Alleged Money Scam Roils Islamic Center

March 31, 2009

Author: Del Quentin Wilber and Michelle Boorstein

Source: The Washington Post

In the Islamic Center of Washington, beneath the 160-foot minaret that towers over Embassy Row, a tale of intrigue has simmered for years. It is marked by bitter recriminations between two men who are credited with rehabilitating its reputation as a prominent symbol of Islam in the United States.

The center's business manager has been accused of stealing $430,000 from the mosque in a complicated check scam. The key witness against him is the center's director and imam, a Saudi who says he noticed the crime when he spotted too many checks being written to a gardener.

The Iranian-born business manager has a different story. He says the imam told him to take the money. About half was used to pay off debts and living expenses of two women who were close to the imam, and the rest was used to pay informants for tips about the mosque's security, he said.

It was enough to confound a jury, which deadlocked 9 to 3 after the business manager's three-week trial last May.

Now prosecutors are attempting to retry him, and the manager is firing back. He has accused the imam of committing perjury and obstructing justice. A federal judge is expected to rule in coming weeks on whether to drop the charges or prevent the imam from testifying.