A confidential informant who helped ensnare three Florida men as ISIS supporters in an FBI sting was simultaneously running wire fraud scams on the side.
Gregory Hubbard, Dayne Antani Christian, and Darren Arness Jackson all lived in or near West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s unclear how they first met the FBI’s informant, Mohammed Agbareia, but according to FBI documents, Hubbard and Agbareia were friendly enough by April 2015 that Hubbard felt comfortable emailing him a 100-page e-book published by ISIS.
Hubbard had told Agbareia that he wanted to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group. “You do not want to get busted on the way there,” Hubbard told him.
Hubbard introduced Agbareia to Christian and Jackson. For months, they talked about jihad, schemed about ways to join ISIS, and fired guns at targets. Christian, a convicted felon who had made false statements on paperwork to buy guns and was not permitted to possess firearms, sold an AK-47 to Agbareia.
In July 2016, Hubbard and Agbareia purchased plane tickets to Germany, ostensibly the first leg of their journey to Syria. Jackson drove Hubbard and Agbareia to Miami International Airport, at which point Jackson, Hubbard, and Christian were arrested and charged with providing material support to ISIS. Christian was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Jackson and Christian have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Hubbard has elected to go to trial.
The government has stonewalled efforts by defense lawyers to acquire the identity of and information about Agbareia under rules of evidence that require prosecutors to disclose information that would be helpful to a defendant’s case.
According to court records, Agbareia began working for the FBI only after being convicted in U.S. District Court in Alabama for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In 2004, Agbareia, who was then in Canada, called the Islamic Society of Mobile claiming to be a man named Dr. Mohammed Salem Al-Saleh from the Islamic Bank of Development in Saudi Arabia. Agbareia told Husam Omar, the vice president of the Mobile religious organization, that the Islamic Bank of Development was offering financial support and that an associate named Zouhair Hissy would be in Alabama soon to finalize a payment. The next day, Agbareia called again, this time claiming to be Hissy. He told Omar that he and his wife were stranded in Canada and needed money to purchase tickets to continue the journey to Alabama. Omar sent Agbareia $1,500 by Western Union. Of course, no one came to Alabama. It was a scam.
After pleading guilty to the wire fraud case in March 2006, Agbareia was ordered to report to immigration authorities for possible deportation. But instead of being removed from the United States, Agbareia signed up with the FBI.
Even while working for federal law enforcement — and while leading a counterterrorism sting against Hubbard, Christian, and Jackson — Agbareia continued his scamming ways. According to a new wire fraud indictment handed down in Florida on June 27, Agbareia has continued to swindle people with his stranded traveler scheme. He received six Western Union wire transfers from 2012 to 2017 from victims in Texas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, and Germany. Two of the wire transfers — one for $1,414.26 from Berlin and another for $1,000 from Brooklyn — occurred around the time he was working undercover in the FBI’s ISIS sting.
Agbareia could not be reached. His lawyer, Donnie Murrell, did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that there are intersections between Agbareia’s scams and his undercover work for the FBI. In a filing, federal prosecutor Jared M. Strauss has asked that evidence against Agbareia be placed under a protective order because “certain portions of the case relate to a matter of national security.”
That should be news to the defense lawyers who represent Hubbard, Christian, and Jackson. Despite two of the defendants already having pleaded guilty, federal prosecutors have yet to come clean about Agbareia.
In a March 14 hearing, Hubbard’s defense lawyer, Vanessa Chen, explained that she and her co-counsel had been requesting information about Agbareia since the fall of 2016. “Because this is a proactive prosecution on the part of the FBI, as opposed to a reactive one, that underscores the importance of the information regarding the confidential informant,” Chen told the judge. “In essence, this is the catalyst and crux of their case.”
Federal prosecutors’ position has been that they do not have an obligation to provide information about the FBI’s informant so far in advance of a trial, since Hubbard’s is not scheduled until October 30. “In a national security case at this point, I mean, we understand our obligations to turn it over, but the trial is in late October,” federal prosecutor Edward Nucci said in the March 14 hearing. The judge in the case has since set a July 31 deadline for prosecutors to turn over information about Agbareia.
Federal prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment. Anthony J. Natale, who is Chen’s co-counsel in defending Hubbard, also declined to comment. “Anything we have to say on this matter we will say in our pleadings or in our court hearings,” Natale added. Lawyers representing Christian and Jackson did not respond to a request for comment.
This is the latest in a long list of cases in which the FBI has struggled to curb the criminal activity of its more than 15,000 informants. An FBI report disclosed in 2011 found that agents permitted informants to break the law 5,658 times in a single year. In counterterrorism cases, informants violating the law without the FBI’s permission — as was the case here with Agbareia — is not an uncommon occurrence. Elie Assaad, who worked the Liberty City Seven case in Miami and at least one other counterterrorism sting, was arrested for choking his pregnant wife around the time he was undercover with the FBI. The charges were dropped after Assaad’s wife changed her mind about prosecuting. In another example, the informant who led a counterterrorism sting against a Massachusetts man named Rezwan Ferdaus purchased heroin while on FBI video.
In Agbareia’s case, federal prosecutors are asking the judge to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act to protect some evidence, including testimony from the defendant’s wife and son, from public release. Agbareia’s lawyer, Murrell, noted in a June 30 filing that federal prosecutors haven’t specified the level of classification — top secret, secret, or confidential — the evidence involves, raising questions that the information “is not ‘classified’ simply because it might embarrass law enforcement or in some way hinder prosecution of this or other cases.”
Federal prosecutors have requested Agbareia’s witnesses disclose up front the testimony they intend to offer, giving the U.S. Attorney’s Office an opportunity to agree to the release of “a stipulated, declassified summary of that information.” In other words, federal prosecutors want to use claims of classified evidence to control the information Agbareia can use in his defense.