Refugee pleads guilty in hazmat case

| 12/14/2001

An Iraqi refugee pleaded guilty Dec. 13 in federal court in Pennsylvania to fraud for allegedly trying to obtain a license to haul hazardous materials. He became the first of 20 Middle Eastern men indicted in the case to plead guilty.

Alawi Al-Baraa, who is serving a state prison term for stabbing a man in a bar fight, admitted to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cindrich that he illegally obtained a hazmat license in 1999 from Robert Ferrari, a former Pennsylvania Department of Transportation examiner.

The indictment naming him and the others created a stir following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of the possibility the scheme was linked to terrorism. Federal authorities have since said none of the suspects has been linked to any terrorist plots.

Al-Baraa allegedly had a legal Michigan CDL to haul hazmat at one time but lost it because of driving violations. He admitted paying Ferrari $300 for the Pennsylvania license in order to get a job at an Erie trucking company.

Ferrari was indicted by a federal grand jury in October and has also been charged in a separate investigation by the state Attorney General's office. Al-Baraa faces between two and eight months in prison when he is sentenced March 15.

Al-Baraa already is serving a two- to four-year sentence for aggravated assault in Erie. He was sentenced Nov. 14, 2000.