Islamic Center Leader Pleads Guilty To Immigration Fraud

Islamic Center leader pleads guilty to immigration fraud

By Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer
February 28, 2008

BOSTON–A local imam whose arrest caused anger in the Muslim community pleaded guilty Thursday to immigration fraud charges in a plea deal with federal prosecutors that would spare him prison time but could lead to his deportation.

Muhammad Masood, 49, the former spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of New England's mosque in Sharon, admitted during a change-of-plea hearing in U.S. District Court that he lied to immigration officials and on immigration forms after he applied to become a permanent resident of the United States in 2002.

Masood, a citizen of Pakistan who has lived in the United States for about 20 years, pleaded guilty to five charges, including fraud and making false statements.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutions agreed to recommend a sentence of three years probation, but no prison time. They also agreed to dismiss four other similar charges against Masood.

But Masood's guilty plea could ultimately force him to return to Pakistan.

“It may have an effect on your immigration status. It may lead to deportation from the United States,” Judge Douglas Woodlock told Masood while asking him if he was sure he wanted to plead guilty rather than go to trial on the charges.

The arrests of Masood and another local imam, Hafiz Abdul Hannan, the leader of the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell, in November 2006 prompted an outcry from the Muslim community. Several hundred people attended a rally on City Hall Plaza after they were released on bail, and several local Muslims accused the government of charging the men simply because they are Muslim.

Masood, who initially entered the country on a student visa in the late 1980s and studied at Boston University, admitted that he lied repeatedly to immigration officials.

Immigration law required people who had student visas to leave the United States for at least two years before they could apply to return.

Masood admitted he lied when he claimed on his application for permanent residency that he had returned to Pakistan from 1991-93. Authorities said he stayed in the United States during that time. He also admitted listing a false address in Pakistan for that time period.

Masood also admitted he lied on his application when he said he had never been charged with a crime, either here or outside the United States. Masood was charged with shoplifting in Norwood in August 2000.

Masood and his son were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with 31 others in a nationwide sweep of an alleged scheme to provide religious-worker visas to immigrants who instead got secular jobs.

Masood declined comment after the hearing. His lawyer, Norman Zalkind, said Masood considered the plea agreement the best outcome for the case.

“We made what we consider a very fair agreement based on the evidence that was shown,” Zalkind said.

Woodlock set sentencing for May 22.