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In SDNY Rhino Horn Case Kromah Got 63 Months Now Surur Begs For Return to Kenya

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon

SDNY COURTROOM Exclusive, Oct 4 – Back on June 13, 2019 SDNY then-US Attorney Geoffrey L. Berman announced the indictment of four citizens of African nations for trafficking in rhino horn, elephant ivory and heroin into New York and that one of them, a Liberian named "Kampala Man," or really Moazu Kromah had earlier in the day been arraigned in the Magistrates Court. Inner City Press was there. 

On December 11, 2019 assigned U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Gregory H. Woods held a proceeding in the case, or tried to. The interpreter was not doing simultaneous or even complete interpretation. Judge Woods reminded him this was necessary, as he translated the defendants request to know the name of the judge.

Jump cut to August 18, 2022 when Kromah was up for sentencing. Inner City Press was there. Kromah was in prison beige, with his ankles chains. He told Judge Woods he does not want to be returned to Liberia or Uganda. He said he has been in prison for 42 months.

The Assistant US Attorney Sagar K. Ravi said while it might be an important day for Kromah, it was also an important day for the Government and the world. He cited 10 tons of elephant tusks and 190 kilograms of rhino horn; he emphasized that after Kromah may or may not have served four months in Ugandan prison he returned to the wildlife trade, resulting in the deaths of 35 rhinos and 100 elephants.

 The interpreter was heard by the courtroom during Kromah's statement, but not the Government's argument for 63 months. And that was the sentence imposed. So, 63 minus the 42 served is 21 months - then deportation.

While some NGOs says, not without reason, that 63 (or 21) months is not enough for 100 elephants, UK Prince William, perhaps to distract from other scandals, issued a statement praising the sentence, picking without comment much less courtroom presence by Vanity Fair, here: "Today’s sentencing demonstrates both what is possible when a coordinated international response is brought to bear against the illegal wildlife trade, and why it is essential... This is a significant victory and a landmark case,” he said. “For over a decade, its complexity has been skilfully met by a global alliance of international law enforcement agencies, governments, NGOs and private sector organizations, including a number of brilliant United for Wildlife partners."

On October 4, this docket entry from co-defendant Surur: "LETTER by Mansur Mohamed Surur addressed to Judge Gregory H. Woods dated 9/28/22 re: Letter to the Court - I humbly plead to Your Honor to please give me an opportunity and allow me soon to be reunited with my loved ones back in Kenya."

On September 29, 2022 a co-defendant was slated to appear so Inner City Press went to Courtroom 12C - but the defense lawyer was a no-show. Then this: "ORDER as to (19-Cr-338-4) Abdi Hussein Ahmed. On September 6, 2022, counsel for the United States wrote the Court on behalf of both parties requesting an adjournment of the conference scheduled for September 9, 2022. Dkt. No. 178. The parties requested that the Court adjourn the conference to "a date and time convenient for the Court during the week of September 26, 2022." The Court granted that request by order entered on September 7, 2022. Dkt. No. 179. In its order, the Court adjourned the conference to September 29, 2022 at 11:00 a.m., consistent with the parties' request. Id. On September 29, 2022, the defendant was produced to court. Counsel for the United States, a court reporter, and a specially-retained court interpreter all appeared for the scheduled conference. Counsel for the defendant did not. Accordingly, the Court requests that counsel for the United States and counsel for the defendant submit a joint letter with their respective positions regarding appropriate next steps in this case. That letter must be filed today, September 29, 2022. Moreover, counsel for the defendant is ordered to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for his unexcused failure to appear at the scheduled conference ordered by the Court. Counsel's response to this order to show cause must be filed no later than October 4, 2022. SO ORDERED." Inner City Press will continue to follow the cases.

On June 1, 2022, co-defendant Surur was brought into Judge Woods' courtroom to plead guilty. Inner City Press was there and live tweeted, including Surur's questioning why his cooperation with the government was not mentioned (his lawyer said it was just proffers and will be raised at sentencing, with a 70 to 87 month guideline). Thread:

In rhino horn trafficking criminal case, now Surur is pleading guilty. Inner City Press, the only media here in the courtroom

Surur: My lawyer told me 70 months...

Judge: But you understand you could get life?

Surur: (Pause) Yeah, OK.  Surur: My cooperation with the government, it's not in here. Defense lawyer: There were proffers but no cooperation agreement. We'll bring it up at sentencing.

Surur: I facilitated between buyer and seller of blsck rhino and two white rhino horns. I wasn't the seller. Also, a kilo of heroin.

AUSA: Also the Endangered Species Act, and laws of #Kenya and #Uganda.  Surur: I didn't do this in 2012. It was 2017. Guilty.

 Judge: Sentencing Sept 14, 10 am. Adjourned.

