David B. Caruso, The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- FBI agents were looking for information about a
violent drug gang when they tapped the phone of a politically
connected imam in 2001, according to court documents filed this week.
In a 116-page affidavit, an agent investigating the city's drug trade
told a judge that the FBI believed a wiretap on Shamsud-din Ali's
home telephone would reveal a wealth of information about the gang's
operations, including the names of drug suppliers and tips about
planned kidnappings, extortion attempts and money laundering.
In making the claims, the bureau was secretly leveling charges at a
man considered to be among the city's more respected community
The leader of one of the city's largest mosques, Ali was a member of
Mayor John F. Street's transition team and later served on a board
that oversees the city's prisons. He received awards regularly for
his charitable work, and was a man politicians called on when they
needed election-day volunteers.
Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor who is now Pennsylvania's
governor, once called Ali's mosque "a force for persuading a lot of
young people not to get involved in drugs."
Ali was never charged, and if the surveillance revealed evidence that
he had anything to do with drug activity, it has yet to be revealed
The taps, though, bore another kind of fruit.
Investigators claim that while monitoring the line they overheard
Ali's wife, Faridah, discussing a plan to defraud a government-funded
adult education program that held classes in the mosque's religious
Over two years, the surveillance effort expanded, first to Ronald A.
White, a powerbroking attorney who did business with the Ali family
and raised money for Street, and then to City Hall.
Ultimately, the FBI was granted permission to install a listening
device in Street's office -- an operation that was blown when city
police discovered the bug last October.
Faridah Ali and Delores Weaver, an administrator at the Community
College of Philadelphia, were indicted on fraud charges in June,
along with several members of their family.
Philadelphia's former city treasurer, Corey Kemp, was indicted in
July on charges that he accepted thousands of dollars worth of
payments and gifts from people interested in influencing city
business decisions, including White.
Ten other people were also charged, including executives at several
financial services firms that prosecutors said had benefited from
There has been a drug indictment too, although not one involving Ali
or anyone associated with city government. Twenty-seven alleged
members of the two drug gangs whose activities sparked the
investigation were charged last spring and are awaiting trial.
Exactly why the government believed that Ali may have been linked to
drugs is unclear.
The affidavit itself is still under seal, although portions of it
were described at length in court papers filed Tuesday by Weaver's
In a motion to suppress the wiretaps, lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said
the government's evidence was thin.
Bergstrom said the FBI cited tips from a number of confidential
informants and cooperating witnesses, but noted that most had to do
with activities alleged to have taken place years ago, or in the
1960s when Ali served prison time on a murder conviction that was
later tossed out.
In the application for the wiretap, agents also cited the content of
several phone conversations that Ali had with Gerald Thomas, an
alleged dealer who was among those charged in June, and whose phone
was previously tapped.
Bergstrom said agents misrepresented the content of the calls.
Several, he said, involved "mundane matters" like obtaining heating
oil or food for a religious festival. Another involved getting bail
money for Ali's stepson, who was arrested on drug and gun charges
shortly before the wiretaps began. He was later acquitted.
"They were fishing, and it doesn't sound like they found anything,"
Bergstrom said in an interview Wednesday.
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Ali's attorney, James J. Binns, did not return a phone message
Wednesday. The imam has previously said he did nothing illegal, and
claimed he is being persecuted because of his religion.