Fraud charge for man held in failed New York City attack

Federal prosecutors allege Aftab Ali Khan gave money to the man convicted of plotting a bombing in Times Square

Published November 16, 2010 10:43PM (EST)

A Pakistani man arrested during the investigation of the failed Times Square bombing was charged Tuesday with immigration fraud and lying to federal investigators -- but he's not accused of knowing about or trying to take part in the botched attack.

Federal prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint that Aftab Ali Khan gave $4,900 to Faisal Shahzad, of Bridgeport, Conn., who was later convicted in the bombing attempt. Prosecutors said it was part of a transaction to get an equivalent amount of money to Khan's family in Pakistan.

The complaint says Khan, 28, who also goes by the name Aftab Ali, got married after entering the U.S. in 2009, then filed false papers to adjust his immigration status without disclosing an illegal job.

Khan made an initial appearance Tuesday in U.S. District Court, where a federal judge appointed a public defender to represent him and set a detention hearing for Friday. The attorney had no comment after the hearing.

Khan was arrested by federal investigators in May after phone records showed that three months earlier he'd been in contact with Shahzad, who later pleaded guilty to parking an SUV packed with explosives in Times Square and trying to detonate it. Officials also learned that Khan had given $4,900 to Shahzad.

According to an affidavit written by Homeland Security agent Timothy Irving, investigators looking into the money transfer determined that Khan gave the money to Shahzad to get it to family in Pakistan as part of an informal system called "hawala." The system allows users to avoid regulatory oversight and remain anonymous.

Khan is not accused of knowing what Shahzad would do with the money. But investigators say they uncovered fraudulent immigration documents and that Khan lied to them while they were investigating the Shahzad case.

According to the complaint, Khan met a U.S. Army private named Sharon Jeffcoat in 2007 while he was working as a truck driver in Kuwait and the couple got engaged. Jeffcoat applied for him to receive a visa that gave him permission to enter the U.S. for 90 days to marry only her, didn't permit him to work and allowed him to stay only if he applied for a green card.

But Khan didn't receive a visa until June 2009, two months after Jeffcoat broke off the engagement, and she warned him not to come to the United States.

Khan arrived in August anyway, but Jeffcoat refused his pleas to reconsider, according to the complaint. Khan then moved to Watertown, Mass., and soon began working at a gas station in Brookline, even though he was not permitted to work under his visa.

Then, in November, Khan married Cambridge resident Lila Sylla, and that day applied to change his immigration status, allegedly without listing his job at the gas station, as required.

Sylla's roommate later told investigators she'd never been introduced to Khan, and Sylla's mother said she didn't know her daughter had wed until a reporter asked her about the marriage in May 2010. Sylla later told investigators she had married Khan for immigration purposes, according to the complaint.

But during his interview with Department of Homeland Security officials in May, Khan denied he was married and was working, according to the complaint.

An immigration judge ordered Khan deported in May.

Shahzad, 31, admitted to leaving an SUV rigged with a homemade bomb in busy Times Squares on May 1. The bomb failed to go off, and Shahzad was arrested trying to leave the country on a Dubai-bound flight two days later. He was sentenced to life in prison.


Associated Press Writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.

By Denise Lavoie

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New York City Terrorism