- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad is the focus of an ongoing probe into accusations he financed his nomadic lifestyle and a sniper killing spree by smuggling illegal aliens into the United States from the Caribbean.
U.S. law-enforcement authorities yesterday confirmed that police officials in Antigua, assisted by the FBI, are trying to determine how Mr. Muhammad obtained a passport in that island nation and whether he sold forged identity papers in a scheme to smuggle people into the United States.
Mr. Muhammad and a companion, John Lee Malvo, 17, have been charged in a 23-day shooting spree that killed 10 persons and wounded three in random sniper attacks from Aspen Hill, Md., to Ashland, Va.
Murder warrants have been filed against the two men by prosecutors in Maryland, Virginia and Alabama, where they are accused in a separate shooting. The Justice Department also has named Mr. Muhammad in a 20-count criminal complaint. Six of those counts could result in the death penalty.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio yesterday labeled as "false" published reports saying his office and the White House prevented a confession by Mr. Muhammad in the sniper killings after his Oct. 24 capture at a Frederick County, Md., rest stop.
The New York Times, quoting anonymous state and federal investigators, said Mr. DiBiagio interrupted an interrogation of the sniper suspect at a holding facility in Rockville at a time when it "looked like Muhammad was ready to share everything, and these guys were going to get a confession."
The investigators told the newspaper that Mr. DiBiagio said he was "on orders from the Justice Department and the White House" to deliver Mr. Muhammad to Baltimore to face federal weapons charges.
"The allegations in the New York Times article today are false," Mr. DiBiagio said in a statement. "At no time did I say that the White House had anything to do with the decision to place John Allen Muhammad in federal custody.
"Further, it should be clear to everyone involved in this matter that no White House officials had anything to do with any of the decisions about where these individuals would be in custody or where charges might be brought," he said.
In the Antigua investigation, U.S. authorities said Mr. Muhammad moved to that island nation in 2000 during a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife Mildred regarding their three children. It was in Antigua that he met Mr. Malvo, a Jamaican national, authorities said. The teenager moved in with Mr. Muhammad, who introduced him to neighbors as his son, they said.
Records show Mr. Muhammad obtained an Antiguan passport in July 2000, after submitting a birth certificate claiming that his mother, Eva Ferris, had been born in that country. Mrs. Ferris later was identified as his daughter's fourth-grade teacher, who was no relation to him, authorities said.
In April 2001, Mr. Muhammad was detained at Miami International Airport after U.S. immigration inspectors said he was found to be using false documents in an attempt to smuggle two Jamaican women into the United States. The women were later deported, and Mr. Muhammad was not charged in the matter.
Antigua Attorney General Gretel Thom told reporters yesterday she planned to meet with two FBI agents now in that country to assist in the probe, but declined to elaborate. Four police officials in Antigua have been named to a special task force to investigate accusations of passport fraud and racketeering by Mr. Muhammad.
Mr. Malvo was detained by the Border Patrol in Washington state in December as an illegal alien, but later released by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was scheduled for a deportation hearing in November.
Accusations concerning Mr. DiBiagio's contact with task force investigators during the Muhammad interrogation was the first public skirmish in what promises to be a continuing fight about who gets to first bring the sniper suspects to trial.
Prosecutors at the Justice Department and in Virginia were said to be upset at the quick filing of murder charges Friday by Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, saying he had violated an agreement to wait before bringing murder warrants. Some department officials suggested Mr. Gansler was behind the leak to the New York Times.
But Mr. Gansler said yesterday he does not subscribe to the New York Times and he did not know "what they were talking about." He added that it would be inappropriate to discuss the article or the Justice Department's response to it. He also denied violating any agreement, saying he was not aware that one existed.
Senior Justice Department officials said Mr. Muhammad volunteered no information about the shootings and never made an offer to confess. They said Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo invoked their constitutional right not to speak to task force investigators without an attorney present and were taken before a federal magistrate for their initial court hearings.
"They weren't about to confess to anything," said one Justice Department official. "The short interview that task force members did have with the two men was totally nonproductive."
According to the sources, Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested at 3:19 a.m. at an Interstate 70 rest stop, and task force members, including FBI Agent Gary Bald, who heads the bureau's Baltimore field office, did not begin any conversations with the men until 10:30 a.m.
At 1:30 p.m., they said, Mr. DiBiagio called Mr. Bald to remind him that as a juvenile, Mr. Malvo had to be taken before a federal magistrate and that Mr. Muhammad needed to make a similar appearance as soon as possible.
"No confession was ever offered, suggested or implied," said one Justice Department official familiar with the investigation.
Mr. Bald, in a statement released last night, said he was in "constant personal contact" with Mr. DiBiagio that day, and "there was never any reference to taking any action as a result of Justice Department or White House pressure or requests.
"All operational decisions were totally driven by the circumstances of the interviews and not any external pressures," he said.
Mr. DiBiagio, in his statement, also said there was "no indication throughout the day" that either Mr. Muhammad or Mr. Malvo had given any useful information. He also said that the teenager refused to speak with investigators. Mr. Malvo tried to escape from the interrogation room by climbing through a ceiling vent but was stopped by investigators who grabbed him by the ankles.
"At one point, in the early afternoon, I did caution law-enforcement officials that federal law requires that a juvenile must be brought before a magistrate 'forthwith,' and an adult must be brought before a magistrate 'without unnecessary delay,'" Mr. DiBiagio said.
"At approximately 3 p.m., [Montgomery County Deputy] State's Attorney John McCarthy called my office and informed us that the adult had invoked his right to counsel. At that time, by law, the questioning had to cease and the suspects had to be presented to a federal magistrate judge," he said.
Guy Taylor contributed to this article.

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