We previously discussed the cases of attorneys Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman, who were accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle in New York. They were facing domestic terrorism charges and the possibility of 30 years in jail. This week, the Biden Administration agreed to a massive reduction of the charges in a plea agreement that will likely result only in a couple years of jail time. What is particularly bizarre is that the plea agreement reduces an earlier plea agreement for a more serious offense.
The plea deal by the Justice Department is a breathtaking reduction in the charges and expected sentencing of the two lawyers.
Earlier, some of us were surprised that U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie upheld the $250,000 bail determination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Gold. Prosecutors presented evidence that the two attorneys were trying to distribute Molotov cocktails and suggested that Mattis did not appear rational. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed Judge Brodie and the two attorneys were sent back to jail. (Rahman’s bail was paid for by friend and fellow attorney Salmah Rizvi, who served in the Defense Department and State Department during the Obama administration).
Notably, Rahman and Mattis pleaded guilty last year to one count of possessing and making an explosive device, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Now, however, they will be allowed to withdraw the earlier plea and instead plead guilty to conspiring to assemble the Molotov cocktail and damage the New York Police Department patrol car. That is a nosebleed of a drop in the severity and punishment for this violent attack.
It is a sharp contrast to the harsh position taken by the Biden Justice Department on many of those accused of rioting on January 6th. Attorney General Merrick Garland cited the threat to police officers in pledging an unprecedented effort to charge and convict those involved “on any level” in the riot.
Conspiring to assemble the Molotov cocktail and damage the New York Police Department patrol car does not quite capture what these two attorneys did during the violent riot in New York. Rahman was caught on video throwing the firebomb and then fleeing the scene. Colinford Mattis was accused of having a store of firebombs in his vehicle and was videotaped as he attempted to hand them out to other rioters to fuel further violence. Rahman later was unapologetic and declared to reporters that “the only way they hear us is through violence.”
That does not seem the type of the suspects who would ordinarily garner deep sympathy from prosecutors. Yet, the Biden Administration walked back the charges, unraveled the earlier plea to a lesser offense, and told that court that the earlier charges would have resulted in “excessive sentencing” for the attorneys. Instead, they are supporting a maximum sentence of five years with a recommendation of between 18 to 24 months imprisonment.
Attorney General Garland just last month honored law enforcement killed in the line of duty. This plea agreement is likely to infuriate many of those families given strength of the case and the severity of the conduct. These two attorneys were participating in an effort that could have burned officers alive as a form of protest. They will now be given sentences closer to tax fraud than terrorism.
As previously discussed, Mattis was a member of the Corporate Group at Pryor Cashman when he was arrested. Mattis graduated from New York University School of Law in 2016 and received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University. He was also previously employed as an associate at Holland & Knight. Rahman was just admitted to the New York bar in June 2019 after graduating from Fordham University School of Law.
Both lawyers will be permanently disbarred and will have to pay restitution to the city of New York.