Crime

Kentucky Islamic leader, 2 others charged in murder-for-hire plot over business deal, debt

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

An Islamic religious leader in Lexington and two other men have been charged in a murder-for-hire plot, according to records in federal court.

The Islamic Center of Lexington imam Mahmoud Shaker Shalash, John Sadiqullah, and Abdul Hadi were charged in federal criminal complaints with conspiring to hire a hitman to kill someone.

The complaint lists alleged recorded conversations, meetings and acts involving Shalash to further the scheme, including giving the victim’s photo and telephone number to a person Shalash and Sadiqullah believed could arrange to have someone killed.

That person was secretly cooperating with investigators, according to an affidavit from William J. Jackson, an officer on a federal task force with the FBI.

The informant suggested during one meeting that Sadiqullah and others — who were mad at someone they believed had cheated them in a business deal — meet with Shalash at a mosque on Armstrong Mill Road “in order for Shalash to provide a ‘fatwa’ authorizing the killing.”

A fatwa is an Islamic legal pronouncement issued by an expert in religious law, according to The Islamic Supreme Council of America.

Sadiqullah and Shalash agreed with the informant, Jackson said in his sworn statement.

Defense attorneys for Shalash, 70, and Sadiqullah, 31, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. The men are being held in the Woodford County jail.

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Mahmoud Shaker Shalash

Shalash and Sadiqullah initially appeared in federal court in Lexington Thursday after the complaints were issued late Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew A. Stinnett granted a request from prosecutors to put the two in jail pending a Tuesday hearing on detaining them until trial.

The first meeting described in Jackson’s affidavit was between Shalash and the confidential source on March 12 at the Days Motel on Versailles Road.

Shalash told the source about someone that Shalash said owed him about $80,000, according to the affidavit. Shalash provided the debtor’s phone number and asked the source to retrieve his money, Jackson said.

When the source asked if Shalash wanted the debtor’s legs broken, Shalash said no. The source later said that if it takes breaking legs to get the money “then oh well. I’m dead serious.”

“Shalash responded, ‘All right,’ “ Jackson reported.

In another conversation, Shalash told the source, “Do whatever you have to do to get my money back,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he took that as Shalash agreeing “to any methods” the source might use to collect the money.

During an April 30 motel meeting in which Shalash and Sadiqullah were present, Sadiqullah said he and several associates had lost a lot of money to someone in a deal involving a taxi company, according to the affidavit.

Sadiqullah said the person — called Victim 2 in the statement — sold the taxi company to Sadiquillah and others, but then stole the client list and some contracts, undercutting the business.

The informant then said there were several ways he and his buddies could get back the money for Sadiqullah, and asked what Sadiqullah wanted done.

“I want him dead,” Sadiqullah allegedly said.

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John Sadiqullah

“It’s not about the money. He took more than money from me,” Jackson recounted Sadiqullah saying. “He took my livelihood. He really destroyed us. If someone could kill him (Victim 2) for $10,000, we all four will pay someone $10,000.”

Sadiqullah told the confidential source that he knew the victim could pay because three of his associates went to the victim’s house in Florida. The victim had a lot of gold and diamond rings, and the victim drove a Range Rover, according to the statement.

The confidential source “suggests to Sadiqullah and Shalash that Sadiqullah get with his associates, come to an agreement on what is to be done, and then meet with Shalash” at themosque about a directive to kill Victim 2, according to Jackson’s affidavit.

Shalash allegedly gave the informant a photo of the victim at that meeting.

“Based on my training, experience, and knowledge of this investigation, I have concluded that Sadiqullah and Shalash, in this conversation, solicited and sought an agreement with the (source) to pay the (source) valuable consideration in exchange for killing Victim #2,” Jackson wrote.

In a conversation on May 2, Sadiqullah told the confidential source that he and some Afghan associates were to meet “the Sheik” at the mosque that day to discuss the issue.

The source believed the sheik referred to Shalash, according to the affidavit.

Shalash allegedly knew the purported hitman didn’t live in Kentucky or Florida, so he would have had to travel across state lines to kill the victim, according to the affidavit.

That’s one reason there is federal jurisdiction in the case.

In addition to Shalash and Sadiqullah, the third man, Abdul Hadi, 34, also known as Abdul Hadi Achakzai, was charged.

The person identified as Victim 2 reported that Hadi, Sadiqullah and another man came to his business on May 2 demanding money, according to an affidavit by Andre S. Mugnier, an FBI special agent.

The three made threatening statements, including that they knew where the victim’s family lived, according to the statement.

Mugnier said that Hadi, of Trent Circle in Lexington, later told the FBI he’d given the victim $20,000 for a business venture that failed, and Hadi believed the victim owed him the money.

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Abdul Hadi

On Friday, Stinnett ordered Hadi detained until a further hearing.

Shalash faced federal charges previously. He pleaded guilty in 2012 in connection with $238,763 in illegal currency transactions at Lexington banks.

He was sentenced to two years’ probation and forfeited the money to the government.

In 2015, a man was charged after Shalash, the Islamic Center imam, reported receiving an email death threat that said, “I’m going to kill everyone I there [sic] you Muslim f**ks. “

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