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Man in New York synagogue bomb plot gets 25 years

Defendant Payen stands with prosecutor Snyder in this courtroom sketch of his arraignment in New York
Defendant Payen stands with prosecutor Snyder in this courtroom sketch of his arraignment in New York

By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man who stood watch while two of his co-conspirators planted what they thought were bombs outside New York City synagogues in 2009 was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Wednesday.

Laguerre Payen, 29, a Haitian citizen, was convicted in October along with three others following a trial in Manhattan federal court.

The three other defendants were each sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison in June. Payen was sentenced separately because his attorney, Samuel Braverman, had requested he be evaluated for mental health issues.

Braverman also had argued his client deserved less than the mandatory 25-year minimum sentence because he had played a minor role in the plot.

All four men were found guilty of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles.

At both Payen's and the previous sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon did not mince words about her view of the FBI and prosecutors' actions in mounting and prosecuting the sting operation that netted the men.

"I'm not proud of the government for what it did in this case," McMahon said.

When given a chance to speak, Payen asked the judge whether she thought he was truly a militant as the government had alleged when the men were first arrested.

"I want to know from you, am I a terrorist? Am I an extremist? Am I guilty?" Payen said.

"You tried to do a terrible thing and you tried to do it for a terrible reason," McMahon responded. "Maybe that doesn't make you a terrorist as I understand what a terrorist is, but it makes you a criminal."

Over the course of the trial, the defense team representing the four defendants said the FBI had made reckless use of a confidential informant who prodded the men forward with promises of money and glory.

The three other men in the plot who are now in prison are James Cromitie of Newburgh, New York, and David and Onta Williams. All four are appealing their convictions.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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