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California terror plot case: Attorney skeptical of paid informant

November 21, 2012 |  3:22 pm

An attorney for one of the four Southern California men facing federal terrorism charges for plotting to join Al Qaeda and targeting U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, criticized the case for hinging on a confidential informant who had "incentive" to entrap the suspects.

The informant, who received $250,000 from the FBI and "immigration benefits" for his work over 4.5 years, infiltrated the group in March and wore recording devices that provided evidence reportedly crucial to the case. The federal complaint unsealed this week against the four men was based largely on incriminating statements and actions recorded and observed by the informant.

"What jumps out to me was the footnote in the affidavit that said the confidential source was paid a quarter-million dollars," said Anaheim Hills attorney Randolph K. Driggs, who represents Ralph Deleon, 23, of Ontario. "We see the same thing in drug cases. Informants push and prod until someone gives in. They have a financial incentive."

DOCUMENT: 4 L.A.-area men arrested in alleged terror plot

Driggs said the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have aggressively pursued potential threats given the nation's concerns about protecting the country from terrorist attacks, following Sept. 11.

"There’s a political will to seek it out more aggressively, and that can cause problems," he said.

Until he had access to records of the investigation, Driggs said, it was difficult to assess whether the informant enticed his client and the others into incriminating themselves. However, he said, the use of a confidential informant always raises skepticism, especially when the informant has a criminal record. The informant in this case was convicted of trafficking pseudoephedrine, a chemical precursor to methamphetamine, according to the affidavit.

Deleon and two other suspects -- Miguel Santana of Upland and Arifeen Gojali of Riverside, both 21 -– were taken into custody during a vehicle stop in Chino on Friday, a day after they booked airline tickets from Mexico to Afghanistan. Santana is a Mexican national who was in the process of getting his U.S. citizenship. Deleon is a legal permanent resident from the Philippines. Gojali is an American of Vietnamese descent.

The central figure in the alleged plot is Sohiel Kabir, 34, a native Afghan and naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in Pomona and had served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2001. He converted Santana and Deleon to Islam in 2010, then left for Afghanistan to make arrangements for the three of them to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda. (Santana and Deleon subsequently recruited Gojali in September.) Kabir was apprehended Saturday in Kabul.

Attorneys for Santana and Gojali declined to comment about the case.


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-- Phil Willon

Photo: Chino police squad cars Tuesday pull out of an apartment complex in Chino from where terrorists were arrested. Source: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times.