Federal prosecutors have bolstered their terrorism case against defendants in a Memphis marriage scam with a new indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment ties Memphis defendants Chandra Netters Lofton Taylor and Karim Ramzi to Brooklyn bookseller Abdulrahman Farhane, who is under indictment in New York for allegedly financing terrorism. Ramzi has been held without bond in Memphis since being indicted last April. Prosecutors in at least two states have been trying to unravel a tangled web of suspects and sinister-sounding connections since then, making a few details public in a series of bond hearings and court appearances.
The gist of their still developing case is that the immigration scam had terroristic overtones and the key defendants will stay locked up until the FBI gets to the bottom of things.
Farhane owns a bookstore called the House of Knowledge. He was born in Morocco but is a U.S. citizen married to Malika Farhane. The Memphis indictment unsealed this week by U.S. district judge Daniel Breen supersedes the indictment last year of Ramzi and Lofton Taylor, who are reindicted along with the Farhanes. Karim Ramzi is Malika Farhane's brother.
The marriage-scam story broke one year ago when members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Syrian-American Rafat Mawlawi and found illegal weapons, terrorist videos, photographs, and more than $30,000 in cash in his home near Craigmont High School in Raleigh. Mawlawi, the alleged mastermind of the scheme to bring Moroccan men into the United States illegally via sham marriages and engagements to Memphis women, has been held without bond for a year.
At bond hearings last year, prosecutors linked Mawlawi to Osama bin Laden, but the evidence was sketchy and dated back to 1997 when Mawlawi was in Bosnia. However, it was enough to keep him locked up, although relatives said he served honorably in the U.S. Navy, conducted Muslim services at the Shelby County Penal Farm, and worked as a translator with immigration services in the Federal Building. In January, Mawlawi pleaded guilty to immigration violations and weapons charges, and his sentencing was set for April 27th.
Meanwhile, investigators in New York and Memphis were uncovering more information about the Memphis marriage scam. The new indictment alleges that Farhane, on three occasions in 2002 and 2003, sent a total of $6,200 to Mawlawi to advance the immigration scam. Lofton Taylor went to Morocco in 2002 to enter into a sham engagement with Ramzi so that he could enter and live in the U.S., which he did in 2003.
Farhane, who is 52, was described in a New York Times story in February as "the central figure" in a pending New York case against four Muslim men including a martial arts instructor, a Florida doctor, and a Washington, D.C., paramedic. The thrust of the case is that after the September 11th terrorist attacks, they plotted to help Islamic fighters against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The help ranged from money for weapons to training al-Qaeda fighters in martial arts, the government said. Based on fresh government testimony linking him to terrorists, Farhane, who had been free on bail, was jailed in February.
Assistant U.S. attorney Fred Godwin would not comment about the new Memphis indictments. Godwin is also the prosecutor in Mawlawi's case.
The Memphis "brides" were recruited by Janet Netters Austin, a local singer. Chandra Netters Lofton Taylor is the daughter of former Memphis city councilman and MLGW board member the Rev. James Netters. Janet Netters Austin is his former daughter-in-law. The women they recruited had hard-luck stories and needed cash and were apparently not aware of what their Moroccan "husbands" were up to.