A defense lawyer told a Brooklyn federal judge Tuesday that Long Island terrorist-turned-informant Bryant Neal Vinas deserved credit for being “the single most valuable al-Qaida cooperator” ever at a hearing to prepare for his sentencing.
Vinas, 33, formerly of North Patchogue, made a rare court appearance wearing brown prison khakis with his hair tied in a ponytail but said nothing as defense lawyers, prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis discussed how to handle classified information in the case.
“This could be the most difficult sentencing I’ve ever had, and I’m not going to do it without all of the information,” Garaufis told prosecutor Richard Tucker. “The court is entitled to the entire dossier.”
Vinas pleaded guilty secretly in 2009 to aiding in a 2008 rocket attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, training with al-Qaida and supplying information on city subways and the Long Island Rail Road to the terrorist group, according to Brooklyn federal court records.
Vinas went to Pakistan to participate in jihad in 2007, but was captured and turned over to the FBI in 2008, and has been in custody since then. Currently held in an undisclosed location, he is not listed on the federal Bureau of Prisons website.
The judge did not set a sentencing date on Tuesday, but said he will do so at Vinas’ next court appearance, scheduled for Nov. 22. Vinas’ lawyer said his client understands that he will have a continuing obligation to keep providing information.
“He is looking forward to being sentenced,” said the lawyer, Steve Zissou. Vinas’ father and sister attended the hearing, but did not comment afterward.
Vinas, in 2012 testimony at the trial of one of the men accused of plotting an attack on the New York City subways, said he was recruited by al-Qaida in Pakistan and discussed plans to explode a suitcase bomb on the Long Island Rail Road or return an explosives-packed TV to a Walmart.
In addition, the men accused of recruiting Vinas have been prosecuted, he has provided evidence for terrorism trials in Europe, and he is widely believed to have provided additional information that may have aided the United States but has never made it into a courtroom.
Tucker told Garaufis that the government’s sentencing submissions in the case would involve sealed materials “some of which are quite sensitive, some of which are classified,” and said some matters would likely be presented to the judge ex parte — without being shown to the defense.
But Zissou said government officials had vouched publicly for the exceptional value of information Vinas provided, and predicted the sentencing would lead to litigation over what the defense should see to insure that the judge got a full picture of Vinas’ assistance and its fruits.
“There are no shortcuts on this sentence,” Garaufis said.