Judge delays sentencing in Fort Dix case

March 14, 2008 11:42:22 AM PDT
Sentencing has been delayed a third time for a New Jersey baker who admitted letting suspects in an alleged plot to attack the Army's Fort Dix fire his guns. Argon Abdullahu's lawyer objected to the delay, which was requested by federal prosecutors. Lawyer Richard Coughlin, a federal public defender, said in a letter to a judge that his client has already been in prison longer than he may be sentenced to under federal guidelines.

After hearing Coughlin's objection, U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler moved the sentencing to March 31 from March 19 - well short of the six to eight extra weeks prosecutors requested.

Abdullahu, 25, was arrested last May and charged with weapons offenses, including providing weapons to illegal immigrants. The five other men arrested in the same case were accused of a much more serious crime - plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix.

Collectively, they became known as the "Fort Dix six."

In October, Abdullahu pleaded guilty to a weapons conspiracy charge, which calls for a maximum five-year prison sentence.

He admitted that he had four weapons in his possession - two his own and two borrowed - and that he let his friends fire them at a shooting range in the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania.

According to transcripts of one tape, he told his friends that attacking a military installation would be "crazy" and contrary to the teaching of Islam.

In the letter, Coughlin told the judge that the weapons were not intended to be used in a plot. "He brought the weapons to the Poconos for what he believed were recreational purposes," Coughlin wrote.

Coughlin said that because the case has such a high profile, it's made incarceration especially difficult on Abdullahu. For instance, he does not volunteer for prison work assignments, his lawyer said, because he wants to avoid any contact with other inmates.

"His primary concern in this regard is a fear that some desperate inmate will use any contact with Mr. Abdullahu as an opportunity to manufacture an accusation against Mr. Abdullahu," he wrote.

Federal sentencing guidelines - which judges are not required to follow - call for Abdullahu to serve between 10 and 16 months in prison. Coughlin said he could receive a longer sentence - 12 to 18 months - because of etchings found in his cell at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, including one of a drawing of a gun pointing to the letters "FBI."

Abdullahu has already been in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia just over 10 months.

The government, however, said in a letter to Kugler last month that it needed more time to make transcripts of recordings made during the investigation. The transcripts, the government said, are key to its argument that Abdullahu should receive more prison time than the minimum guidelines suggest.

Coughlin said the government should not need more time to make transcripts because most of what is on the tapes in question is favorable to his client.

The five men accused of developing a plot are scheduled to be tried starting in September.