Federal prosecutors in Syracuse, N.Y., Wednesday unsealed an indictment charging four men and a locally run charity called "Help the Needy" with an eight-year conspiracy to illegally funnel more than $4 million to Iraq.
The charity, according to prosecutors, fraudulently represented that the money was being raised for humanitarian aid, and transferred it through an Islamic bank in Jordan to Iraq without licenses required by laws imposing economic sanctions on Iraq.
The 14-count indictment charged the men with conspiring to violate money-laundering laws as well as the sanctions on Iraq, but it did not specify what the money was used for and did not allege that the money went to the Iraqi government or that the scheme involved terrorism.
Three of the men -- Ayman Jarwan, 33; Osameh al Wahaidy, 41; and Rhafil Dhafir, 55 -- were arrested in the Syracuse area and held for a detention hearing on Friday. The fourth, Maher Zagha, 34, was in Amman, Jordan, prosecutors said.
The group's Web site, www.helptheneedy.net, describes it as "a nonprofit, humanitarian organization working to provide care, support and relief to people throughout the world" with a particular focus on Iraq.
The lawyer for Dhafir, an oncologist practicing in upstate Fayetteville, and the only U.S. citizen of the four, said his Iraqi-born client was a volunteer for the group and had no idea it was doing anything illegal.
"The group my client was involved with believed this money was going to the purchase of foodstuffs," said the lawyer, Ed Menkin.
Jarwan, a Jordanian citizen, was identified in the indictment as the executive director of the group.
Al Wahaidy, also a Jordanian, has been employed as an imam at the Auburn Correctional Facility and also worked as a math instructor at the State University of New York at Oswego.
A spokeswoman for the university said its records indicated that Al Wahaidy was in the United States legally.