Nine years ago the FBI made a startling announcement: A “sleeper cell” of al-Qaida operatives was uncovered in California’s Central Valley.
Following the arrests of five terror suspects, journalists swarmed to this sleepy farming city of 60,000 known for its zinfandel and the 1969 Credence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi.”
Over the next two years, all except one of the criminal cases unraveled. Federal prosecutors dropped the al-Qaida claims against three of the men and deported them without charges.
A jury convicted Hamid Hayat, a young cherry picker, of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and returning to the United States to await orders for an attack. Hayat’s father was accused of lying to federal agents about his son’s activities but those charges were dropped after jurors couldn’t reach a verdict.
Now Hayat, 31, has mounted a broad assault on his conviction and 24-year prison sentence. His legal team is headed by Dennis Riordan, the same lawyer handling baseball star Barry Bonds’ appeal, which is a stark contrast from Hayat’s first tr
ial when his lone attorney was handling her first criminal case.
The new appeal has revived debate over whether Hayat had a “jihadi heart” and was intent on leading a terrorist attack, as alleged by prosecutors, or was unfairly punished for voicing anti-American views that he never intended to act on.
The high-profile investigation and prosecution started with a paid informant’s now-discredited claims that he saw high-ranking al-Qaida officials attend a Lodi mosque in the late 1990s. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI paid the informant USD230,000 over three years to infiltrate the mosque and record conversations with imams and worshippers. AP