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Sarasota man pleads guilty in murder plot

The business owner faces up to life in prison for his attempt to kill a federal agent and an informant.

Associated Press
Published August 28, 2005

TAMPA - A Sarasota businessman accused of bragging about having ties to a terrorist organization has pleaded guilty to charges that he plotted to kill a federal agent and an informant.

Wissam Taysir Hammoud, 40, pleaded guilty Friday after prosecutors agreed to recommend a reduced sentence and Hammoud agreed to cooperate in unspecified investigations.

Hammoud could receive a sentence of up to life in prison for the charges: solicitation to commit murder, retaliating against a witness, use of a firearm during a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Hammoud, who owned a cell phone business in Sarasota, told investigators he tried to kill the two people because of their involvement in his 2001 conviction for possession and transfer of a machine gun and a sawed-off shotgun after he sold the weapons to the undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Hammoud met in his store with two cooperating witnesses on Dec. 30, 2003, and demonstrated how he wanted the informant shot and killed, according to a signed plea agreement. Eight days earlier, he joked about decapitating the informant and sending his head to the agent's house.

Hammoud once bragged of ties to Hezbollah, according to an affidavit submitted in federal court at the time of his arrest in January 2004. The United States lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Investigators said Hammoud's statements about being involved with Hezbollah weren't confirmed.

"At this point in the investigation, we have not established a credible link to Hezbollah," Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Friday.

Hammoud's attorney, Matthew P. Farmer, has said in court that his client suffers from mental illness. He declined to elaborate.

Hammoud, who wept during Friday's hearing, told U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo that he is taking three psychiatric drugs.

[Last modified August 28, 2005, 01:11:05]

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