PORTLAND — An Oregon-based Islamic charity has pleaded guilty to tax fraud in a plea agreement that includes dropping criminal charges against the foundation’s former head, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall announced Tuesday.
Pete Seda is the former head of the U.S. branch of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation based in Ashland. A federal appeals court last summer overturned his 2010 conviction on charges he smuggled money out of the country to help Chechen rebels fight Russian forces.
On Tuesday, the charity pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene to one count of filing a false tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. The group was placed on probation for three years, and it agreed during that time not to resume operating as a tax-exempt charity in the U.S., prosecutors said.
The charity failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service that a $150,000 donation in 2000 went overseas to Saudi Arabia and was meant to be sent to Chechnya, prosecutors said. The charity falsely reported on its tax return that the money was used partly to buy a building in the U.S.
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The foundation was disbanded after the U.S. government declared it was a terrorist organization and froze its assets.
A message left Tuesday evening with a lawyer representing the charity was not immediately returned.
Also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, Seda worked for many years as a tree surgeon in Ashland, where he operated the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and was an outspoken proponent of the peaceful aspects of Islam.
A jury convicted the Iranian-born U.S. citizen in 2010 of using the foundation to help smuggle $150,000 to Saudi Arabia in 2000 and signing a fraudulent tax return to cover it up. During the trial, Seda blamed the tax return on his accountant and maintained the money was for humanitarian aid.
At Seda’s 2011 sentencing, a federal judge said there was no proof directly linking him to terrorism, but the judge said he had no doubt the money went to Islamic fighters in Chechnya, as the prosecution maintained.
In August 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction, saying the government turned what was really a tax-fraud case into a terrorism case. The court said the defense was given incomplete versions of classified documents.