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U.S. Judge calls FBI reckless

The Associated Press reported Monday that a federal judge had thrown out evidence compiled against four men charged with laundering more than $60 million through their chain grocery stores located in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The judge also said in his ruling that FBI agents acted in a "reckless disregard for the truth."

In his ruling, the Judge had found that the FBI had improperly obtained its search warrant. He further stated that the FBI agents, who made claims to having seen suspicious tax records from the men, had admitted that they had only seen a computer printout of the records, and failed to thoroughly verify the evidence with the U.S. Caribbean territory's Internal Revenue Bureau.

Azekah Jennings, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the ruling.

In September 2003, the four men were indicted on charges that they had evaded over $60 million in taxes from their chain of Plaza Extra grocery stores through 1996 to 2001. Other charges included money laundering, and then smuggling cash to bank accounts located in Amman, Jordan, and on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

The FBI agents initially said the men had claimed to earning $270,000 in 1998. According to an order that was issued June 16, a review of the original tax records showed the men had reported making more than $39 million.

The attorney representing the four men, Pamela Colon, said "It is our hope that the government will come to its senses, that they will stop harassing these people just because they are Arabs and Muslims."

The men will face having to serve prison sentences ranging from 20 to 93 years if they are convicted.

Colon said the evidence that the Judge threw out included more than 100,000 documents, and that this was the backbone of the government's case against Fathi Yusuf, brothers Waleed Hamed and Waheed Hamed, and Yusuf's son, Maher.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jennings denied that the case was being prosecuted because of the four men's ethnic or religious backgrounds.