NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three men caught in an FBI sting operation were each sentenced on Wednesday to 25 years in prison for planting what they thought were bombs outside New York City synagogues in 2009.
A federal judge meted out far less time behind bars than the life sentences prosecutors had sought for James Cromitie, 45, David Williams, 30, and Onta Williams, 35.
The three men were convicted by a federal jury in October of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, carrying a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Controversy has surrounded the case in which the presiding judge in Manhattan federal court repeatedly criticized the government’s handling of the investigation.
“There would have been no crime had the government not instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition,” Judge Colleen McMahon said at Wednesday’s nearly three-hour sentencing proceeding.
“There would not have been any terrorist operation in this case had the government not made it up.”
The men were arrested in a highly-publicized FBI sting operation in May 2009 after they planted what they thought were explosives in two cars parked outside synagogues in New York City’s Bronx borough.
They had been egged on by a Pakistani confidential informant whose credibility the defense team attacked at trial.
In addition to planting the explosives, the men intended to shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, U.S. prosecutors argued at trial.
The judge on Wednesday said it was likely the government had deliberately pushed the men to plot the attack on the military base in order to increase the level of the offense.
“It is beyond cavil that the Stinger missile was the government’s idea,” she said.
On Wednesday the court heard from the defendants for the first time. James Cromitie, in a rambling address to the judge, said he was not a terrorist and had been lured into the operation with promises of money.
“I’ve never been a terrorist and I never will be a terrorist,” Cromitie said, adding, “I guess I would say anything for money.”
“I am very sorry for letting myself get caught up in a sting operation like this made up by the government.”
The judge condemned Cromitie’s “chilling expressions of hatred,” captured on hundreds of hours of FBI tapes, but said he was no terrorist.
“Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope,” the judge said.
A fourth man, Laguerre Payen, 29, was also convicted at trial. He is undergoing psychiatric evaluation pending sentencing at a later date.
Defense attorneys for the three men said they would file an appeal.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton