Wehelie, who knew the man’s home had just been searched, “essentially panicked and did something very foolish,” defense attorney Nina Ginsberg said.
Wehelie, now 61, described his own voice as that of an “unidentified male,” and he changed his voice-mail message. By the time he was questioned years after the 2012 incident, he had retired from the FBI and was living in Burke and driving a cab after several years of teaching English part time in Somalia.
“I lied, hoping I wouldn’t get caught,” he said in a letter to Alexandria federal judge Claude M. Hilton. “It was a grave mistake that I regret wholeheartedly.”
On Friday, Wehelie again apologized in court. He was sentenced to probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis noted that while Wehelie’s actions were “a betrayal of the trust of the U.S. government,” they found no evidence that he told the wiretap target about the surveillance, discussed any criminal activity with that target, or engaged in any other deception.
While the target of the wiretap is unnamed, the person he allegedly helped travel to Somalia matches the description of Liban Mohamed, a Virginia cabdriver who fled the United States in 2013 while under investigation for allegedly supporting al-Shabab. He was detained in Somalia two years later and remains abroad.
Wehelie’s son, Yusuf Wehelie, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the same courthouse on a firearm possession charge after discussing a potential terrorist attack with an undercover agent. He and his older brother had been detained in Egypt after a trip to Yemen. Yusuf Wehelie later disavowed his comments in support of terrorism. He said he was abused by Egyptian authorities and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Yusuf Wehelie remains in prison for another five years, Abdirizak Wehelie’s other children have gone on to careers in law, medicine and business. In letters to the court, they described how their father encouraged them in work and basketball while modeling an open-minded and loving approach to family. He mediated his daughter’s divorce and his niece’s marriage to someone of a different background, pushing back against cultural prejudices.
“My dad taught me that religion and culture are often indiscriminately blended together, and most individuals and societies are not reflective of their faith,” his daughter wrote.
He also helped Somali refugees settling in the Washington area and set up a funeral fund for those who could not afford burial.
“My dad was always kind and respectful to everyone, from children to adults, regardless of their background or creed,” his youngest son, an architecture student, wrote to the court. “He is really a kind and wonderful person.”