South Side religious leader Prince Asiel Ben Israel pleads guilty in Mugabe scheme

April 11, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Prince Asiel Ben Israel faced federal allegations that Zimbabwe would pay him and his co-defendant, C. Gregory Turner, $3.4 million to ultimately set up political meetings to have sanctions lifted against the African country.

Friday, Ben Israel admitted he never notified the U.S. Government that he was working for Zimbabwe.

"Rather than take the people who believe in me and family of mine through a long trial, I agree to accept that responsibility of not registering," he said.

"You might describe it as a technical violation of the law," said attorney Ray Pijon. "Certainly it's a violation of the law. There is no question about that."

In Friday's plea agreement, prosecutors alleged that throughout 2009, the defendants tried to have U.S. and Illinois politicians travel to meet officials of Zimbabwe both in that country and South Africa. The goal was to lift U.S. trade sanctions prompted by Dictator Robert Mugabe's regime. Ben Israel today defended his work in Africa.

"I didn't know that the work I've been doing for the last 40 years, I needed to register," he said.

His co-defendant, C. Gregory Turner, is taking a different legal approach and plans to go to trial.

"We are going to fight this to the bitter end from a technical and factual point of view," Turner said.

Federal records reveal that the government secretly obtained evidence in this case under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a controversial law known as FISA. The purpose of the law is to prevent domestic terror plots. While there is nothing to indicate a terrorist plot in this case, the use of FISA may point to a wider use of the law. Turner's lawyer finds that problematic.

"That's a big deal," said Turner's attorney James D. Tunick. "If that evidence was prohibited from being introduced at the trial, it would significantly alter the landscape and evidence in this case."

The politicians are not named in the plea agreement, but as reported by the I-Team last year, the defendants reached out to Congressmen Danny Davis and Bobby Rush.

No elected officials have been charged in this case.

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