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Iraqi native sentenced to prison

A South Salt Lake man originally from Iraq was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $10,000 on Monday for illegally transferring nearly $2 million to the Middle East.

Much of the money that Kareem Abdalhassin Albasam, 42, wired overseas ended up in Iraq, in violation of a 1990 federal embargo. He pleaded guilty in January to operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell called Albasam "quite an enigma" because he claimed to be providing funds for the humanitarian needs of family and friends in Iraq while breaking the law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lunnen said the problem was that Albasam didn't know where the money ultimately went. "Mr. Albasam is not a terrorist," Lunnen told the court. "I think he was placed between a rock and a hard spot."

Albasam's attorney, Jeff Gallup, said the "vast majority, 95 percent," of the funds, which were sent to Iraq through a brother in Jordan, were used to pay for housing and other immediate needs for friends and family members.

He said Albasam chose to do "what he saw as the lesser of two evils."

Albasam, now a U.S. citizen, was forced to flee Iraq in 1991 after participating in the failed uprising against Saddam Hussein shortly after the end of Desert Storm, Gallup said. He said Albasam supported the efforts to liberate Iraq.

Campbell, though, was more interested in Albasam's lack of an apology for his actions.

"You acted with reckless disregard of where the money went," she said, adding that Albasam had not shown any remorse and had criticized the Patriot Act as too broad. She also noted he made a commission on the transactions.

"I don't see think that is facing reality," she said. "What I see is you were remorseful you were found out."

Albasam had no comment after he was sentenced. Lunnen said he "was a little surprised" at the judge's decision. The government had not asked for prison time and had not charged him with income tax evasion or violating the embargo.

Still, Albasam faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. "I don't think it's entirely unwarranted," Lunnen said of the sentence. "I did not expect him to be sent to jail or given a fine."

According to the government, Albasam made a series of wire transfers using 11 bank accounts at four banks in West Valley City and Salt Lake City for more than 530 customers in at least 10 states.

The money went to a bank in Jordan, with "a significant portion" going to individuals in Iraq. The government said that Albasam's brother, who is believed to have started the business, appears to have transmitted nearly $1.9 million to Jordan.

Those transfers are part of an ongoing investigation.