Agents cross wires on fugitive
© St. Petersburg Times,
TALLAHASSEE -- Early last month, federal agents in north Florida questioned a Pakistani man who had fled officials in New York City shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Then, for some reason, the agents let him go.
Now, an arrest warrant has been issued for the man, Mohammad Ahmad Mehboob, 33, who was in the United States illegally and had been arrested twice previously.
Adding to the confusion, officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the sheriff's offices where Mehboob has been living said they were unaware of his existence until a St. Petersburg Times reporter asked Thursday.
FDLE Commissioner James T. "Tim" Moore said his agency should have known about Mehboob and did not.
"Our ability to strengthen our domestic security depends on complete cooperation," Moore said. "If this happened the way it appears to have happened, I'd like to think it was an isolated incident."
As federal authorities continue to round up Middle Eastern men around the United States, it appears Mehboob is one they let get away.
Mehboob fled from police in New York after the World Trade Center was attacked, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Tallahassee.
FBI Agent Patrick Sanford said Mehboob admitted fleeing after the attacks by jumping into a van, which he later abandoned in Brooklyn. Left behind in the van were airline tickets for a flight to Orlando the same day. The tickets were bought under the name Yusuf Mustafa and indicated he departed Orlando for New York on Sept. 8.
Sanford said Mehboob confirmed his presence in New York and the ownership of airline tickets when he was interviewed Oct. 1 in Havana, a small town in Gadsden County about 30 miles northwest of Tallahassee.
Mehboob told the FBI he had "lost" his passport and had been living in Canada.
Florida records indicate he got his driver's license in Tallahassee on Oct. 19, 2000, under the name Mehboob Mohammad Ahmad. He used a driver's license from Quebec and a passport from Pakistan as identification and was allowed to retain his Canadian license because he said he was not a Florida resident.
It does not appear that Florida driver's license examiners determined whether he was legally in the country. His driving record indicates he received speeding tickets on Nov. 15, 2000, in Virginia and in Jefferson County, Florida, on Dec. 24, 2000, when he was stopped traveling 102 mph in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 10. In March 2001 he was ticketed in Duval County for not wearing his seat belt.
After he was interviewed by the FBI in October, immigration officials apparently discovered that Mehboob was in the country illegally. Jacksonville area FBI spokesman Ron Grenier said he did not know why Mehboob was released in October after he was interviewed.
Mehboob had been in trouble for immigration problems in the past. He was arrested for illegally entering the United States on April 11, 1998, at Massena, N.Y., and again on June 12, 1999, at Champlain, N.Y. After the second arrest he served 30 days in federal prison and was deported to Canada, according to an affidavit signed by Christopher J. Doyle, a special agent for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Grenier of the FBI said Mehboob remains a fugitive from a charge of being in the country illegally and would be turned over to the INS if caught.
Mehboob's presence in north Florida and the link to New York on Sept. 11 was not disclosed to state and local law enforcement officers by the federal agents.
Moore, the FDLE commissioner, said he has seen signs of better cooperation from federal authorities since he wrote a letter earlier this month complaining about the FBI's failure to share information with state and local authorities.
"It would seem we should be aware of it," said Ed Spooner, chief deputy in Gadsden County where Mehboob was living in October. "We haven't been aware of anyone like that being in this community."
Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell said he too was in the dark about Mehboob despite being invited to a number of meetings where federal officials were supposedly sharing information.
"We'd like to know these things," Campbell said. "We are looking at security here for the Capitol. I think these are policies that come down from Washington.
There are some things I can find quicker by reading the St. Petersburg Times."
-- Researchers Kitty Bennett and Stephanie Scruggs contributed to this report.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire