the power to commute, or reduce, the sentence rests solely in the hands of President Barack Obama.
Salter said 120 signatures were collected at the conference. Attendees were encouraged to share the petition with friends and neighbors and to mail them to the office of Hamoodi’s attorney, Craig Van Matre. Seventy-five copies of the petition were taken.
Dickmann said the ways citizens can help right now are signing the petition, shopping at World Harvest Foods and telling others in the community about the situation. People can also donate to the Hamoodi Family Benefit Trust, which will provide funds directly to the Hamoodi family.
"I want to stand with him and his family, and I know there are many others who want to do the same," Dickmann said.
Attorney Carolyn Mathews, who attended the gathering, said she is concerned about Hamoodi’s sentence from both human rights and religious perspectives.
Mathews said she was so shocked after hearing about Hamoodi’s sentencing that she took a sympathy card to his store.
Another attendee, Columbia resident Nancy Atkinson, described Hamoodi as a welcoming man. Atkinson met Hamoodi after she began a petition in 2009 to save the long-running talk show “Pepper and Friends” on KOMU-TV from cancellation.
She recalled that when she approached Hamoodi, a sponsor of the show, with the petition, Hamoodi said he wanted to do all he could to help save the show.
“He allowed me to leave petitions in his store for people to sign,” she said. “He graciously signed it also and told me that he would no longer advertise at KOMU if the show was pulled.”
Atkinson said many advertisers told her the same thing, but few followed through after "Pepper and Friends" was canceled. Hamoodi is one who did.
“He held to his word, and right then I knew that he had high integrity,” Atkinson said.
She said she believes the sentence Hamoodi received was unjust and wants to help in any way she can.
“I would want someone to help me if I was in that position, too,” she said.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.