|Adams Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Terror Plot|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
03:02PM / Wednesday, September 05, 2018
|The note from Ciccolo's mother and stepfather. |
Defense attorney David Hoose speaks outside the courthouse on Wednesday after Alex Ciccolo's sentencing.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Three years and two months after an arrest that eventually led to charges of violating federal terrorism statutes, an Adams man has agreed to begin serving a 20-year sentence and a lifetime of supervised release.
Alexander Ciccolo appeared Wednesday afternoon before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni in U.S. District Court, but the now-convicted terrorist said little in a 47-minute hearing, only speaking up to answer direct questions from the judge.
Mastroianni accepted the sentencing recommendation agreed to in advance by the government and Ciccolo's attorneys, David Hoose of Northampton and Ramzi Kassem of New York City.
Ciccolo, then 23, was arrested on July 4, 2015, and originally held on violation of federal weapons possession charges. Later that summer, the government revealed in court documents that it suspected Ciccolo of sympathizing with and plotting on behalf of the Islamic State, or ISIL.
, Ciccolo pleaded guilty on all charges, including that he supported ISIL and planned a terror attack on an unnamed college campus outside the commonwealth.
On the courthouse steps after the hearing, Hoose revealed that the unnamed institutions were in New Mexico, and that Ciccolo in the time preceding his arrest was vague and inconsistent about what institutions he wished to target.
In fact, Ciccolo had no means to carry out such an attack, Hoose said, repeating an argument he made before Mastroianni prior to sentencing.
"He did not seem to have the ability to pull off his plan," Hoose said. "As I said in court, we tried as much as possible to get the government to focus on what he did, not what he said he was going to do, because the truth is he really did very little and had no ability to do the rest of it.
"The perfect example of that is that there was going to be an attack on one of three institutions in New Mexico, of all places … He had no ability to get to New Mexico. He had no car. He had no driver’s license. He really did not have any ability to pull that off. We talked about the fact that he needed weapons for this to take place. He didn’t have any weapons or any money to buy weapons, so when it got to be July 4, the date the government wanted to coordinate some takedowns of terrorists … the government gave him the weapons.
"I think it’s fair to say, as his folks said in their statement, that this could have been handled another way."
Hoose shared a handwritten statement from Ciccolo’s mother and stepfather, who were in court again on Wednesday.
"We would like to express our gratitude for the many people globally, whose support and prayers for Alex and our family meant so much during this difficult time," the note reads in part. "His sentence is unjust and harsh and Alex is undeserving of it. But we have no place in our hearts for anger or shame. We are proud of our son for who he truly is, not how he is falsely portrayed by the media and all those who do not even know him."
The government argued on Wednesday that Ciccolo’s 20-year sentence fits the crime and sends a message.
"We want to urge the court to look at this in the context of what our country has been going through in recent times," Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika Baines Shukla said. "The country has faced terrorism as a very significant threat to our safety. This has been a major challenge in the 21st century.
"The defendant himself specifically referenced the Boston Marathon bombings in the course of his conduct. He spoke of his brothers using a pressure cooker bomb at the Marathon, and he, himself, started constructing a pressure cooker bomb. He bought a pressure cooker from Walmart the day before he was arrested."
Shukla praised the efforts of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and, for the first time in open court, acknowledged the tip given to authorities by Ciccolo’s father, a Boston Police captain, which led to the investigation of the Adams resident.
"That lead came from the defendant’s father," Shukla said, confirming a report that was first made in the Boston media shortly after Ciccolo’s 2015 arrest. "He reported the defendant. He was afraid that he wanted to fight for ISIS. … He’s a captain in the Boston Police Department, so he was aware of the consequences of reporting his son. He had to balance the dual roles of being a father and being a law enforcement officer."
Outside the courthouse, Hoose and Kassem suggested that their client’s father may have anticipated the FBI would do a "knock and talk" with the 23-year-old rather than execute what Hoose characterized as a "sting." They emphasized that Ciccolo's "social circle" at the time of his arrest consisted entirely of government informants and operatives and that he never made contact with ISIL itself.
"We are certainly aware of cases where the FBI through its efforts and the State Department through its efforts identify potential risks, go and talk to them, and nothing ever happens — or sometimes something does happen, but at least they’ve been given a warning," Hoose said. "Mr. Ciccolo never got any warning. He was doing a lot of talking about a plan, but he actually hadn’t done very much at all toward implementing that plan.
"And when things were going too slowly, the government just gave him the weapons."
Hoose suggested that if people Google the date July 4, 2015, they will see stories about then-FBI Director James Comey announcing an Independence Day roundup of terror suspects.
"I’m sure the government will deny it, but I think they wanted him to be part of that group of terrorists being taken down," Hoose said.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Ciccolo will receive credit for the three years he has been incarcerated since his arrest toward the 20-year sentence.
In addition to the standard conditions of supervised release, Ciccolo, at age 43, will be subject to a number of special conditions that Mastroianni read from the bench on Wednesday afternoon.
Ciccolo will be prohibited from consuming any alcohol, required to participate in any mental health program mandated by the government and not be allowed to use any unauthorized Internet-capable devices. The devices he will be allowed to use will be equipped by the government with monitoring software.
Hoose asked Mastroianni to recommend that Ciccolo, who has been held in a facility in Rhode Island during the trial, be incarcerated at a federal facility in the Northeast — either New Jersey or Pennsylvania — to allow his family to maintain contact.
Hoose mentioned that 95 percent or more of Ciccolo’s phone calls during his detention have been from his mother and stepfather.
"The facility in New Jersey is still a four- or five-hour drive for his folks, who have visited him regularly and been a strong part of his support system," Hoose told the judge, who agreed to make that recommendation.
Hoose also took exception to the government’s characterization of Ciccolo as "currently supporting the Islamic state" in its sentencing memorandum. Mastroianni did not rule on Hoose’s objection, which the Northampton attorney said was dealt with in a footnote.
Outside court, he clarified his exception to that characterization.
"Ramzi and I and Buzz Eisenberg have all been actively involved with Mr. Ciccolo for the past three years," Hoose said. "We spent a lot of time trying to understand him. As is evident from the government’s sentencing memorandum and the statements attributed to him on the Internet, Alex is often a guy who speaks off the cuff and says things that he really shouldn’t say.
"When you sit him down and get him to calm down and focus, what you get is a very different picture. I think we can say that he believes in the idea of an Islamic caliphate. He does not support the current group that calls itself ISIL or ISIS or their tactics. But he’s very serious about his religion, and I think, at least in a theoretical sense, he hopes for an Islamic caliphate someday to come into existence."
The government, meanwhile, maintains that by taking action against someone who, at the time, was working to align his actions with ISIL’s tactics, the war on terrorism was advanced.
"They received a lead and followed up on that lead and, because of them, a domestic terrorism attack was thwarted," Shukla said. "And we’re thankful for that.
"It’s important the FBI continue what they’re doing, and we wanted to make it clear the defendant is being prosecuted because he took action on his extremist views. His views do not reflect the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims in the U.S. and around the world."
Shukla also anticipated Hoose’ argument about Ciccolo’s limited means to carry out his grandiose plans.
"Whatever the limitations of his organizational ability, the fact is he was on the Internet soliciting people to help him with his plan," she said. "Luckily, he didn’t find anyone to take him up on his offer, but he could have."