Nine-Year Sentence of Terrorist Suspect Upheld by Circuit

, New York Law Journal

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When Eastern District Judge Raymond Dearie (See Profile) gave a prison sentence to a member of a designated terrorist group that was less than half of what the government sought in 2012, he said it wasn't easy.

"I will not miss this case because it's given me some of the most difficult and, in many ways, loneliest moments of my career trying to figure out a rational, reasonable sentence," Dearie said at the sentencing of Pratheepan Thavaraja of Sri Lanka, a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Pratheepan was eligible for 20 years in prison but Dearie gave him nine years in a decision that was upheld Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Pretheepan had pleaded guilty to buying more than $20 million worth of anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers and other military-grade equipment in his role as a procurement officer for the Liberation Tigers, (LTTE), which has been designated a terrorist group.

He was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to foreign terrorist organization. Pratheepan had also pleaded guilty a conspiracy to bribe officials to take the LTTE off the State Department list.

The guidelines range was 30 years in prison, but statutory maximums on two counts put a ceiling of 20 years on the sentence. The Eastern District U.S. Attorney's Office asked Dearie on Sept. 6, 2012 to sentence Pratheepan, then 37, to the maximum, in part because Pratheepan was directly involved in the procurement of suicide vests at a time of suicide attacks by the LTTE in its long-running war to break away from Sri Lanka and form an independent state.

But Dearie said compelling circumstances justified a significant downward departure from the sentencing guidelines range.

He said the case was unusual "because it carries the banner of terrorism and yet involves people who certainly pose no direct threat to the United States."

At the same time, Dearie said "[w]e don't justify the ends with this kind of means. Indeed, these folks, although they pose no direct threat, face severe sanctions here in the United States because we don't in any way underwrite or care to underwrite terrorist activities anywhere in the world."

He said Pratheepan had been a model prisoner for six years at the Metropolitan Detention Center, where he tutored other detainees and was not motivated by "power" or "self aggrandizement" but by a desire "to help the Tamil people," adding "It is beyond me to make sense of the situation in Sri Lanka."

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