By Rich McKay
(Reuters) – Three men convicted more than a decade ago of plotting to blow up New York City synagogues, a Jewish community center and shoot down military planes, were ordered to be released from prison by a judge on Thursday who said they had been manipultaed by the FBI.
In a scathing opinion against the FBI, the presiding judge called the men “hapless” petty criminals who were “easily manipulated” by the government in a sting operation.
The men to be released are: Onta Williams, David Williams and Laguerra Payen, who were three of what became known as the “Newburgh Four.”
A fourth man, described as the ringleader by the government, James Cromitie, did not seek compassionate release and is expected to serve until 2030.
Lawyers for the men could not immediately be identified by Reuters to seek comment.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon wrote in her 28-page order filed Thursday that all four men were caught up in a scheme in 2009 to attack the synagogues, community center and launch stinger missiles at military aircraft, driven by overzealous FBI agents and an “unsavory” confidential informant.
A spokesperson for the FBI was not immediately available to comment to Reuters.
The judge granted compassionate release to three men and reduced their sentence to time served plus 90 days, citing concerns for the men’s health and her own qualms about the original 25-year-sentence she imposed on the men in 2011.
Cromitie was described as the ringleader by prosecutors during the trial.
But Judge McMahon wrote that Cromitie was a small-time “grifter” who was broke and unemployed when he was enlisted in the FBI driven plot, who provided fake bombs to plant in exchange for $250,000 in the “jihadist mission.”
Cromitie enlisted the other three men to serve as lookouts, the judge wrote.
“Nothing about the crimes was the defendants’ own doing. The FBI invented the conspiracy,” McMahon wrote.
The three men are scheduled to be released in October.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Michael Perry)