Judge orders release of ‘Newburgh 4,’ framed by FBI

By Brian Williams
August 21, 2023

NEW YORK — After being arrested in 2009, convicted a year later for a “conspiracy” that didn’t exist, and imprisoned for the last 14 years, three men who are part of a group known as the “Newburgh Four” were granted compassionate release July 27 by federal Judge Colleen McMahon.

The four, who are Muslims, were framed up on charges of conspiring to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and to fire Stinger missiles at military planes at Stewart International Airport, near Newburgh.

The entire plot was “an FBI-orchestrated conspiracy,” the judge ruled. After the lawyer for the three men filed a motion for their release, the judge had taken three months to review the case and determined it was 100% a setup. Bombs were left outside two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx — but they were fakes, built by the FBI.

“Nothing about the crimes of conviction was defendants’ own doing,” McMahon wrote. “The FBI invented the conspiracy; identified the targets; manufactured the ordnance”; and “federalized” the charges by driving several of the men across state lines into Connecticut to “view the ‘bombs.’”

The operation was set in motion and pushed by FBI informant Shahed Hussain. Posing as a wealthy Pakistani businessman, he promised to pay up to $250,000 to James Cromitie, the fourth defendant, who would get others involved.

Under the ruling the judge slashed the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for Onta Williams, David Williams and Laguerre Payen to time served plus 90 days. The delay in their release involves time to find them housing.

Cromitie wasn’t part of the compassionate-release request. His attorney, Kerry Lawrence, said he intends to speak with him about pursuing similar action.

McMahon, who had imposed the original 25-year sentence on the four men, wrote in her ruling setting them free that that sentence “was the product of a fictitious plot to do things that these men had never remotely contemplated, and that were never going to happen.”

“We are tremendously pleased that our clients are on their way home — even if it’s 14 years too late,” Amith Gupta, one of the lawyers representing Payen and the Williamses, told the media. The three men were “entrapped for their race, religion and working-class backgrounds by a government looking to spread fear of Muslims and justify bloated budgets.”

There are similar entrapment frame-up convictions engineered by government agencies as part of an anti-Muslim scare in the years following Sept. 11, 2001, around the country that deserve similar reconsideration today.