Mark Deli Siljander, 60, a Republican who served in Congress from 1981-87, pleaded guilty in July 2010 to obstructing justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent in connection with his work for the Islamic American Relief Agency, based in Columbia, Mo.
Siljander represented Northwest Ottawa County until he was defeated in 1986 by Fred Upton. The district was later realigned and Guy VanderJagt was Northwest Ottawa County’s representative until he was defeated by Pete Hoekstra in 1992.
In his plea agreement, Siljander acknowledged that he lobbied between March and May 2004 on behalf of the IARA for the organization to be removed from a U.S. Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of funding international terrorism. The charity closed in October 2004 after being designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
IARA had lost its status as an approved government contractor in 1999, when the U.S. Agency for International Development terminated grants for two relief efforts in Mali, Africa. Prosecutors said $50,000 of the $75,000 Siljander received from the charity came from unused grant money that was supposed to have been returned to USAID after it terminated the Mali grants.
Siljander also acknowledged that he failed to register as an agent of a foreign entity, and had lied to FBI agents and prosecutors acting on behalf of a federal grand jury.
In court Wednesday, Siljander’s 20-year-old son Mark Jr. told U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey that while the charges against his father had been devastating, they also had brought family members closer together.
The younger Siljander told of how his friends had turned against him after his father, a devout Christian, had been connected in the media with terrorist organizations. He asked the judge to help keep the family together.
Siljander’s wife, Nancy, also pleaded with Laughrey to give her husband probation and not send him to jail. Siljander, clearly choked up after his wife’s statements, apologized for his actions.
“I did something wrong,” he said. “I mistreated the system I believe in. I mistreated my family and friends. I should have known better. I failed too many people, including myself and my family. I ask for your mercy.”
After a short recess, Laughrey said she had no choice but sentence Siljander to time behind bars.
“I came in this morning with the thought that I would sentence you to a longer time in jail,” she said, after announcing the sentence.
Although no real harm had been done by Siljander’s actions, she said, there was the potential for harm, and that’s why a prison sentence was necessary.
“For me, the real harm is that you kept lying to the government,” Laughrey said. However, she added, “This is not a case about somebody aiding a terrorist.”
Four co-defendants also were sentenced Wednesday. Among them were former IARA executive director Mubarak Hamed, who sent more than $1 million to Iraq through the charity in violation of U.S. sanctions. He pleaded guilty in June 2010 to illegally transferring the money and obstructing the administration of laws governing tax-exempt charities.
Hamed, whose attorney characterized him as a loving family man who devoted his life to charitable causes around the world, was sentenced to 58 months, or nearly five years, in prison.
“You painted yourself as a man devoted to charity,” Laughrey said. “I find that not to be credible. When confronted by the government, you lied. You continued to do what was in your best interest, in the best interest of your organization.”
The original indictment alleged the charity sent about $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Prosecutors said Siljander, who now lives in Great Falls, Va., lied to the FBI about being hired to lobby for the charity. He told investigators that the money he received was a donation to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.
Three others involved in the charity were sentenced Wednesday to probation.
Abdel Azim El-Siddig, of Chicago, Ill., a former fundraiser for the charity, was sentenced to two years of probation for conspiring to hire Siljander to lobby for the charity’s removal from the list of those suspected of having terrorist ties, while concealing this advocacy and not registering with the proper authorities.
Ali Mohamed Bagegni, a native of Libya who is a naturalized U.S. citizen and former resident of Columbia, was sentenced to six months of probation for his role in the conspiracy. Bagegni was a member of the board of directors of IARA.
Ahmad Mustafa of Columbia, a citizen of Iraq and a lawful permanent resident alien of the United States, also was sentenced to six months of probation for illegally transferring funds in violation of federal sanctions.