NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Colorado man was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on Friday for lying to investigators who were racing to stop his son from carrying out a plot to bomb New York City subways in 2009, and for persuading family members to help destroy key evidence of the plan.
Mohammed Wali Zazi, 56, was convicted in Brooklyn federal court last July of obstruction of justice and a related conspiracy count for his role in helping to cover the tracks of his son Najibullah, who has admitted to planning an attack on New York City with help from al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
The sentence, which includes a separate visa-fraud charge to which Zazi previously pled guilty, is well below the 30-years-to-life sentence recommended by prosecutors.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson noted that most of the lies Zazi told were motivated by a desire to protect his family from harm. Gleeson also declined to apply a so-called “terrorism enhancement” to the sentence, which would have substantially increased the potential prison term.
But Gleeson also pointed out the lack of remorse displayed by Zazi, an Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen, who said he believed his son’s guilty plea was coerced even as he asked the court for forgiveness.
While Zazi’s lies may not have stopped federal investigators from thwarting his son’s plot, Gleeson said the seriousness of the plot, had it succeeded, led him to impose a stiffer sentence than the probation term suggested by Zazi’s lawyers.
“When someone’s going to bomb the New York City subway system, every lie matters,” Gleeson said.
During Zazi’s trial last July, prosecutors said he tipped off his son that he was under investigation by the FBI and the New York police, and helped concoct a cover story for his son after he was stopped by law enforcement agents while driving a rental car over the George Washington Bridge.
Two of Zazi’s relatives -- his nephew Amanullah and his brother-in-law Naqib Jaji -- testified that he told family members to destroy chemicals, masks and goggles used by Najibullah and to lie to a grand jury weighing charges against his son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger told Gleeson on Friday that Najibullah never told his father about his plans. But prosecutors argued he should have suspected his son was up to something, given his recent trips to the Pakistani region of Waziristan and the chemicals Najibullah stored at the family’s home in Colorado.
Najibullah Zazi is scheduled to be sentenced in June. He faces up to life in prison.
An attorney for Mohammed Zazi and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment following the hearing Friday.
Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Cynthia Johnston