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Eroding the Foundation
by the Oregonian Editorial Board
Yasrebi admits that, operating the charitable Child Foundation, he sent
cash into Iran to pay for school tuition and other expenses, in
apparent violation of the U.S. economic embargo of Iran. The Clackamas
engineer also admits that, in an attempt to cover it up, he and an
Iranian associate falsified documents to deceive the U.S. government,
which is a felony.
But what turned this into a 10-year
investigation, involving wiretapping, a raid of the foundation's offices
and two secret indictments that Yasrebi still hasn't seen, was the
federal government's insistence that Yasrebi was somehow connected to
terrorism. But Tuesday, Portland federal Judge Garr
King found an utter lack of evidence for any such connection, and
sentenced Yasrebi to one year of home confinement, rejecting the
government's request for 2 1/2 years in prison.
Terrorism is a
serious threat to Americans. But as Judge King suggested, seeing
terrorism in places where it isn't can also be a problem, distorting
government priorities and threatening the relationship between the U.S.
government and the people who live here.
In 1994, Yasrebi, an
Iranian refugee with permanent residency status, founded the Child
Foundation, providing support to poor children in several countries,
including Iran. In 2000, he sent an 86-page inquiry to the U.S. Office
of Foreign Assets Control outlining the foundation's efforts in Iraq and
asking about its legality. The agency never responded.
"If they had told him in 2000, 'Stop,' then nothing would ever have happened," says Yasrebi's attorney, David Angeli.
inquired again in 2001, again with no response. An OFAC internal memo
directed employees not to respond, in order not to compromise a possible
Five years later, Yasrebi fraudulently
devised documents to cover the money sent to Iraq. In 2008, the
foundation's premises were raided. Last year, he pleaded guilty to one
count, the foundation paid fines, and he was sentenced Tuesday -- almost
12 years after his initial, unanswered inquiry to the government.
government sought jail time, on grounds that $100,000 of the money may
have gone to an unsavory Iranian figure. King refused, ruling that the
government had provided no evidence of a terror connection. Yasrebi is
now separated from the foundation, which has "adopted measures to ensure
that our current and future operations are fully compliant with all
legal requirements." All the foundation's aid to children in Iran is now
in the form of bulk food, legal under the
The U.S. government had legitimate legal issues in
Yasrebi's case, although it seems that it might have been resolved much
earlier and with less muscle. But the case still raises concerns that
any connection with certain countries or concepts can warp basic legal
procedures, immersing them in overkill and secrecy.
Judge King saw that Tuesday. It could have been noticed earlier.