Religious group took alleged terrorist money

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010

A group of Ohio ministers has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the organization that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast because it received money six years ago from an alleged Islamic terrorist organization trying to finance illicit lobbying.

ClergyVoice, the activist group that wrote to the IRS commissioner Wednesday, complained that the Fellowship Foundation violated its obligation as a tax-exempt organization not to deal with such entities.

The foundation, an Arlington-based religious enterprise associated with a house at 133 C St. SE where several members of the House and Senate have rented rooms, acknowledged Wednesday that it had received two $25,000 checks, in May and June 2004, from the Missouri-based Islamic American Relief Agency.

The charity was included on a Senate Finance Committee list of terrorist financiers in January of that year.

The foundation said the agency's money was neither retained nor used to finance foreign trips it has organized for lawmakers such as Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The group's vetting of donors has been tightened, President Richard E. Carver said in an interview Wednesday. "Hopefully, we would not see a repeat of this kind of experience," he added.

The Islamic American Relief Agency was raided and shuttered by federal agents in October 2004, but in the months after its inclusion on the Senate committee list, it mounted a quiet lobbying effort to clear its name. Carver initially said his group had checked up on the charity at the time the money came in and found nothing, but then said later in the day that he had received incorrect information and that no such checking had occurred.

Extensive government wiretaps and data collected in the raid led to multiple federal indictments of the relief agency's officers. They culminated in a guilty plea four months ago by chief executive Mubarak Hamed in which he acknowledged sending a $25,000 check to the International Foundation in May 2004. Carver said that was one of the names for his group.

Hamed, in his plea, said the purpose was to pay for lobbying by former congressman Mark D. Siljander (R-Mich.), a prominent social conservative who promised to help the agency get off the Senate terrorist financing list. Siljander, in a July courtroom appearance, pleaded guilty to serving as the charity's unregistered agent in meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and admitted lying to federal officers about his role.

The Justice Department has said the money involved was stolen from a grant given to the charity by the Agency for International Development in the late 1990s to finance relief work in Mali. Siljander knew at the time that the charity was controlled from Sudan, and he suggested that his payments be routed through foundations, according to his plea.

Carver said that at the time, Siljander - a fundamentalist who has attained prominence for advocating closer relations with Muslims - was an "associate" of the Fellowship Foundation, and that it has long been the foundation's practice to process donations and payments for all 200 or so associates at its 300 affiliated ministries. Its annual budget is about $16 million, he said.

The money "probably came in at a time when nobody thought there was a reason for Mark to do something" wrong, Carver said. "We never had any reason to expect we would get anything like that."

The Justice Department, in an October 2008 indictment, said the foundation had sent only "part" of the charity's money to Siljander. But Carver forwarded a statement by the group's accountant saying that "100 percent of the funds . . . were distributed" in Siljander's wages and benefits.

An IRS spokesman said the agency is not permitted to comment on the tax "status" of nonprofits.

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