MIAMI — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that six Florida men arrested on terror conspiracy charges will remain in Miami's Federal Detention Center until their trial, despite defense claims that the men were set up by a government informant.
In denying bail, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted E. Bandstra said he was disturbed by "strong and significant evidence" that the group swore allegiance to Al Qaeda and conspired to blow up buildings in Miami and Chicago.
Bandstra said the government's lawyer showed that defendant Narseal Batiste devised the plan to forge an alliance with Al Qaeda, and the other defendants voluntarily joined in "without government coercion."
Federal Public Defender John W. Wylie IV, who represents Batiste, argued that the case was entrapment.
A federal grand jury in Miami returned an indictment June 22 charging Batiste, 32; Patrick Abraham, 26; Stanley Grant Phanor, 31; Naudimar Herrera, 22; Burson Augustin, 21; and Rotschild Augustin, 22, with conspiring to support Al Qaeda, destroy buildings with explosives and wage war on the United States.
The men pleaded not guilty Friday. If convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison. A seventh defendant, Lyglenson Lemorin, 31, was in custody in Atlanta.
The government's investigation of the group began in 2005 after Batiste asked an acquaintance for help finding Middle Eastern terrorists to support his plan to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, said prosecutor Jacqueline M. Arango. The acquaintance reported the conversation to the FBI, she said.
In December, the FBI infiltrated the group using an informant who posed as a representative of Al Qaeda. Batiste gave the informant lists of items the group would need, Arango said.
The lists included military uniforms, guns, bulletproof vests SUVs and $50,000.
In March, the informant led the men in a loyalty oath to Al Qaeda and told them Al Qaeda wanted to destroy the FBI headquarters in Miami.
But defense lawyers argued Wednesday that the government informant -- not their clients -- drove the alleged plot.