A federal judge has sentenced a witness who refused to testify in a sex trafficking case to 15 months in prison.
Abdullahi Farah, a Somali refugee and former gang member, repeatedly refused to testify, saying he is afraid for himself and for his family. He was convicted in April of two counts of contempt of court and obstruction of a child sex trafficking case.
Farah had originally faced as much as 20 years in prison for the obstruction conviction, but his attorney, James Mackler, argued that that the lower sentence was more in keeping with other cases in which witnesses have refused to testify.
Mackler said Farah has already served about nine months, so could soon be eligible for release. But the attorney said he fears federal prosecutors could charge Farah in future cases if continues to refuse to testify.
"Our position will be that that's double jeopardy," Mackler said.
The government in 2010 announced to great fanfare the indictments of about 30 people accused of operating a multistate child sex trafficking operation run by Somali gangs. So far, every defendant who has gone to trial has either been acquitted or had their conviction thrown out.
Prosecutors called Farah a key witness and said his refusal to testify seriously weakened the cases.
Farah has said he knows nothing about the child sex trafficking and only helped prosecutors identify gang members by listening to hours of secretly recorded conversations of defendants talking to one another.
In a jailhouse interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, Farah said he was attacked and pistol whipped when word got out that he was cooperating.
"What choice do I have?" he said. "If I testify, they will either kill me or kill my family."
Farah, who has lived in Nashville and Minneapolis, said he gave up the gang to redeem himself in his family's eyes, and he insisted members were engaged in burglary and using drugs, not sex trafficking, when he was involved.
Those accused in the sex trafficking ring are alleged to be gang members who sold girls in Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee.
Farah has convictions for commercial burglary and lost his legal right to be in the U.S. He said he agreed to cooperate with authorities to help him with his immigration status.
Farah said he was told he'd probably never have to testify because the defendants would probably plead guilty. So far, only one defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements. The sex trafficking charges against that defendant were dismissed.
Nine defendants went to trial last year. A jury acquitted six and found three guilty. A federal judge later tossed out those convictions, saying prosecutors failed to show that they were part of one overarching conspiracy.