His attorneys are trying to get him a new trial, but after being convicted by a jury July 13 on 15 federal felony counts, William B. Aossey Jr. was locked up. A new detention order means that he’ll remain locked up until sentencing.
Aossey was found to be too much of a flight risk to remain free on bail largely because of his friendship with Ali Afif Al Herz, who heads a Cedar Rapids, IA, family charged separately with running guns and ammunition to Lebanon.
Aossey’s Midamar Corp., which exports Halal food to Muslims around the world, provided shipping services to Herz. In her detention order, Chief Judge Linda R. Reade said the government had “no direct evidence” of Aossey being involved with the gun running, but that his connections with Herz are numerous.
Aossey authorized Herz to load the shipments at Midamar, using its private loading dock, and accepted a $8,000 cash payment for the international shipping services. At one point, surveillance tapes show Aossey entering a container loaded with Bobcats (loaders-excavators) that were secreted “with firearms and ammunition” destined for Lebanon.
In a phone intercept, Aossey tells Herz that the container was gone and in return learned that his friend and son are also bound for Lebanon. He tells Herz the paperwork will follow shortly. While the container belongs to Herz, it is Aossey who becomes “extremely agitated” when he learns it was stopped and searched by law enforcement. He demands a full report from the trucking company and refers to the box as “my container.”
Aossey even asked his attorney to contact the FBI to find out what was going on with the container. Further, when the Herz family was rounded up and charged and federal agents executed search warrants (including one at Midamar), Aossey was “confrontational and uncooperative, demanding the search stop until his attorney was present and demanding agents on the scene write down their names.” Further, after arms for the shipment were purchased, the arms were stored at an Aossey-owned house.
This occurred at the same time that Aossey was collecting donated goods for Syrian and Lebanese refugees, which the government now believes was to disguise the illegal arms and ammunition shipments.
Since Herz was, according to the government charges against him, involved in criminal activity, Aossey was in violation of his pretrial release just by associating with him, Reade noted. And Aossey did not report his contact with law enforcement to his probation officer when Midamar was searched, another violation of pretrial conditions.
Aossey is a native Iowan, born in Cedar Rapids. He founded Midamar Corp. in 1974, and the company currently employs about 50 people. At age 65, he reportedly turned the business over to his sons, Jalel and Yahya. He was permitted to travel internationally while awaiting trial and returned over time to Cedar Rapids.
After a 3.5-day jury trial in July, Aossey was convicted on 15 counts, including conspiracy, making false statements on export certificates, and wire fraud. He was found not guilty on four counts of money laundering and money laundering conspiracy. Maximum punishment for the 15 convictions is 165 years in federal prison.
His convictions and the prospect of a lengthy prison term give Aossey “far greater incentive” to flee than he had when he was free before the trial, the judge stated in her order. She decided other measures — passport confiscation, GPS monitoring and home confinement — would not be enough to prevent Aossey from leaving the U.S. and living in a foreign country if he decided to make a break.
Meanwhile, his Chicago-based defense attorney, Haytham Faraj, filed a new motion this week for a new trial. He cited two areas under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 where he argues errors were made during the trial. In the first, he says the government failed to offer any evidence of a conspiracy.
“None of the witnesses called to testify agreed that they had an agreement with (the) defendant or understood the objective of the alleged conspiracy,” Faraj states. “On the contrary, all witnesses testified that they did what they were directed to do because they felt they had to since it was their job. To be sure, the witness employees engaged in legal acts. The product of their efforts, meat packages devoid of establishment numbers, only became illegal once they were placed in commerce with a certificate that provided a false establishment number.”
The second reason for a new trial, according to the defense attorney, is that the court “improperly admitted bad character evidence at trial ….” Faraj is especially concerned about the influence one government witness may have had on the jury. Former Midamar employee Debra Lapsey testified that Aossey once chased her down a hallway while yelling and screaming at her, causing her to hide from him in a bathroom. In his motion, Faraj states that Lapsey was an “11th hour” government witness who was not properly disclosed.
Aossey’s sons, Midamar, and the Halal-certifying Islamic Services of America (ISA) are separately charged with conspiracy, making false statements on export certificates, wire fraud and money laundering. Those charges also grow out of allegedly misbranded meat shipped internationally. Those defendants will go to trial together later this year.
Pre-trial activity in that case is heating up. Judge Reade has set an Aug. 14 hearing for oral arguments over a constitutional challenge lodged by ISA.
“Defendant ISA has presented a First Amendment challenge to government enforcement of religious slaughter protocols of foreign Muslim countries, which is prohibited by the Establishment Clause as applied and alternatively barred by the Free Exercise clause. Further, the enforcement of Halal protocols is a case of first impression, requiring oral argument to substantively address novel issues. Finally, the extent of the relevant case law to be considered by the Court is good cause alone to grant the Defendant’s request for oral argument,” states the defense motion for a hearing on the issue.