US: Pizza Parlor Aided Mercenary in Afghanistan

A California pizza parlor illegally transferred $1 million out of the country, some of which reached Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a jailed American mercenary accused of running his own private interrogation camp in Afghanistan.
Publisher Name: 
The Oakland Tribune

HAYWARD - A bounty hunter on a rogue quest to kill Osama bin Laden received illegal money transfers wired through a Hayward pizza parlor, a federal agency revealed Friday.

Local restaurateur Noor Alocozy, owner of Liberty Pizza on West A Street, illegally transferred $1 million out of the country between 2002 and 2003, some of which reached Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a jailed American mercenary accused of running his own private interrogation camp in Afghanistan.

"(Idema) was a customer. He was one of this man Alocozy's clients," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which spent two years investigating Alocozy's Hayward-based money transmitting business, Noor Money Transfer, which operated out of the pizza parlor.

"These kinds of financial establishments don't operate within the rules. They don't approve the transactions as licensed operators are supposed to," Kice said. "That makes them an attractive option for people who are trying to move large sums of money around that don't want to be in law enforcement's radar."

Alocozy was unavailable for comment Friday, and employees at his pizza shop said he would not be available until next week.

He pleaded guilty in May in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, to illegally transferring money to unidentified individuals in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. He will be sentenced in August.

His lawyer, Stephen Shaiker of San Francisco, says the 41-year-old Hayward man, a native of Afghanistan, became mixed up in a business he did not quite understand. Alocozy was unaware that the various people who gave him money, which he then sent out by wire transfer to Afghanistan, could have sent it to individuals such as Idema, Shaiker said.

Meanwhile, Idema's lawyer, John Tiffany of New Jersey, when asked about the allegations that Idema received money from Alocozy's transfer service, said he believes ANG Newspapers is "being used" by federal agents running a smear campaign to discredit Idema.

"This is bull--," Tiffany said, yelling into the phone. "If the American public knew what was going on, there would be a revolution. It's outrageous ... This is nothing more than an attempt to assassinate the character of my client."

Idema, a former Green Beret, claimed to be working on a counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan in concert with the U.S. government before he was convicted by an Afghan court in September of charges that included running a private torture camp.

He is presently jailed with two other Americans at the Afghan prison of Pul-e-Charki.

Tiffany said he could not comment on any specific allegations unless the government releases the records showing that Idema received money from Alocozy.

"Is that a mistake, or is that a fact?" he asked. "And if he does appear in the records, to what degree of proportionality?"

Kice said she could not say how much, out of the $1 million Alcozy tranferred, went to Idema.

"I don't know how much money he received," she said. "But basically, he was a client, and he did receive money."

ICE officials say the case shows the importance of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, which strengthens the government's ability to crack down on unlicensed money transmittal businesses. The businesses now must be registered with the federal government and licensed by state authorities.

If Alocozy knew that, he would not have been involved in the business in the first place, said Shaiken, his lawyer.

"He didn't know he needed a license from the state," Shaiken said. "He only became aware of this when Bank of America sent him a letter saying he was not in compliance. So he closed down his business."

Shaiken said Alocozy has been completely honest with investigators, meeting with representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies.

"He has no intention of going back into the money remittance business," Shaiken said.

Alocozy's money transfer business was officially licensed by Alameda County until 2003, when he closed it down, according to records. The pizza shop, at the corner of West A Street and Garden Avenue in unincorporated Hayward, remains an active business.

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