STOCKTON – The imam of the Islamic Center of Stockton was sentenced to a year in prison Thursday for property tax fraud charges, a conviction that likely means he will be deported.
A federal jury in October found that 47-year-old Saeed Ur Rahman of Stockton failed to pay taxes on the sale of a property several years ago.
His defense attorney said, however, the case was a ploy to get Rahman deported to Pakistan because he was the target of an unjustified anti-terrorism probe that yielded nothing more than a tax mistake.
But federal prosecutors said Rahman attempted to pass the property sale as a “like-kind exchange,” a tax break allowed for property owners who may use the money from one property sale to buy another property. Rahman was found to have used it falsely in 2004 to avoid paying taxes.
And in 2005, Rahman fraudulently reported another property had been his personal residence for two years to avoid paying sales taxes on it, but authorities found out he actually only owned it for seven months, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Rahman’s attorney, Sacramento-based Mark Reichert, said the Islamic leader was prosecuted because of his origin and his religion.
“He was never given an opportunity to file an amendment,” Reichert said. “They just charged him with a crime because it’s a deportable offense.
“If he was a Catholic priest, he would have never been charged.”
Reichert said Rahman is not a terrorist, and did not purposely avoid taxes. He said Rahman, whose citizenship swearing-in had been put on hold in 2009 pending the charges, could potentially be separated from his wife and five children.
“He made a mistake,” Reichert said. “Everybody makes mistakes.”
During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. said Rahman was sophisticated in real estate matters, and his leadership position in the community almost made his criminal conduct worse, according to prosecutors.
Rahman was convicted Oct. 24, 2011, and England sentenced him Thursday to one year and one month in federal prison.
Rahman’s brother, Obed Rahman, also has been found guilty of tax fraud. He pleaded guilty last year, along with co-defendants Mohammad Nasir Khan and Shaker Ahmed, to conspiring to obstruct the IRS using the same property exchange tax method.