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O.C. woman who gave money to fund terrorism gets five-year term

Oytun Ayse Mihalik, 40, an Orange County pharmacist, admitted wiring $2,050 to Pakistan to be used to fund terrorist activities. Prosecutors had sought a 12-year prison sentence.

March 30, 2013|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

An Orange County pharmacist who admitted to wiring $2,050 to Pakistan to be used to fund terrorist activities was sentenced Friday to five years in federal prison.

Oytun Ayse Mihalik, 40, a Turkish national and a permanent U.S. resident, pleaded guilty in August to one count of providing material support to terrorists for three money orders she sent over a month's time in late 2010 and early 2011. Mihalik used a false name, "Cindy Palmer," to send the funds, according to authorities.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a 12-year sentence for Mihalik, alleging that she provided the money to a man she met through a website, believing it was going to be used to harm U.S. troops. She was motivated by a "desire to participate in jihad" and knew the sum was "more than enough to finance an entire operation against the United States military forces," they wrote, citing her email communications with the man.

They also noted that she had created a "favorite" tab for "The Al Qaeda Manual" on her laptop and in "privacy" mode had searched the terms "true jihad" and "Jihad in Afghanistan" on her Web browser.

Defense attorneys argued she was not motivated by radical ideology but acted during a time of vulnerability in her marriage, after she and her husband had difficulty getting pregnant and then experienced a miscarriage. She accessed the website out of worry for her brother, who was going on a pilgrimage to Pakistan, they contended in court filings.

"A reading of the emails themselves reveals that Ms. Mihalik was being solicited, and even manipulated," they wrote, asking that Mihalik receive a 24-month sentence.

The woman came to authorities' attention when her husband, Errol, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement in late 2010 after she moved out of their home for a trial separation, alleging she had married him under "false pretenses" for a green card. He described a new religious fervor in his wife after she took a monthlong trip to Turkey two years into their marriage.

"I go, 'Listen, did you marry … me for my citizenship and do you want to harm someone here.' And she looked at me blank and she said, 'If I have to kill people for Allah, I will,'" Errol said in his initial report, according to a transcript filed with court papers.

Authorities said Friday that despite the small sum, Mihalik's conduct was a serious crime.

"Money is the mother's milk of terrorism, and we will move aggressively against those who provide financial support to groups and individuals bent on harming the U.S. and its allies," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE's Los Angeles office, said in a news release.

Mihalik, who was arrested in August 2011 as she was about to board a flight to Turkey on a one-way ticket, is expected to be deported after she finishes her sentence.

U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton Tucker handed down the sentence after considering a plea from Mihalik's husband, who in a letter to the judge called the crime "completely out of character." He wrote that his wife is "extremely dedicated to her family, work, love for America, and is entirely peace-loving."

"I have never met such a remarkable individual and [am] completely in love with her," Errol wrote.

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