When a ring of Benton County con artists began to suspect police were closing in, they concocted a plan.
They would claim that an FBI agent offered to make the case go away for $20,000.
The attempt to discredit a police informant failed because the conspirators picked the wrong person to frame.
And this week, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Dimke sentenced Mohammed N. Al-Jibory, 54, of Kennewick, to 10 months in prison for conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding.
Al-Jibory was one of 23 people, including 11 from the Tri-Cities, accused in a plot to fraudulently collect nearly $1 million in car insurance payments.
So far, 13 have pleaded guilty for their roles in staging a 14 car crashes in Benton County between 2017 and 2020, or lying about a $20,000 bribe for a FBI agent, according to court records. That included Ali Abed Yaser, the leader of the plot.
The defendants included four married couples, three sets of siblings and a father and son.
Much of the scam involved two vehicles being driven to remote roads at night when the only witnesses to the staged accidents were the conspirators, say investigators.
The suspects used hammers to damage windows and mirrors and in one case used weights to trigger the airbags to deploy.
They would lie to police and insurance companies about the crashes to collect the insurance money and then they lied about the bribe attempt, say officials.
“Fraud schemes impact the vitality of our entire community,” Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said in a news release. “Obstructing official proceedings by falsely accusing a federal agent of bribery and interfering with federal investigations will not be tolerated.”
The FBI started investigating the fraud ring in February 2019, working with an informant referred to as “John Doe.”
He secretly recorded events at two of the crashes, and provided information about the scam.
Then in May 2020, the FBI served warrants on the homes of 12 suspects.
One defendant suspected someone in the group was tipping off the FBI and held a meeting that included “John Doe” where Yaser accused a different co-defendant, Seifeddine A. Al-Kinani, of being the informant.
Over the course of the summer, Yaser rolled out a plan that would frame Al-Kinani for the fraud. The plan would have Yaser go to the FBI and claim his family in Iraq was being threatened.
As part of the story, he would claim he met with Al-Kinani and the FBI special agent. Over the course of the fictitious meeting, the Al-Kinani said that he wanted $22,000, including $20,000 for “this guy, of Seattle, of the FBI, the case manager.”
Al-Jibory played the part of a witness to the meeting to add credibility to the story.
Yaser put the plan into motion in August 2020, when he called Kennewick police and said he needed to talk to someone. Yaser’s son, one of the co-defendants, helped file the report and Al-Jibory backed up the story during a meeting in September.