An Israeli national, who has been identified as a confidential informant who helped the FBI build a terrorism case against three Palm Beach County men, pleaded guilty Friday to wire fraud, admitting he bilked nearly $340,000 from Muslims in a long-running stranded traveler’s scam.
Mohammed Agbareia, 51, who has lived in the West Palm Beach area for about 10 years and said he has a master’s degree in physics, was sentenced to 25 months in prison and agreed to be deported back to his home country after his release.
His attorney, Donnie Murrell, said one of the reason his client agreed to the plea deal is so he could leave the Palm Beach County jail where he has been kept in solitary confinement since he was identified as an informant. While officials claim it was for Agbareia’s protection, Murrell said the conditions are awful. “You wouldn’t do it to a dog,” he said.
Neither Murrell nor federal prosecutors have identified Agbareia as the confidential informant who gathered information that was used last year to charge Gregory Hubbard, Dayne Christian and Darren Arness Jackson with providing material support to a terrorist organization. Others familiar with the cases have confirmed his involvement.
At Agbareia’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, two federal prosecutors who are involved in the terrorism case looked on. Both met with Agbareia’s wife after her husband was led from the courtroom in shackles.
Defense attorneys have said that it’s not unusual for confidential informants to have criminal records. But, they said, it’s highly unusual for one to be indicted while working with law enforcement.
According to court records, it appears Agbareia was running the scam while working undercover for the FBI. As part of his plea deal, Agbareia admitted that from 2011 to shortly before he was arrested in June he continued to rake in money by duping Muslims into thinking he was an Islamic leader who was stranded at an airport and convincing them to wire him money.
In court papers, Murrell said Agbareia told FBI agents in September 2016 that he was continuing the scheme that officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations have tried to halt for at least two decades.
The three men were accused of supporting ISIS in July 2016 after prosecutors say a “confidential human informant” spent months with them, taping conversations in which they pledged support for the terrorist group and plotted to join them.
That informant was later indicted, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gilbert in a hearing on Hubbard’s case. She didn’t name Agbareia.
Hubbard, 53, a Marine veteran who worked as an artist in The Acreage until he became homeless, is taking his case to trial. Christian, 32, of Lake Park, and Jackson, 52, of Royal Palm Beach, each pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Both agreed to testify against Hubbard and are awaiting sentencing.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Islamic council, voiced disappointment — but not surprise — that Agbareia received such a light sentence. For years, he said the group has put out alerts, warning Muslims about Agbareia’s scheme that got him deported from Canada.
In 2006, after returning to Canada illegally, Agbareia was extradited to Alabama were he was convicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the scam. He was released after serving 12 months of a two-year sentence after federal prosecutors filed a sealed motion in his case. Court records show he then moved to West Palm Beach.
“It seems almost like a slap on the wrist for someone who’s been doing this type of stuff for decades,” Hooper said of Agbareia’s new sentence. “While we’re glad he’ll be spending some time behind bars, with him when he gets out, he just starts all over again.”