Convicted ISIS supporter tells Chicago judge he's 'just a normal guy'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A north suburban man who was once pictured holding the ISIS flag at a popular state park, and who fantasized about seeing the terrorist flag on display at the White House, was sentenced Friday to 13 1/2 years in federal prison for terrorism-related offenses.

Edward "Abdul Wali" Schimenti, 39, from the lakeshore community of Zion north of Chicago, had been convicted in June of 2019 for conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization and for lying to the FBI. Schimenti's co-defendant in the terrorism case, Joseph D. Jones, 38, was sentenced last month to 12 years in prison. Federal prosecutors had asked that Schimenti receive a longer sentence than co-defendant Jones.

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As ABC7's I-Team first reported five years ago, both men had a jihadist scheme to attack Great Lakes Naval Base , the Navy's sole basic training facility. They also expressed an interest in throwing people off the roof of the (former) Sears Tower skyscraper in Chicago. The violent scenarios were not serious threats, according to Schimenti's attorney on Friday but were merely stated for "shock value."

"I'm not a terrorist," Schimenti told U.S. District Judge Andrea R. Wood during Friday's sentencing hearing.

"I'm a big softie; a big teddy bear," he said prior to the lengthy sentence being imposed by Judge Wood. Schimenti and his co-defendant both maintained that they had been entrapped by several government informants, an argument that the jury didn't believe.

During his courtroom statement delivered on Friday, Schimenti said only that he had "some off-color ideas" and that he "could've made better decisions." Schimenti admitted having lied to federal agents after he was arrested in 2017 but told Judge Wood that "I don't support terrorism."

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In a conversation secretly recorded by the FBI, Schimenti allegedly stated he was considering attacking the Naval graduation that takes place on "Buckley." The Great Lakes Naval Base, where every U.S. Navy recruit is trained, is located on Buckley Street in North Chicago.

Among the ISIS fantasies that federal prosecutors say Schimenti shared with an informant: gay people would be thrown off of Chicago's tallest building, the Willis Tower.

"Jurors don't like hearing and don't like seeing evidence of people talking about throwing people off the top of tall buildings," said former federal prosecutor and ABC7 legal analyst Gil Soffer. Soffer told the I-Team that most terror cases end in plea bargains, not trials as this one.

"The government's message and evidently the judge's as well is clearly that conspiracy counts, so it doesn't matter if nothing ultimately came of this. It doesn't matter if they didn't actually commit the underlying offense. Agreeing to commit an unlawful act and especially a violent one and especially one as violent as this for the consequences this would have had is a serious crime and it carries a serious penalty. I think that's the message," Soffer told the I-Team.

Investigators have said that Jones and Schimenti believed all three undercover federal agents were ISIS backers. Prosecutors have said Jones and Schimenti are both U.S. citizens who pledged their allegiance to ISIS and advocated frequently on social media for violent extremism.

"Drench that land with they, they blood," Schimenti is alleged to have said of the U.S. on one occasion.

Schimenti was sentenced to 13 1/2 years on the conspiracy count and a year and a half for the false statement conviction. While the sentences total 15 years, the terms will be served concurrently which means he will face a total of 13 1/2 years behind bars, of which most federal prisoners serve 80%.

In addition to the total 15 year prison sentence, Schimenti will face five years of probation when he is released.
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