By Rachel Weiner
The Washington Post
A former Metro police officer who sent money to a man he thought had joined the Islamic State failed to win a lighter sentence Friday and will spend another 10 years behind bars.
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“One small moment has come to define the rest of my life,” Nicholas Young told Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in court Friday. He said “illusions of ties of friendship and brotherhood” led him to do something “catastrophically wrong.”
He was “grateful,” he said, that a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruling gave him a “second chance.”
Brinkema was unmoved, again sentencing Young to 15 years in prison. She questioned whether he “genuinely believed” what he did was “all that wrong.”
Young, 39, was found guilty by a jury nearly two years ago of attempting to support a terrorist group and attempting to obstruct justice. He told FBI agents he did not know where his friend “Mo” was, when in reality he believed the man was in Syria fighting for the Islamic State. He ultimately sent Mo $245 in Google Play gift cards for terrorists to communicate with recruits.
In fact, Mo was first an FBI informant and then an undercover agent. After sending the gift card passwords, Young was arrested.
At trial, he argued the FBI lured him into a trap by playing on his sympathies for a friend. Prosecutors countered that Young was inclined to support terrorism before ever meeting Mo, drawing on his interest not just in the Islamic State but in neo-Nazism.
“The evidence was really, really, really, very ugly,” Brinkema said Friday. She highlighted Young’s interactions with terrorism supporters and a trip to Libya to fight with rebels later identified as an Islamic militia group.
In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit threw out Young’s two obstruction convictions, ruling there was not enough evidence he was intentionally thwarting an investigation into his own conduct.
Defense attorney Jessica Carmichael argued that Young’s sentence should be shortened now that he stands convicted of only one crime. At his first sentencing, she said Friday, Young’s “poor humor” and “tasteless rhetoric” overshadowed positives in his life. She noted his career in law enforcement and letters showing he is “compassionate” and “selfless towards others.”
Prosecutors suggested it was Young who changed from a caring person to a dangerous one, possibly as a consequence of steroid use and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time in Libya.
“He became paranoid,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said in court. “Paranoia that caused him to hate . . . caused him to be attracted to Nazis and to ISIS.”
In other parts of the country, Carmichael noted, judges have begun giving lighter sentences to people who have been convicted of similar crimes. Brinkema said Young’s relatively advanced age and position as a police officer made his case distinct. Beyond that, she said, she believes that in the Eastern District of Virginia, anyone interested in supporting terrorism should be prepared for “a very harsh penalty.”
Young has already served about a third of his sentence, with credit for the time he spend in custody awaiting trial. After his release in 2029, he will be supervised for another 15 years.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the rebel group Young fought with in Libya, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, as a designated terrorist group. Although the group had ties to al-Qaeda, it was never designated as a terrorist group by the State Department.