CEDAR RAPIDS — Convicted Monday of most charges in a halal beef exporting scheme, Midamar Corp. founder William Aossey Jr. was put in jail while a federal judge considers what to do with the 73-year-old until his sentencing.
Aossey was convicted by a jury on 15 of 19 federal charges involving the sale of misbranded “halal” beef products and falsifying export documents and certificates.
The founder of the Cedar Rapids company, at 1105 60th Ave. S.W., was accused in October 2014 of falsely representing that the beef he was exporting to Malaysia and Indonesia met strict slaughtering standards.
After a trial last week, the jury acquitted him Monday of four charges of money laundering but convicted him on other charges including conspiracy and wire fraud. He could face years in prison when sentenced.
Aossey, who was free during his trial, was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after the government asked for him to remain in jail pending his sentencing. He appeared in leg chains for the detention hearing.
During that hearing, U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade heard testimony about Aossey’s relationships with others charged with crimes — including Ali Al Herz and three of his family members, accused of trying to smuggle guns to Lebanon — and his international ties that pose a flight risk.
Haytham Faraj, Aossey’s attorney, argued his client isn’t charged in the gun smuggling case. Aossey didn’t know that weapons were in a shipping container so it’s “guilt by association” to try to link him to that case, Faraj said.
Months ago, Midamar initiated a clothing drive to collect items for refugees in Lebanon.
Midamar employees testified Monday they boxed up some items for the shipment but didn’t know about the guns and said the container belonged to Ali Al Herz, not Midamar or Aossey.
Cedar Rapids Police Det. John Matias, who is working the gun smuggling investigation, testified Aossey and Ali Al Herz were good friends and that Al Herz had worked at Midamar for several years in the past.
He said Aossey called the freight company, upset, when he learned the container was being searched by authorities. Matias said Aossey called it “my” container.
Matias then identified a photo from a surveillance video that showed Aossey looking in the container that was at Midamar in May. He also walked inside of it.
However, the guns were found hidden within Bobcat skid loaders in the shipment and couldn’t easily be seen.
Michael Hare, an IRS special agent, testified that Aossey showed up after authorities arrived with a search warrant at Midamar in May and was “disrespectful” and “belligerent,” demanding to have agents’ names.
Reade said it was odd Aossey would be so agitated if he didn’t think anything was wrong.
Faraj said it was understandable from Aossey’s perspective because he was trying to do something good by sending relief items to refugees, and being stopped by authorities for an unknown reason.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy admitted there wasn’t direct information tying Aossey to buying or smuggling guns. But he argued it was difficult to believe Aossey didn’t know about it.
Murphy said Aossey couldn’t be “trusted to abide” by the law. He said Aossey had worldwide connections and could leave the country.
Murphy added that Aossey admitted during the beef export trial to breaking the law by telling employees to remove required USDA labels and directing others to falsify export documents.
Faraj argued Aossey’s entire life is in Cedar Rapids — his work and family — and he wouldn’t risk it by leaving the country.
Reade, however, said Aossey will remain in jail until she makes a ruling on whether to release him pending sentencing, which could be, at least, a few months away.
Aossey was found guilty of 15 counts — one count of conspiracy to make false statements, sell misbranded meat and commit mail and wire fraud; seven counts of making or causing false statements to be made on export applications; and seven counts of wire fraud.
Each count of the wire fraud alone calls for up to 20 years.
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