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Seattle Convict Who Espoused Radical Views Flees To Somalia
"He decided he liked his chances better elsewhere," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Redkey said after Tuesday's sentencing was put off. "It's always a concern when someone who has espoused radical ideas heads to a place like Somalia, of course."
Ruben Shumpert helped run Crescent Cuts barber shop in Seattle's Rainier Valley, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court. He was arrested two years ago and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, following an FBI investigation into activities at the shop. He was accused of providing a gun to one person and giving $700 to another for the purpose of buying a gun.
Redkey said he isn't sure when Shumpert fled. He was last in court on Sept. 20, when he appeared on bond to plead guilty to the weapons charge and to transferring counterfeit currency. He entered the pleas in exchange for a recommended sentence of 24 to 30 months.
Shumpert's lawyer, James Vonasch, said the government told him only that his client had left the country. He didn't know until contacted by The Associated Press that Shumpert had gone to Somalia — a war-wracked East African country that's considerably less safe than federal prison.
"He hasn't been checking in with his lawyer," Vonasch said. "That is a horrible place to go to."
Vonasch also said that Shumpert claims to speak some Arabic, and that an FBI agent who worked the case got a call from him within the past two weeks.
"The agent implied it was an unpleasant conversation, but he didn't supply me with the details," Vonasch said.
Vonasch said Shumpert's wife and two young children are still in Seattle. The FBI questioned the wife about Shumpert's whereabouts, he said.
The FBI's investigation into the barbershop relied on paid informants who told agents that Shumpert and other men who would meet at the shop often spoke in bellicose anti-American terms. Eventually, agents determined that they were "unable or unwilling to engage in acts of terrorism," according to court documents.
Some — including Shumpert — were indicted on non-terrorism-related charges, such as document fraud and firearms violations.
Among the items removed from the barbershop were "jihad motivational DVDs," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum last July.
"If youngsters came in to play video games he would encourage them first to view the motivational DVDs," they wrote of Shumpert. "The subject matter of the DVDs included a glowing tribute to the '19 Martyrs,' referring to the 9/11 terrorists."
Shumpert, who has previous state convictions on weapons and assault charges, denied being a radical. In a 12-page, neatly handwritten letter to the judge this summer, he said he wanted to take responsibility for his crimes, and credited Islam with turning him from a life of theft and drug-dealing. But he also criticized the FBI's reliance on paid informants who first befriended him and then begged him to get them guns and counterfeit money.
"Has there ever been any (news) stories that show how these sort of FBI investigations have torn apart whole communities with false allegations and entrapment?" he wrote. "I ask you please, don't let them throw us away in the system so easily."
Vonasch said it appeared likely that the judge might give a longer sentence than the 24-30 month recommendation; she rejected a previous plea agreement that would have made that sentencing range binding on the court.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other. The current administration was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but it has failed to assert any real control outside the southern town of Baidoa, where it is based.
Source: The Associated Press