Bin Laden relative keeps lawyer despite tax plea
NEW YORK (AP) — Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law insisted Thursday that he’ll be represented when he is sentenced on a terrorism conviction by the same lawyer who handled his case at his trial despite the lawyer’s own recent guilty pleas to tax charges.
At a hearing, a judge repeatedly warned the bin Laden relative, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, that he should consult another attorney before deciding whether to let Stanley Cohen continue representing him.
But Abu Ghaith, who as al-Qaida’s chief spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks warned that the “storm of airplanes” against America would not end, told U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan through an Arabic interpreter that Cohen can stay on the case despite potential conflicts of interest.
Abu Ghaith was convicted in March of conspiring to kill Americans and support al-Qaida and faces a likely life prison term when he is sentenced this summer.
Last month, Cohen pleaded guilty in Syracuse federal court to impeding U.S. tax authorities. He pleaded guilty Thursday in Manhattan federal court to two related misdemeanor charges, admitting that he failed to file taxes for two years.
Kaplan told Abu Ghaith it was his “extremely strong advice” that he consult an independent attorney about the potential conflicts of interest that may result as Cohen represents him at the same time he is preparing for his own sentencing.
According to a deal Cohen struck with the prosecutors, his guilty plea will stand if a judge agrees to impose an 18-month prison term. If not, the pleas may be withdrawn or nullified and the case would proceed.
On Thursday, his hands folded before him, Abu Ghaith said he understood that Cohen’s tax case might cause the lawyer “to work with less enthusiasm.”
After lengthy questioning of Abu Ghaith, Kaplan said he found that he understood potential conflicts and had given up the right to claim he was represented by inefficient counsel.
“It’s knowing and voluntary and intelligent and the circumstances are totally understood,” Kaplan said.