Ashland man from Iran convicted of charity fraud

By Guest Opinion,

Pete Seda, a former peace activist from Ashland, Ore., is about to go to jail. Seda has been convicted of using his charitable foundation to smuggle $150,000 out of the country to Saudi Arabia and then covering it up with a false tax return. He is due to serve 33 months in the prison outside Sheridan, Ore., a town northwest of Salem.

However, before that term begins, Seda is appealing to the 9th Circuit Court. He has requested that the court allow him to remain free on bail while his appeal is working through the system. But whether that will happen—and whether the 33-month sentence will happen—has been rendered uncertain by two factors. First, prosecutors consider Seda a flight risk. And second, he may have been convicted with illegally acquired or unsound evidence.

Seda’s attorneys argue that Seda has been a model citizen while on bail. But federal prosecutors aren’t so sure. Seda—originally named Pirouz Sedaghaty when he was born in Iran fifty-four years ago—spent time hiding in Syria and Iran as an international fugitive in 2005. He freely admitted to having been in both countries, even though his U.S. passport was not stamped by either of them. But at the same time, he was in possession of an Iranian passport, and he continues to hold dual American-Iranian citizenship. The Iranian passport did not resemble the American one very closely—his picture looked very different, and his birth date and name differed from the versions on his U.S. passport. However, despite clear statements by prosecutors, he is no longer regarded as a flight risk by Federal court officials.

Second, Seda is accused of fraudulently transferring the $150,000 with the purpose of aiding Chechen terrorists, but those allegations have not been proven. Controversy centers on the testimony of paid FBI informant Richard Cabral. Cabral, now deceased, was the husband of a hairdresser named Barbara Cabral, who testified at Seda’s trial. Seda, she said, had asked her for a donation to help the Chechens. But a new version of the FBI’s report on its interview with Mr. Cabral contains a different statement: Mr. Cabral did not recall hearing Seda ask for a donation for the Chechens.

The question of whether Seda actually made such a request is vital for his trial. His lawyers have begun to argue that the inconsistency shows that Federal evidence rules were violated and a completely new trial is required. The judge has given both sides thirty days to file arguments about giving Seda a new trial.

He has been living in Portland for the past three years, wearing an electronic GPS bracelet to show the polices his location at all times. For now, he remains free.

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