WASHINGTON -- A suspect in a terrorism sting pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a case that federal prosecutors and the FBI had turned down, setting up a rare situation in which local prosecutors in New York handled a terrorism case.
Jose Pimentel, 29, was arrested in November 2011 and charged with trying to construct a bomb. While terrorism cases are typically handled by the FBI, federal authorities washed their hands of the case, citing the actions of a New York City Police Department informant.
At the time of the arrest, then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference where they presented a video of police blowing up a car to show what could have happened if the plot had gone forward. Defense attorneys said one of the informants on the case allegedly supplied a mentally ill Pimentel with free food, a place to sleep and an Internet connection. The informant provided Pimentel with free pot, which he also smoked.
Lawyers for Pimentel, a Muslim convert who allegedly tried to circumcise himself, said he couldn't and wouldn't have gone forward with the plot unless the NYPD's informants were holding his hand every step of the way.
Still, Pimentel pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday to a reduced charge, one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism. As part of a plea deal, he will serve 16 years in prison. Pimentel had faced 15 years to life under the original charges, and his lawyer Susan Walsh told reporters her client decided it wasn't worth the risk.
“The fundamental question that will not be answered, at least in the court of law, is who exactly is recruiting whom in this war on terror,” Walsh said outside court, according to The New York Times.
Making a successful entrapment defense in federal court is notoriously difficult, and while state-level terrorism charges are very unusual, the entrapment defense doesn't seem to be gaining ground in state courts either.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. defended his office's decision to pursue the case despite the informant's actions.
"We always wish in all our cases we might have priests or rabbis as our key witnesses," Vance said, according to The New York Times. "But that isn’t life."