Three Palm Beach County men are facing federal prison when they are sentenced today for their roles in a controversial FBI terrorism sting.
The case developed a “wobbly wheel,” one of the defense attorneys said, when it became public that the main undercover informant in the operation, Mohammed Agbareia, had defrauded more than $300,000 from victims — while he was working undercover for the FBI and deeply involved in the terrorism sting.
Though the case ran into problems last year, all three defendants pleaded guilty. Prosecutors are recommending they serve prison terms of eight, 10 and 12 years respectively based on their individual levels of culpability.
The men “shared links for ISIS propaganda videos and websites, including ISIS beheading videos, and lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki espousing jihad,” according to court records.
All three men were secretly recorded talking about their support for the terrorist group, authorities said.
Former U.S. Marine and sculptor, Gregory Hubbard, 54, pleaded guilty earlier this year to being part of a conspiracy to help the terrorist group ISIS.
Investigators said Hubbard was the ringleader. He was arrested in 2016 at Miami’s airport as he planned to travel to Syria to fight with the terrorist organization. The prosecution and defense are recommending a 12-year prison sentence for him, under the terms of his plea agreement.
That’s considerably less than the 20-year maximum penalty the offense carries and the 30 or more years he would have been facing if convicted of all three charges that were filed against him.
Two other local men, Dayne Antani Christian and Darren Arness Jackson, who were also arrested in the sting, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Christian, aka Shakur, 33, of Lake Park, also pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors are recommending he should serve 10 years in prison.
They are recommending an eight-year sentence for Jackson, aka Daoud, 52, of Royal Palm Beach. Hubbard, also known as Jibreel, had been homeless and was living with Jackson at the time of his arrest.
Investigators said the men used the term “soccer team” as code when referring to the terrorist group in public. They also held “training sessions” in Palm Beach County at local shooting ranges and remote wildlife management areas where they fired pistols and rifles, according to court records.
When Hubbard was arrested on July 21, 2016 at Miami International Airport, he thought he and an informant were flying to Germany and would then take a train and other transportation to Syria, where Hubbard planned to fight alongside the terrorist group.
Before he left, Hubbard said he might never return home from Syria. He gave his artwork to one of the informants for safekeeping, put most of his other possessions in a storage unit in Georgia and brought with him $6,000 in savings.
Hubbard was diagnosed with depression and anxiety years ago and was receiving therapy and prescription medication at a local Veterans Affairs hospital before his arrest, his attorneys said.
Hubbard has forfeited a .22-caliber Marlin survival rifle and ammunition. The other two men had pistols, a shotgun and a Romanian Arms AK-47-style assault rifle, prosecutors said.
Hubbard came under scrutiny after he told an informant in April 2015 that he was thinking about joining ISIS, investigators said. Hubbard emailed the man a 100-page ISIS manual that included information about training, battlefield strategy and guidance on how to enter Syria without being caught by law enforcement.
The main informant who worked on the case, Agbareia, 52, pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge late last year. The Palestinian man is expected to be deported to Israel after he serves his two-year federal prison term.
Agbareia admitted to FBI agents on several occasions that he was still committing crimes and continued doing so “despite numerous warnings to cease,” during the many months of the sting, prosecutors said. His crime involved assuming fake identities and posing as a stranded traveler who tricked victims into sending money that he claimed he would later repay.
Agbareia previously served federal prison time for a similar fraud and a judge had ordered that he should be deported.
But he was allowed to stay in the U.S., and lived in Palm Beach County for years, after federal authorities called him a “national security asset” and praised his “usefulness as a provider of intelligence to the FBI,” court records show.