CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – A Harrisonburg man, who attempted to bring an alien into the United States whom he allegedly knew was prohibited from entering the country, pled guilty and was sentenced today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville, Acting United States Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle announced.
Ahmed Thamer Al-Ani, 51, an Iraqi-born national living in Harrisonburg, pled guilty today to one count of encouraging or inducing an illegal alien to come to the United States. In a subsequent hearing today in U.S. District Court, Al-Ani was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. The defendant will be deported as part of his sentence.
According to evidence presented today by Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh in U.S. District Court, in early 2016, the defendant engaged in a scheme in which he sought to bring an alien named Firas Saeed from Iraq to the United States. Specifically, the defendant gave Saeed a false business invitation letter that he could give to the United States Embassy in Baghdad. The letter was a ruse to create the false impression that Saeed was a businessman – who had business with the defendant – so that his visa application would be approved and he would be admitted to the United States.
Ultimately, the scheme failed. On January 21, 2016, Saeed presented the defendant’s fictitious letter to the United States Embassy in Baghdad, but the consulate officer denied Saeed’s application for a visa to travel to the United States.
In May 2016, a Federal Bureau of Investigation undercover employee began communicating with Al-Ani by telephone. The undercover told the defendant that he had an individual in Baghdad, Iraq, who was in “some kind of trouble. They are looking for him and I want to get him out of Iraq and get him here.” The defendant asked whether “there [wa]s an arrest warrant issued against him currently, okay, and his name has been flagged, right?” The undercover confirmed that as accurate. In reality, no such alien existed and the undercover was participating in a planned sting operation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In a series of conversations with the undercover, the defendant offered to create false documents – to include identification, a passport and other documents – for the price of $10,000, as well as a false business invitation letter for the price of $5,000. The undercover declined the offer for false documents but accepted the chance to have a business invitation letter provided for $5,000 and provided Al-Ani with an email address for the letter to be sent.
On the morning of June 3, 2016, Al-Ani emailed the defendant’s letter – similar to the one he had provided Saeed – to the email address provided. It was addressed to the United States Embassy in Baghdad and it named the fictitious person in Iraq (who did not exist) as a “potential partner” in Al-Ani’s business. That afternoon, Al-Ani met with the undercover FBI employee at the Courtyard Marriot hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. During the meeting, Al-Ani took payment in the amount of $5,000 cash for providing the false business invitation letter. He was then arrested at the scene by agents with the FBI.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh prosecuted the case for the United States