A Milwaukee man who wanted to join the Islamic State was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in federal prison.
Federal prosecutors called Jason Ludke “a true danger” and recommended a 20-year sentence followed by a lifetime of federal supervision, but his attorney called him a “lost soul” who can’t express himself well who should only do five years.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman settled on the seven-year sentence, followed by 10 years of supervised release.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors said, “Ludke agreed and intended to join and fight for ISIS, because ISIS’s goals were his goals,” and that he “believes violence is the way to bring about what he wants.”
Ludke, 38, and Yosvany Padilla-Conde, 32, were charged in 2016 with attempting to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization after a series of online conversations with an undercover FBI employee in which they professed allegiance to the Islamic State, court records show.
Ludke pleaded guilty in October. Padilla-Conde’s case is set for trial later this year.
Ludke had sent a friend request on Facebook to an FBI agent posing as someone with ISIS. He then encouraged Padilla-Conde to join him in traveling to Texas, per the undercover agent’s direction, on the way to Mexico from where they believed they could get passports to travel to Syria. The pair were arrested near San Angelo, Texas.
Even Ludke’s own attorney admitted that, “On paper, things don’t look good for Jason Ludke.” He committed the crime while on supervision for threatening to kill a federal judge and bomb a Green Bay courthouse. He had cut off a GPS monitoring bracelet before leaving for Texas.
“He has spent all but 6 months of the last 18 years in prison. He has convictions for property crimes and a sex offense. He doesn’t have an education. He lacks a strong support network. He has virtually no employment history. He has abused drugs,” his attorney, Josh Uller, wrote in a sentencing memo.
He noted Ludke’s low cognitive level, history of mental illness and his time in prison. He said that Islam gave him a sense of belonging.
“Yet his lack of understanding has led to an attachment to fringe elements well outside the mainstream,” Uller wrote “His conduct here is the product of that misunderstanding and his inability to express himself.”
He said his client is no terrorist, just “low-hanging fruit” for federal agents eager to justify a $3 billion annual budget for counterterrorism.
“America’s war on terror is a national security issue and the laws and sentencing guidelines treat it as such. But Ludke is no national security threat. He’s a mentally ill and cognitively impaired lost soul from Green Bay. He survived an unimaginable childhood that didn’t prepare him for the real world,” Uller wrote.
Uller noted that all Ludke did was tell an undercover FBI agent he wanted to travel abroad, pledged his allegiance to an ISIS leader in a video and drove toward Mexico, where he was instructed to await further instruction from the agent.
But prosecutors described that willingness very differently. “Volunteering oneself to a Foreign Terrorist Organization is, arguably, the most dangerous form of material support.”