Judge, prosecutors ‘not happy’ defendant spoke to media

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A federal judge and U.S. attorneys weren’t happy to see Steve Jabar’s interview featured exclusively Friday on News 4 at 5:30.

That’s because it’s rare for a defendant, especially a federal defendant, to speak during trial; and this is a jury trial, so there’s the potential impact on the men and women who will deciding the case.

Jabar, an Iraqi national, U.S. citizen and former Department of Homeland Security agent, spoke to News 4 Friday.

He’s charged with stealing of tens of thousands of dollars from the United Nations to operate a democracy-promoting radio station in Iraq, which still operates today.

In court Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Vilardo reminded attorneys he never instituted a gag order during trial. But he also admonished Jabar for the unprecedented move.

“I believe in the First Amendment and the press’ right to report things,” Vilardo said. “I’m not happy about what happened. The government isn’t happy either.”

Vilardo polled jurors before the trial resumed Monday. None had seen the story.

As a matter of protocol, jurors are forbidden from watching, listening to or reading media about the case. They’re also prohibited from discussing it among one another.

On Friday, Jabar questioned how witnesses have been treated since the trial got underway earlier this month.

“I’m upset. I’m unhappy with the witnesses the way we treated them,” he said. “They came here precisely to testify and see the real face of America.”

Jabar said three witnesses were under 24-hour surveillance during their four-day stay at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo

He said they were stripped of their phones, and they weren’t allowed to come and go as they pleased, even after their testimony.

“They didn’t see the beautiful America,” Jabar said. “They were locked in their rooms.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office said they don’t comment on cases in progress.

Jabar said he’s been placed on a federal watch list and accused of being a spy, despite the fact he was given one of the highest security clearances when he worked for the Department of Defense.

He believes the indictment is payback for his public criticism of the George Bush administration and the Iraq war, while he was a government employee.

He says his freedom has been stripped away.

“I’m not. Unfortunately, I’m not,” he said. “I’m still young, I can work, I can take care of myself, but this indictment is tying my hands.”

He said he lives his life in constant fear.

“To me, I don’t feel safe,” Jabar said. “I’ve lost the concept of justice. When I drive at night, if a car goes behind me for a few lights and a few turns, I will be cautious and say, maybe somebody is going to put a bullet in my head. I don’t know.”

The trial continues Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo.

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