 Afterward, a press release that did not mention the proffers, nor what Surur said: "MANSUR MOHAMED SURUR, a/k/a “Mansour,” a Kenyan citizen, pled guilty to conspiring to traffic in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, both endangered wildlife species, which involved the illegal poaching of more than approximately 35 rhinoceros and more than 100 elephants.  SURUR also pled guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin to a buyer located in the United States.  Two of SURUR’s co-defendants, MOAZU KROMAH, a/k/a “Ayoub,” a/k/a “Ayuba,” a/k/a “Kampala Man,” a citizen of Liberia, and AMARA CHERIF, a/k/a “Bamba Issiaka,” a citizen of Guinea, previously pled guilty on March 30, 2022, and April 27, 2022, respectively to conspiring to traffic in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, as well as substantive charges of trafficking in rhinoceros horns.  The remaining defendants, BADRU ABDUL AZIZ SALEH, a/k/a “Badro,” and ABDI HUSSEIN AHMED, a/k/a “Abu Khadi,” are both citizens of Kenya.  SALEH is in custody in Kenya based on a U.S. extradition request, and AHMED remains a fugitive."

Saleh appeared before Judge Wood on June 24, 2022: "Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Gregory H. Woods: Status Conference as to Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh held on 6/24/2022. Defendant Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh (5) (in custody) present. Swahili Interpreter Masuma Chagani present. Status conference held. The next status conference is scheduled for September 1, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. Time is excluded in the interests of justice from June 24, 2022 until September 1, 2022. Detention Continued."

Back on March 30, 2022, Kromah appeared in Judge Woods courtroom. Inner City Press was there. As part of the change of plea script, Judge Woods asked Kromah of his employment history.

 Kromah said he was born in Liberia and sold shoes and used clothes there until the civil war. Then he moved to Guinea. His CJA counsel urged him to keep it simpler. He did, and pled guilty. Sentencing is set for June 29, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. See also,  Greenwire's E&E News of April 5, 2022, April 5, 2022, "Alleged Rhino Horn Smuggler Pleads Guilty After Years in Jail," by Michael Doyle, "The guilty plea was first reported by New York City's Inner City Press and took place without the fanfare that accompanied the June 2019 announcement of the original indictment naming Kromah and three other defendants."

On April 14, a proceeding for two remaining defendants was held, and Inner City Press attended in person. There were four interpreters - two Mandingo, two Arabic - and the day's CJA counsel from Sullivan and Cromwell, on stand-by.

 But after denying Cherif's motion to sever his trial to avoid being mixed up in the heroin charge, the motion by his lawyer to withdraw was itself withdrawn.

On April 27, with Inner City Press alone in the gallery, Amara Cherif entered guilty pelas to Counts 1, 2 and 3. He recounted selling used clothes. His sentencing was set for August 25 at 10 am.

The case is US v. Kromah, 19-cr-338 (Woods).
It is US v. Kromah, 19-cr-338 (Woods).

Docketed back  on August 19 was Amara Cherif's letter to Judge Woods: "I am contacting you to request an official court analysis of my sentence exposure," citing Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure  32(e)(1). The letter is dated June 26 but took seven weeks to docket - as, for example, the letters to Judge Woods from FINCEN leaker Natalie Edwards should also be docketed.

On August 20 Judge Woods  denied Cherif (no ruling yet on unsealed Edwards' letters after her thanks they were considered by the Court) - "Defendant writes to request an official court analysis of sentencing. ENDORSEMENT: Application denied. The Court cannot respond to this request. Mr. Cherif has counsel and the Court does not provide advisory guidance to litigants. SO ORDERED. (Signed by Judge Gregory H. Woods on 8/19/2021)"


  In connection with Judge Woods' hearing Inner City Press was contacted and told that Surur has been ordered extradited. We added it with h/t, below. Now on January 25, it's confirmed: "Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that MANSUR MOHAMED SURUR, a/k/a “Mansour,” a Kenyan citizen, was extradited from Kenya and arrived in the United States this morning.  SURUR was arrested by Kenyan authorities on July 29, 2020, in Mombasa, Kenya, on charges of conspiracy to traffic in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, both endangered wildlife species, which involved the illegal poaching of more than approximately 35 rhinoceros and more than 100 elephants.  In addition, SURUR was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 10 kilograms of heroin.  SURUR’s co-defendant, Moazu Kromah, a/k/a “Ayoub,” a/k/a “Ayuba,” a/k/a “Kampala Man,” a citizen of Liberia, was previously deported to the United States from Uganda on June 13, 2019.  Co-defendant Amara Cherif, a/k/a “Bamba Issiaka,” a citizen of Guinea, was extradited to the United States from Senegal on April 3, 2020.  Co-defendant Abdi Hussein Ahmed, a/k/a “Abu Khadi,” a citizen of Kenya, remains a fugitive.  SURUR is expected to be arraigned later today before U.S.  Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods. "

Inner City Press first reported: Surur is facing, and trying to fight, extradition, h/t

The case is US v. Kromah, 19-cr-338 (Woods). US v. Kromah, 19-cr-338 (Woods).


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