A Williamsburg man who traveled to Jordan in a failed attempt to contact a terrorist group and then tried to join the U.S. military was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.
Shivam Patel, 28, also was ordered to pay $4,000 in fines in connection with two counts of making false statements during his military application process.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bosse and defense attorney Timothy Clancy declined to comment. In court, the prosecution asked for a sentence of eight years in prison while the defense wanted time served – about 11 months.
Federal guidelines called for a sentence of between 8 and 14 months.
According to court documents and prosecutors, Patel – who was raised Hindu before converting to Islam several years ago – traveled to China in July 2016 to teach English. While there, he grew displeased with how that country treated Muslims.
His employer arranged for Patel to fly back to Virginia on Aug. 23, 2016, but, instead, Patel traveled to Jordan, where he was arrested a few days later for unspecified reasons. Court documents said Patel told taxi drivers and others in Jordan that he supported the Islamic State.
A search of Patel’s computer showed he researched how to join the Islamic State before he left for China.
Jordanian officials moved to deport Patel, prompting him to return to the United States on Sept. 2, 2016. On his way back to Virginia, he stopped in Detroit, where he started talking with an undercover FBI source about the Islamic State. He explained he went to Jordan in part to find like-minded Muslims. He said he wanted to do something “bigger, better, and more purposeful,” like dying in the cause of Allah.
Patel stayed in touch with the FBI source after returning to Williamsburg. At one point in his conversations with the source, he expressed support for Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 soldiers in 2009 while serving at Fort Hood.
About nine weeks after that conversation, Patel made his first call to a military recruiter, Bosse said.
Simply expressing support for a terrorist organization or attack is not against the law. Patel’s crime was failing to disclose his trips to Jordan when he was trying to join the Army and Air Force in December 2016 and January 2017. Court documents say Patel lied about his travel history. He had said his only time out of the country in the past seven years was a family trip to India in 2011 and 2012.
During an interview with the Army, the recruiter asked to see Patel’s passport to confirm his travel claims. Patel agreed to bring it by, but two days later he told the State Department he had accidentally thrown it away in October and needed a new one.
In a letter to the court, Patel, who has a degree in criminal justice from Virginia State University, recalled a history of mental health problems, his shifting views on religion and spirituality over the years, and his desire to help others. He added that after returning from Jordan, his views on Islam changed significantly, to the point he was again attending Hindu services with his parents before his arrest.
He said he tried to join the military and other paramilitary organizations in the area, like the Suffolk and Williamsburg police departments, because his parents were trying to arrange a marriage. He said he was trying to make himself more attractive to a prospective wife.
In his own court documents, Clancy summarized multiple conversations Patel had with the FBI source in which his client said he disagreed with the actions of the Islamic State. The defense attorney added an FBI analyst had a “medium” level of confidence early last year Patel was not a threat.
Bosse countered Patel was concerned at the time the source was a police informant and that the analyst was voicing the opinion of only one person. He dismissed Patel’s letter as a self-serving attempt to explain away his past comments in support of the Islamic State.
U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis said Patel’s case was more serious than the typical false statement cases filed in federal court. He said Patel’s attempt to join the military was “clearly some reason for concern.”
“It’s all very troubling,” he said.
© 2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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