NEW YORK – A Long Island businessman pleaded guilty Thursday to an illegal banking charge, admitting that he unwittingly provided $7,000 to a Connecticut man who authorities say tried to set off a bomb in Times Square last year.
Mohammad Younis, 45, of Centereach, entered the plea to a single count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, admitting that he acted as a financial go-between on April 10, 2010, passing along $5,000 in cash to a person he did not know and $7,000 in cash to another stranger.
A plea deal Younis signed with prosecutors said neither side will appeal a sentence that falls within a range of no jail time to six months in prison. It also said Younis is subject to a $12,000 forfeiture order, representing the amount of money he transmitted to the two individuals.
There was no mention at the plea hearing of Faisal Shahzad, the Bridgeport, Conn., man who drove an SUV to Times Square on May 1, 2010, and tried to set off a propane-and-gasoline bomb as the vehicle rested between a string of restaurants and a Broadway theater showing "The Lion King." The bomb produced smoke but no explosion.
Philippe Solages, a lawyer for Younis, said outside court that Younis was not involved in any terrorist activity.
With his client standing beside him, Salages said Younis "condemns the actions of Faisal Shahzad."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the case demonstrated the lengths the government will go to when it investigates how terrorism is financed.
"Mohammed Younis engaged in illegal activity that, although unbeknownst to him, facilitated the funding of a potentially lethal attack in New York City. He was apprehended by law enforcement and as a result, a possible funding stream for terror attacks is now a dry well," Bharara said in a statement.
Shahzad was captured as he tried to flee the country. He pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.
Shahzad told authorities after his arrest that the April cash payment through Younis was arranged in Pakistan by associates of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the militant extremist group based in Pakistan that gave him explosives training.
Younis remains free on bail after his Sept. 15, 2010, arrest by agents of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The government said in court papers that Younis admitted that he gave an individual $7,000 in $100 bills at a restaurant near a Ronkonkoma train station on April 10, 2010. Prosecutors said he was shown a photograph of Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant, and he said the man he gave the money to resembled him, except for a beard.
According to the court papers, Younis "became visibly upset when he was told that the individual in the picture was 'the Times Square bomber' and denied knowing Shahzad or having contact with him, aside from the April 10 meeting." Prosecutors added: "Younis told agents, in substance, 'I paid the money, but I am not guilty for the bomb.'"
Younis, who lives with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 30. The single charge he pleaded guilty to carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison but Younis is likely to be sentenced to little or no prison time.
U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan said at the plea hearing that Younis will likely be deported as a result of the conviction, but one of his lawyers said outside court that he hopes to stay in the United States, where he was working as a manager at a hardware store before he lost his job after his arrest.