In August 2002, relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks filed a $100 trillion lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., against more than 80 individuals and organizations they deemed responsible for financing the attacks. Seda and al Buthe were among those named as defendants. The basis for their inclusion in the suit? Investigators hired by the plaintiffs claimed that the business card of al Haramain-Riyadh’s deputy general director, Mansour al Kadi, had been found in the home of a Kenyan al Qaeda operative who had been Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary. Since al Kadi also was listed as vice president of the Ashland chapter of al Haramain, the suit named all four of the Ashland chapter’s directors.
Word leaked. Soon after, a lone protestor began staking out the Mail Stop in downtown Ashland, where Seda rented a post-office box that served as the chapter’s business address. “ALL ARABS MUST DIE,” read the man’s sign. It was too much for Seda.
One day in February 2003, with his tree-pruning business in ruins, Seda knocked on the bedroom door of his oldest son, Jonah. Suitcase in hand, Seda told his son that he was leaving for Saudi Arabia for hajj and was taking Joseph, Jonah’s 15-year-old brother, with him. “I said, ‘Cool, see you in a couple of weeks,’” recalls Jonah, who that month had turned 19 and relished the prospect of living on his own for a short time. As it turned out, he would not see his father on U.S. soil for four and a half years.
At 7 in the morning nearly a year later—February 18, 2004—with his father and little brother now living in the United Arab Emirates, Jonah was in his bedroom at the prayer house, knotting his tie in preparation for an interview for a teller position at a local bank, when the doorbell rang. He opened the front door and stared, mouth agape, at more than two dozen FBI and IRS agents, as well as officers from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police. Some of them wore body armor and had their guns drawn. Colleen Anderson, an IRS special agent, handed Seda’s son a search warrant allowing her team to seize evidence pertaining to the investigation into whether his father and al Buthe had committed tax fraud and conspired to smuggle money out of the United States. Jonah frantically dialed Berger; over the next six hours, the two men watched as agents ransacked the house, filling an unmarked utility truck parked in the driveway with evidence and leaving behind red-clay footprints on the prayer room’s blue plush rugs.
Less than three months later, on May 6, the FBI arrested Brandon Mayfield and charged him with the Madrid bombings. Evidence used to justify his arrest included a phone call someone—neither he nor his wife remembers making the call—placed to Seda using Mayfield’s wife’s cell phone. Four months later, the Treasury Department froze the assets of the Ashland chapter of al Haramain and of al Buthe, naming both him and the nonprofit to its “specially designated global terrorist” list.
Soon after that announcement, Charles Carreon, a public defender who once tutored Seda as a fellow student at Southern Oregon State College in the 1980s (Seda’s dyslexia was so bad, Carreon says, that he ended up just typing Seda’s term papers while Seda dictated) and did legal work for Seda’s arborist business, staged a silent protest in Ashland’s main public square. The sign he held was labeled “TERRORIST LIST,” with a photograph of Brandon Mayfield, another of Seda, and a silhouette labeled “YOUR NAME HERE.”
At Pete Seda’s detention hearing at the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse in Eugene on August 22, 2007, a week after his surrender, a jangling of leg shackles announces the returned fugitive’s entrance into the main courtroom, a cove-lit ultramodern parabolic chamber with walls of terraced cherrywood. Dressed in loose-fitting prison greens stenciled with the words “LANE COUNTY JAIL,” Seda grins effusively and waves at his sons, who are seated in the front row. The gallery’s packed, even though this isn’t a trial. It’s just a hearing to determine whether or not Seda will be released while he awaits his October 2008 jury trial. Typically, a detention hearing involving charges of irregularities on federal tax and customs forms is a nonevent: The judge sets conditions of release and the date of trial, and then frees the prisoner, a process that more often than not is over in a matter of minutes. Today’s hearing, however, will last more than five hours.
The government has staked out territory on the left side of the room, where the pewlike benches are packed with FBI and IRS agents, many of whom participated in the prayer-house raid. Nearby sits U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut, the ranking Justice Department official in Oregon, who made the two-hour drive from her office in the Hatfield Federal Building in downtown Portland. Police detectives in Portland call Immergut “the Stalker,” for the tenacity with which she pursues an investigation, although most people remember her as the woman who grilled Monica Lewinsky before the grand jury investigating Bill Clinton (impassively asking questions like “And on that occasion, did you perform oral sex on the President?”) Although Immergut says she’s in the gallery as a boss observing her staff at work, her presence in the courtroom sends a clear signal that the Justice Department deems Seda’s case to be a high priority.