Hamoodi trial attorney discusses federal sentencing

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 10:41 p.m. CST; updated 7:28 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 31, 2013

COLUMBIA — Andrew Twaddle raised his hand and declared that it was time for Shakir Hamoodi to be let free.

“Anyone who knows Shakir knows he doesn’t belong where he is now,” Twaddle said.

A personal friend of Hamoodi, Twaddle was one of more than 30 people who listened as Hamoodi's defense attorney J.R. Hobbs presented Wednesday night about the federal sentencing the Columbia business owner went through.

In 2012, Hamoodi pleaded guilty to charges that he illegally sent $271,000 to 15 different families in Iraq from 1994 to 2003, breaking an executive order signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 forbidding U.S. citizens from sending funds, goods, or services to the middle eastern country.

With his guilty plea, Hamoodi acknowledged he circumvented the system set up by the government by sending the money. U.S. citizens were allowed to apply for a license to send aid to Iraq, but Hamoodi never did.

After Hobbs requested that his client be placed on probation, Hamoodi was sentenced to three years in federal prison on May 16, 2012. He began serving his sentence on Aug. 28, after the end of Ramadan.

“We made our arguments, the court did what it thought was appropriate, and we respect that,” said Hobbs on the sentence. Hamoodi’s defense attorney also noted that he was pleased the court moved within the government’s requested 48-month sentence.

Some believe Hamoodi did nothing except help those in need, the victims of sanctions placed on an entire country.

“He’s always tried to help and go forward to do whatever somebody else has needed,” Lamya Najem, Hamoodi’s wife, said. “He’s helping other inmates, but it’s not the same that he’s locked in that place.”

Hamoodi’s family and a group of the local doctor’s supporters have joined in an effort to file a petition to the president to pardon his client, although the odds are stacked highly against their efforts. Since President Obama took office, he has denied 1,019 pardon requests out of the 1,306 that have crossed his desk.

“The President always says ‘Let us move forward,’” Najem said. “These things happened 20 years ago. My husband just tried to give help to those in need over there.”

In the five months and six days that Hamoodi has been incarcerated, his family and his business have suffered, Najem said. The Hamoodi family's house was vandalized over the summer, and business has declined at World Harvest Foods.

“It’s very less crowded at the store,” Najem said. “Things have been slow.”

To help counteract the negative effects of Hamoodi’s absence, the Hamoodi Family Benefits Trust has been actively raising money for the family and the store. Now with between $12,000 and $15,000 in the fund, the group has played a huge role lifting the burden off the family.

“If people want to help, they can go to World Harvest Foods and buy a product,” said Kit Salter, a member of the Hamoodi Family Benefits Trust.

With all legal options exhausted, Hamoodi must either be pardoned or have his sentence commuted to avoid the full 36-month sentence.

“We need to keep sending letters, faxes, webpage contents, and telephone calls toward the White House,” David Finke, another member of the family’s trust, said.

The petition has already been processed by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, but Najem said his family awaits the final word.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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