ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A former transit-agency police officer was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday after being convicted in a sting operation of attempting to help the Islamic State group.
Nicholas Young, 38, of Fairfax, Virginia, became the first law-enforcement officer in the country to be convicted of a terrorism offense when a federal jury found him guilty in December on charges including obstruction of justice and attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group.
Young had been a patrol officer in the D.C. region's Metrorail system and was known as "Officer Friendly" at the Takoma Park station where he was assigned.
But the Muslim convert had been under surveillance going back at least as far as 2010. He was friends with Zachary Chesser, another convert who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to join the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia and for making threats against the creators of the "South Park" cartoon series for episodes he deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
In 2016, Young purchased more than $200 in gift cards he believed would be used to purchase mobile-phone apps the Islamic State could use to communicate securely. In reality, though, Young's Islamic State connection was an FBI informant.
Young apologized for his conduct in a letter to the judge, but said he only bought the gift cards because he wanted to support a person he thought was a friend. At Friday's sentencing hearing, Young said he was prosecuted only after he refused an FBI offer to be an informant. At trial, Young's lawyers argued unsuccessfully that the sting operation amounted to entrapment.
"I have never desired or encouraged any act of terrorism in this country, not now, not ever," Young wrote.
But prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said Young's explanations of his conduct are disingenuous.
"The only time he was ever asked to help ISIS, he accepted," Kromberg said. The FBI informant, known to Young as "Mo," had told Young that the gift cards were needed because the Islamic State was losing fighters, and they needed the gift cards to recruit more fighters by communicating with them securely through purchase of a specific mobile-phone app.
Kromberg said Young engaged in a litany of bad conduct over the years, including travel to Libya, where prosecutors say Young served with a militant group that hadn't been officially designated a terrorist group. In addition, he said Young trafficked in Nazi memorabilia that flowed from anti-Semitic views that meshed with his embrace of militant Islam. He noted that Young was stockpiling body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition, and that he engaged in conversations about smuggling weapons into a federal courthouse to free a Muslim prisoner, as well as attacking FBI headquarters.
"What happened in July 2016 (with the gift card purchase) was not an aberration, not something out of character for the defendant," Kromberg said.
Judge Leonie Brinkema said the evidence about Young's stockpiling of weapons and his comments about violence made the case "particularly troublesome." The 15-year sentence she imposed largely fell in line with other terror-related sentences imposed at the courthouse in recent years. Neither prosecutors nor the defense offered a specific recommendation to the judge.