Fayette County

Lexington Islamic leader charged in alleged murder plot ordered held until trial

A 2009 file photo of Mahmoud Shalash, the imam of the Lexington Islamic Center.
A 2009 file photo of Mahmoud Shalash, the imam of the Lexington Islamic Center. Lexington

A judge has ordered continued detention for a Lexington Islamic leader charged in a murder-for-hire plot.

There is too great a risk that Mahmoud Shaker Shalash would flee to avoid prosecution if released before trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew A. Stinnett said in a ruling issued Friday.

Stinnett also ruled against releasing Shalash on bond because of the potential danger to the purported victim of the conspiracy.

Stinnett ordered continued detention for two men charged with Shalash, John Sadiqullah and Abdul Hadi.

The three allegedly took part in a plot to hire someone to kill a person who allegedly cheated Sadiquillah and others out of money in a business deal.

Shalash called Sadiqullah to a meeting at a Lexington motel with a man they believed could arrange the murder if needed, and Sadiqullah identified Hadi as one of four men willing to pay to have the debtor killed, federal authorities have charged.

Mahmoud Shaker Shalash

The man who met with Shalash and Sadiqullah was secretly working for federal authorities, who arrested them and Hadi last week.

Attorneys for the three argued the evidence is weak.

However, Stinnett said that is an issue for a future hearing. The factors in deciding whether to order pre-trial detention did not deal with the strength of the case.

Rather, the focus was on the risk that Shalash and Hadi would flee if released, and on whether the three would be a danger to others, including the victim, who has not been identified in public court records.

Stinnett said there were factors that favored releasing Shalash until the trial, including that he has a pregnant wife and small child in Lexington and deep roots in the community.

Shalash is the imam of the Islamic Center of Lexington, owns a motel and is involved in civic activities in Central Kentucky, according to Stinnett’s order.

However, the magistrate judge also noted Shalash has family ties in the West Bank, extensive experience in international travel and a net worth that court officials calculated at more than $3 million.

Police found $100,000 in Shalash’s home that he hadn’t reported to the court, according to Stinnett’s order.

That raises a suspicion that Shalash could have other unreported assets he could use to flee, Stinnett said.

The judge also said the maximum 10-year sentence Shalash faces if convicted figured in his decision.

“Considering Shalash’s current age and health problems, ten years imprisonment may be a life sentence, which increases the motivation to flee the country,” Stinnett said.

Stinnett concluded there were no conditions he could impose, such as home detention and electronic monitoring, to assure that Shalash would show up for future court appearances.

John Sadiqullah

Stinnett said the potential danger to the victim in the case also required keeping Shalash, Sadiqullah and Hadi locked up.

The judge pointed to testimony that after Sadiqullah said he wanted the victim dead, Shalash gave a photo of the victim to the undercover informant and a phone number for the victim, while Sadiqullah and Hadi went to the victim’s business and threatened him.

Hadi also allegedly threatened the victim and his wife on Facebook and by text message, and went with two other men to the victim’s home in Florida and confronted him.

“The allegations in this case raise the serious risk that the defendants may try to harm the individual in this case who was the target of their ire, and who worked with law enforcement during the investigation of this case,” Stinnett said.

The three could appeal the detention order.

They also are scheduled for hearings on whether there is sufficient evidence against them. If a judge ruled there was not, the charges would be dismissed.

Abdul Hadi