This is Part VI, the conclusion in a series that has been appearing exclusively in Taxi & Livery Times.
Every day, I listened to the news and read the papers looking for some word about Mr. Najran… but none appeared. The Department of Treasury started to ramp up its enforcement of bad actors, which had started with drug-money launderers years before. Now OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control, was cracking down on suspected terrorists by insisting that financial institutions establish controls that would identify and freeze assets held by suspected bad guys. In addition, FinCen, The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was collecting the information that financial institutions sent to them when violations of Bank Secrecy Act occurred. Any CTR, Currency Transaction Report or SAR, Suspicious Activity Report, would be sent to FinCen for them to analyze, and ultimately to utilize in prosecutions if warranted.
Towards the end of the 1990s, I had been victimized by a minor identity fraud, which had been caught early. In attempting to get law enforcement involved, I tried both local and federal law enforcement but got no takers. Law enforcement agencies simply were not interested because fraud was difficult to uncover and prosecute. Banks and other financial institutions generally had insurance against fraud so there was little to be gained in the eyes of the FBI or the police.
That is, until the “Millennium Bomber.”
The Millennium Bomber was named Ahmed Ressam. He was an Algerian Al Qaeda member who plotted to bomb LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport. For a period of time, Ressam lived in Toronto and was surviving on credit cards and other forms of identity theft. After the events of September 11, 2001, the FBI became much more interested in identity theft.
In addition, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which required financial institutions to perform much more due diligence on their customers and prospective customers than before. For example, proof of address – which had never been a requirement – was now part of the process. And verification of personal information of the new account holder had to be done as well. These processes, which seemed onerous at first, became more seamless as time moved on and software was created to streamline the process.
In the meantime, through this developing technology called search engines, we were able to begin piecing together who our Mr. Najran was. It was a fact that he was one of the United Nations spokesmen for the Taliban, who were not recognized by the UN as a legitimate governmental entity.
He seemed reasonably well-suited for this work. He was articulate. He was a graduate of Columbia University. The mysteries were plentiful. And then a few months later, he was interested in refinancing his medallion loans. He provided us his tax returns, both corporate and personal. Now, because he was a person of interest, we had to get permission from the OFAC before issuing a new loan to him.
Surprisingly, OFAC gave us the approval. I was nonplussed. Maybe the government was playing possum. The government works in mysterious ways. So, because there was no cash out from this refinancing at this particular time, only a restructuring of his existing debt, maybe the government didn’t want to show their hand that they were watching him? So, they approved the loan.
One day in 2003, Mr. Najran appeared at the credit union with another fellow. The other fellow, Mr. Najran explained, was interested in opening an account for the purpose of buying a medallion.
“Not a problem as long as he possesses the items required by the Patriot Act, like a driver’s license, proof of address, like a utility bill, and $26,” I told him.
Mr. Najran said that he was denied opening the account because his friend just moved to New York and didn’t have the utility bill, as yet. I said to him when he gets one, he can open the account.
From that point, Najran started vehemently complaining about these stupid new rules about utility bills… “and whatever happened to trust in this country.” It took every ounce of self-control for me to keep from saying, “IT’S BECAUSE OF YOU, YOU F***ING A**HOLE.”
A couple years later in 2004, Najran got arrested on tax and mortgage fraud. In the indictment, it said that he had underreported his income as spokesman for the Taliban at the United Nations to the IRS. It also said that he neglected to report his wife’s income as an employee at the Taliban mission in Flushing.
That was the tax fraud. The mortgage fraud consisted of claiming that his wife earned more money than she actually did. This was done to obtain a lower rate mortgage than the couple would have otherwise qualified for. Had he simply taken a no income check mortgage offered at the time for a slightly higher interest rate, the mortgage fraud would likely not have been an issue. So, ultimately, Mr. and Mrs. Najran were facing fraud charges simply because they were cheap and willing to cheat the government and the banks. A true American doing his patriotic duty.
It was later revealed that Mr. Najran had been arrested many years earlier on a charge of illegally importing snow leopard pelts from Afghanistan. Rather than face the potentiality of extended prison time, the FBI offered him a deal to provide them with information in exchange for his freedom. So, the picture became clearer to me as to why OFAC was willing to allow Najran to continue to borrow and refinance his medallions. He was already a double agent or at least, an informer. Could it be that he was hired by the Taliban due to his facility with the English language, or that he was already living in the United States so a rent stipend wouldn’t be necessary? Did being a spokesman, like being an attorney representing a nefarious client, make him a bad person? Not necessarily.
Last I saw him, he had changed his first name to Ron, and had shaved his beard off entirely. Last I read about him, he was visited at his house in Huntington, Long Island by the police and arrested for shooting off some firearms as part of a New Year’s celebration. Poor, misunderstood guy.