A Pakistani immigrant from Watertown allegedly gave $4,900 to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, in a meeting in Watertown in February, federal authorities said today.
But a criminal complaint filed today against Aftab Ali, 24, does not allege that Ali knew what the money would be used for, the US attorney's office in Boston noted in a statement.
And Ali's attorney said today that "it was a complete innocent exchange" in which his client was duped into believing that the money would be used to treat Shahzad's cancer.
"He did not know what this man was going to do with the money,'' said Saher J. Macarius, who has been representing Ali since he was arrested on civil immigration charges in May. "He gave him the money because he was told, 'This man has cancer. He needs the money.'"
In fact, after learning about Shahzad's attempted attack on Times Square, Ali told prosecutors, "I wish he burns in hell," according to Macarius.
While he was not charged in connection with the Times Square plot, Ali, who has also gone by the name Aftab Ali Khan, still faces charges of immigration fraud and making false statements.
Ali allegedly entered the country in August 2009 to marry his then-fiancee and began working at a Brookline gas station without a work permit, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors allege that about three months later, after marrying a different woman, Ali defrauded the government by filing documents to adjust his immigration status. In those documents, prosecutors said, he knowingly omitted his unauthorized employment.
Ali also allegedly concealed his employment at the gas station when he was questioned by agents searching his Waverley Avenue apartment as part of the Times Square bombing investigation, prosecutors said.
The immigration document fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the charge of making false statements carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.
At an initial appearance today, US Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin ordered Ali held without bail until a detention hearing on Friday. Prosecutor William Weinreb argued that there was a risk Ali would flee, noting that he had already been ordered deported in May by an immigration judge in a civil proceeding.
Miriam Conrad, the federal public defender who was appointed to represent him, said her client spoke some English but was having difficulty understanding the proceedings, so she asked for an Urdu translator for the hearing.
Ali, who was sent to a New York jail at one point after his arrest but is now being held at the Suffolk County House of Correction, wore jeans, white sneakers, and a brown T-shirt over a long-sleeved white thermal shirt.
The case began May 1, when a car loaded with explosive materials was found in New York's busy Times Square area. Shahzad pleaded guilty in June to planting the bomb, saying defiantly at his plea hearing that he was "part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people." He said he wanted to "plead guilty 100 times over."
Ali and his cousin, Pir D. Khan, were arrested and the apartment they shared in Watertown was searched on May 13. Pir Khan and a third Pakistani immigrant -- Mohammad Shafiq ur Rahman -- have since been released.
Prosecutors said Ali borrowed the $4,900 from the manager of the Brookline gas station where he worked and gave it to Shahzad in February. The transfer was part of a "hawala" -- or informal money exchange -- transaction in which Ali's family received an equivalent amount of money in Pakistan, prosecutors said in a statement.
An affidavit in the case filed in federal court today says Shahzad collected the money from Ali outside his Watertown apartment at about 4 p.m. on Feb. 25.
According to Macarius, Ali was sending money to his brother through the hawala system. That meant that someone in Pakistan would deliver the cash to his brother, while Ali would provide the same amount to someone in the United States. He said the person who arranged the transfer to Shahzad was the one who told Ali that Shahzad had cancer.
When Shahzad was arrested in the Times Square probe, Ali did not recognize him from photographs as the same man that he had met in February, Macarius said.
"The man he met in front of his house in his car for a few seconds was a real clean-shaven person,'' said Macarius, adding that Shahzad had a beard in photographs that Ali saw after Shahzad's arrest.
Macarius said Ali and his brother in Pakistan both assisted the government in the investigation of the attempted bombing by providing information about the hawala transfer and the people involved in the exchange.
"He should have been given a medal for risking his life to help the government get more people arrested in Pakistan, but this is how the government rewarded him,'' Macarius said.
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