Guyanese drug dealer Shaheed ‘Roger” Khan was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment on three separate charges by US Judge, Dora Irizarry after she accepted the plea bargain agreement he had reached with prosecutors.
However two of the sentences, 10 years for an illegal firearm possession charge, and 15 years for witness tampering, will run concurrent with the other 15-year jail term.
Khan hugged his attorneys and praised them as the best that could have represented him when the sentence was announced in a packed courtroom in downtown Brooklyyn shortly before 3pm.
Khan, 37, was given 15 years for conspiracy to import cocaine into the US; 15 years for witness tampering and 10 years on the 16-year-old illegal possession of firearm charge, which originated in the state of Vermont.
However, all of the sentences are to run concurrently and with three years time served, he could be out of jail before his 50th birthday.
While family members were relieved, others who claimed to have a vested interest in the case were not satisfied.
Khan, who was arrested in Suriname and escorted to the United States of America in 2006, had entered a plea bargain deal with US prosecutors on March 16 this year. But even then there was still speculation over whether Judge Dora Irizarry would have accepted the deal.
She had indicated that she had the right to reject it if by way of the pre-sentencing report, she was not satisfied that justice would have been served.
However prosecutors were convincing in their argument to support the course of action taken despite recommendations for a longer sentence by the United States probation department and letters to the judge from three public-spirited persons, including a relative of slain journalist Ronald Waddell.
An hour prior to the handing down of the sentence, it was anticipated that the courtroom would have been the source of an interesting hearing as several journalists from Guyana and New York, along with family members gathered outside.
There was some jostling when the door of the court was opened as all concerned sought to gather seats for the best vantage point.
More than 20 family members, including Khan’s mother, Gloria, sat on one side of the courtroom, while journalists and other interested persons sat on the other side as they waited for the judge to emerge from her chambers and for the accused to make his appearance.
At exactly 2:05pm judge Irizarry approached her bench and about one minute later Khan, clad in a blue prison jumpsuit, was escorted into the courtroom.
He stared across at his relatives and his mother appeared to have a worried look on her face. Khan smiled as he observed members of the Guyana media corps.
Judge Irizarry commenced the proceedings by outlining the procedures.
She informed both sides of the documentation she had received with regards to the sentencing procedures.
These included the probation report, which she received on July 28; and an August 5 letter from Khan’s attorney, Diarmuid White, indicating a no objection to the probation report.
She also disclosed that she had received letters from three members of the public, including one from Sheila Waddell, which was read to all in the courtroom.
In one of the letters Khan was described as an animal that was responsible for the cold- blooded killing of hundreds of young Guyanese men.
The letter writer urged the judge to make Khan an example to other drug dealers. At this point Khan winked to family members as they made eye contact.
Judge Irizarry also disclosed that she had received a letters from the prosecution indicating disagreement with the probation recommendation for a stiffer penalty.
Judge Irizarry indicated that in the common situation, the court is required to consider the sentencing guidelines. She added that the court was in agreement with the position of the government to accept the plea deal.
But according to the judge, sentencing in the case against Khan was pursuant to the agreement reached by the two parties and not the sentencing guideline.
She pointed out that once the court accepted the plea, it cannot deviate from the agreed sentence, although narcotics cases catered for life sentencing.
“This has been the case for close to two decades. Before accepting the plea I had requested that the government provide reason for accepting it. They have done so,” she said.
She indicated that she had also taken into consideration the difficulties the prosecution would have had to prosecute the matter.
US prosecutors told the court that to prosecute Khan without the plea deal would have strained its resources. This would have included preparing a jury and enduring a lengthy trial.
The prosecution did indicate that the government was confident of the evidence it had gathered but to go to trial would have cost the government significantly more and there was no absolute guarantee of a conviction.
Morris Foderman, one of the US Government prosecutors in the matter, told the court that with regards to the witness tampering matter there were boxes upon boxes of evidence that the prosecution would have had to go through.
He said that by accepting the plea bargain deal the government eliminated a laborious process.
Foderman said that the fact that Khan agreed to waive his attorney-client privilege, helped the prosecution in proceeding with the matter against his former defence counsel, Robert Simels..
Simels was recently convicted for witness tampering, a spin-off from the Roger Khan trial.
Foderman said that the whole matter of prosecuting Simels would have been complicated had the government not accepted the plea bargain deal with Khan.
Khan’s attorney, Diarmuid White, in his turn to address the court, said that his client had accepted the arguments and the 15-year sentence.
“Fifteen years is a long sentence,” White stated. All the other defence attorneys concurred.
Khan, in a brief statement, said that he was deeply respectful of the citizens of the United States of America and his family who he said stood by him throughout the ordeal.
He praised his attorney, pointing out that “the US should be proud of them. I owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Just before handing down the sentence, Judge Irizarry said that the US and its citizens pride themselves with adhering to the rule of law that applies to all equally.
She said, though, that nothing the US court did yesterday would have been able to address whatever suffering there was in Guyana.
She said that she felt very strongly that the evidence of his alleged involvement in the killing of Guyanese would not have been sufficient in the trial since the alleged killings occurred in Guyana.
“Despite what happened in Guyana the US government would not have been able to use the evidence. That is why the government and the court accepted the plea agreement,” she explained.
According to Judge Irizarry, most of the evidence would have been from corroborating witnesses who are accomplices of Roger Khan.
“It’s like tossing a dice. You have to weigh the credibility of witnesses, many of whom are also facing indictment. It is never a guarantee when dealing with certain witnesses,” the judge reasoned.
She pointed to the tedious task the prosecution would have had to obtain depositions from Guyana, noting that this was an unexplored area in Guyana, which would have delayed the process.
“There was a possibility that other witnesses who have heard of witness tampering case would have pulled out,” Judge Irizarry added.
She said that she exercised great thought in accepting the plea deal.
“Fifteen years in a US prison is substantial. I don’t think that anyone would want to traffic in drugs in exchange for 15 years. I believe that justice has been served,” she said.
In addition to the jail time, Roger Khan will have to undergo supervised release for five years although according to the judge, he is likely to be deported.
Judge Irizarry did not impose the statutory fine on Khan citing his inability to pay fines.
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