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Megahed Arrested On Immigration Charges

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Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 01:38 PM

Youssef Megahed, fresh off being acquitted by a federal jury on explosives charge, was shopping with his father, Samir, at the Wal-Mart on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard around noon Monday.

The two men were shopping for shrimp and fish and Italian bread. Then Samir's phone rang. It was Youssef's lawyer, federal public defender Adam Allen.

"'You must leave now," Samir said Allen told him. "'You must leave now and come to my office immediately.'"

The two men quickly ended their shopping trip. But Youssef never made it to Allen's office at 400 N. Tampa St.

"We were surrounded by men in the front and men in the back of us," said Samir in a telephone interview. "They did not allow me to talk to Youssef. I tried to give him my phone so he could speak to his brothers, but they just pushed me away. I am 62, surrounded by strong men who would not let my son talk on the phone."

Then Youssef was whisked away. Samir headed for Allen's office.

Megahed, who was acquitted Friday afternoon on federal explosives charges, was arrested on an immigration warrant, according to his attorney.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Adam Allen, who represented Megahed in his three-week trial, said agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made the arrest.

Allen said the government is trying to deport Megahed based on the same accusations - that he illegally possessed and transported explosives - a jury found his client not guilty of last week. The charges came after Megahed and a friend were arrested in South Carolina with what prosecutors said were pipe bombs in the trunk of their car.

"We are very disappointed but are confident he will prevail in that proceeding as he prevailed at his trial," Allen said.

Federal officials confirmed the arrest.

"Mr. Megahed has been placed into removal proceedings and is being held in ICE custody pending the outcome of his case," said James P. Judge, local ICE spokesman. "He will have the opportunity to present the facts of his case before an immigration judge."

Judge provided no additional information.

Allen said he thinks Megahed will be taken from Tampa to ICE's Krome Detention Center in Miami.

Megahed is an Egyptian citizen. Allen said Megahed has been a lawful permanent resident of this country since he was 11 and he and his family have pending applications for citizenship.

His father, Samir, said his son was picked up on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. He said his son was "kidnapped'' by immigration authorities.

Neil Lewis, a Tampa immigration attorney, questioned the arrest.

"It seems kind of harsh," he said. "He goes from the happiest day in his life to the worse day in his life in a matter of days. He thought he was free and he is picked up almost immediately."

Lewis said that immigration officials will have an easier task than federal prosecutors had in the criminal case. He said the burden of proof in an immigration case is a predominance of the evidence rather than a criminal case's standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lewis said ICE officials could grant Megahed bond but that its policy under President George W. Bush was always to deny doing so, leaving it up to the immigration judge.

The bond issue could determine the pace of the case, Lewis said. He said if bond is granted, cases are usually transferred to Orlando, where they take about 18 months to resolve. He said the average for cases remaining in Krome is about four weeks.

On Friday, Megahed was acquitted by a jury on explosives-related charges. As he was leaving the courthouse, he said he was looking forward to resuming his life and re-enrolling at the University of South Florida.

He was one course short of his degree when he and a friend, Ahmed Mohamed, were arrested in South Carolina in 2007. Mohamed was driving a car owned by Megahed's brother, Yahia, when deputies pulled them over for a traffic infraction. The officers said they found pipe bombs in the trunk.

Megahed, 23, could have faced up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of illegally transporting explosives and possession of an explosives device.

Although Megahed never explicitly faced a terrorism charge, federal prosecutors said the case was implicitly about terrorism.

Mohamed pleaded guilty to helping terrorists and is serving 15 years in federal prison for posting on YouTube a video in which he demonstrated how to use a remote-controlled toy to detonate a bomb.

Mohamed said the 4-inch plastic pipes in the car trunk were stuffed with a mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate and were homemade fireworks.

Megahed's defense attorneys said he knew nothing of the devices, which were intended to propel model rockets.

The FBI determined the items were not pipe bombs but instead were "low explosives." Prosecutors argued they could be easily modified, in combination with a partially filled gasoline can and safety fuse found in the trunk, to become dangerous.

The defense maintained the two were just college buddies on a road trip to see the beaches of the Southeast. The prosecution, noting the pair were stopped about seven miles from a Navy weapons base where an enemy combatant was jailed, suggested they were planning something sinister.

Jurors, who deliberated about 22 hours over four days, struggled with just how much responsibility to attribute to Megahed.

After the verdict, Samir Megahed shook the hands of at least one of the prosecutors and an FBI agent. He later asked to meet with the judge, who came into the courtroom and shook his hand, as well. Samir then brought his son to shake the judge's hand.

On Friday, Allen said the message of the case was, "The system works."

Now, Samir Megahed is not so sure.

He said that as soon as he finds out for sure his son is headed to Miami, he will follow.

"They are just reacting to losing," said Samir. "The government did not respect the decision of the jury. They wanted to take my son away from the media and people who wanted to know his story."

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