Section: Capital Region, Times Union
Date: Tuesday, April 25, 2006
PARALLELS OF INEQUITY IN TERROR CASES
By FRED LeBRUN
For the second time, government prosecutors have had to significantly back down on claims against the accused in local terrorism cases.
First it was the sting involving the still-to-be-tried imam of an Albany mosque. A critical word in an incriminating document that the federal government took to the grand jury as "commander" turned out to be "brother." That revelation certainly deflated the U.S. attorney's case against Kurdish refugee Yassin Aref as far as the public was concerned.
Now, what yet another grand jury was told were high crimes by a Chinese immigrant living in Guilderland turn out to be the equivalent of jaywalking thanks to a screw-up by the State Department.
Jun Wang, a microbiologist at Wadsworth Laboratories of the state Health Department, was accused of mailing sensitive guidance systems back to China, ostensibly for the military.
But then we learned the same guidance systems are legally sold in China, as they are all over the world, and Wang's only impropriety was a procedural one of not filling out proper export papers.
Meanwhile, Wang - who was hired at the Health Department through a contractor - spent a month in jail. He was fired from his job because the contractor got skittish from the publicity, according to Wang's attorney, Kevin Luibrand. And Wang is threatened with deportation.
So sorry we erred and ruined your life, Mr. Wang.
What inevitably happens to cases like these two, which get big media buildups but turn out to be molehills, is that the accused pay a big price whether they are guilty or not.
All to salve the ego and arrogance of our Justice Department, which wouldn't think of walking away in the interests of justice.
It's the "where there's smoke, there's fire" prosecutorial strategy. OK, so there was no fire, but we think we smell smoke, so let them pay for the fire anyway.
In this instance, Wang is still confined to his home, having posted $250,000 bail, all because the government hasn't been able to track every one of those guidance systems to the university Wang said they were going to.
You know what? So what.
If these guidance systems are on the open market and anybody can buy them, there's no point to tracking them all down.
It's not as if Wang was trying to hide any of the transactions, which should have been a tip-off to the feds. The money from China was wired directly to Wang's SEFCU credit union account, and he sent electronics back to his brother by snail mail.
Now the government is combing through Wang's tax returns to see if he declared the transactions. This is beyond ridiculous. If there was no crime, then hounding Wang amounts to malicious prosecution, regardless of the 9/11 embargo of our civil rights by the Bush administration.
Granted, in the cases of both Aref and Wang we do not know, and are unlikely to ever know with certitude, what is in their hearts, what their true motivations were. With Aref, the evidence strongly points to making a buck. With Wang, we just don't know.
Fair is fair. The same can be said for not knowing what is in the hearts of the prosecutors. Sad to say, their motivations are proving to be even murkier than those of the two men they are prosecuting.
Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org