Liberia: Woewiyou’s Family Worried Over Delayed Sentencing by Federal Court

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PHILADELPHIA – One year ago today, Juconte Thomas Woewiyou, a Liberian ex-rebel leader in Delaware County near Philadelphia was convicted in a historic trial after a jury found him guilty on 11 federal charges. Lying about his participation in the Liberian civil war, his advocating for the forceful overthrow of an elected government and for persecuting another person based on ethnic, social or political affiliations were his among the key counts for his conviction.

After a three-week trial that included testimonies from foreign reporters, intelligence officials and at least two dozen victim witnesses, the former rebel defense minister and spokesman for the rebel NPFL became the first ranking member of Charles Taylor’s rebel group to receive a conviction in a U.S. court.

A 12-member U.S. jury returned a verdict on July 3, 2018, finding the defendant guilty of two counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, two counts of fraud in immigration documents, two counts of false statements in relation to naturalization, and five counts of perjury.

Woewiyou, 73 was scheduled to be sentenced on October 15, 2018 by Federal District judge Anita Brody. He faces up to 75 years in prison and up to $1m in fines. 

But since then, Woewiyou’s sentence hearings have been postponed at least three times, with no direct reason offered by the court or parties to the case. Prosecutors confirmed that he posted bail and wore an electronic tracking device which allowed him to commute back and forth to court from his Collingdale home unhindered.  

But questions have persisted over why the convicted ex-warlord hasn’t started serving time in a federal prison for his crime.  

“When it comes up it will be on the docket, sir,” said James Scheidt, the Clarke of Court in the 5th District Court. He avoided any further questioning about the case. 

When Mohammed Jabbateh was convicted in 2017, his sentencing was swift, and since then, he’s served more than two years of his 30-year sentence. Although he posted appeal in U.S. Federal Appeals Court, his family members and friends are questioning the 5th District Court’s slow walk in sentencing Woewiyou. 

“This is heartbreaking and we believe it’s unusual that when it comes to Woewiyou, they let him sit home with his family for a whole year. It’s unconscionable,” said a family member who spoke to our reporter by phone.

When asked about these delays and the conspiracy theories coming from the Jabbatehs and other concerned Liberians, the lead federal prosecutor and Assistant U.S. prosecutor for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Linwood C. Wright, Jr denied any knowledge of conspiracy surround the delays by the federal court. He said as far as he was concerned, there’s nothing to support any such conspiracy. 

“No, I’m not worried and there’s no reason for anything like that. The court is doing its due diligence. It’s looking at all the issues,” said L.C Wright. 

He shutdown down any rumor among conspiracy theorists who fear that Woewiyou may never see a jail cell, saying, “he will be sentenced; there should be no question about that.”

Woewiyu’s federal public defender did not return calls. 

The acclaimed Liberian human rights advocacy agency said Tuesday that the delay and uncertainties are creating some uneasiness among the victims and witnesses. 

“We trust the system and we know that Woewiyou will be sentenced no matter how long it takes, “said Hassan Bility, Director of Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project. 

“But these delays are a little depressing for everyone here,” he added.

On May 12, 2014, Federal agents arrested Woewiyou at Newark’s Liberty International airport 2014 as he returned from Liberia, where he had been a candidate for senior Senator in his home county of Grand Bassa.

In October 2014, bail was paid, and a Federal Judge from Philadelphia granted Woewiyou temporary release before his trial, under the condition that he stayed under house arrest. The trial began on 11 June 2018.

“The defendant’s tenure as Minister of Defense for the NPFL was marked by almost unimaginable violence and brutality,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “He attempted to evade all accountability for his gruesome and horrific crimes by fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship. Due to the hard work and perseverance of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners, he has nowhere left to hide. Finally, this defendant has been brought to justice. I hope the conviction today can provide some comfort, however belated, to all of his victims and their families.”

Since approximately Jan. 13, 1972, Woewiyou has had Lawful Permanent Resident status in the United States. On Jan. 23, 2006, Woewiyou applied for U.S. citizenship by submitting a Form N-400. On that form, and in his immigration in-person interview, Woewiyou swore and certified under the penalty of perjury that, among other things, he had never advocated (either directly or indirectly) the overthrow of any government by force or violence, and that he had never persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 410 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed 908 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 122 such individuals from the United States.

ICE said at the time that had more than 135 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 75,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 260 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

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