LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles valet parking attendant who spent time in an Israeli prison for attempting to blow up a bus was sentenced Friday to nine months behind bars for illegally obtaining American citizenship by deliberately withholding his criminal record and past terrorist associations.
Vallmoe Shqaire, 51, was given until May 28 to surrender to begin serving his time, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may take him into custody at any time based on the fact that his citizenship was revoked and he is under an immigration hold for deportation, attorneys said at the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles federal court.
U.S. District Judge John F. Walter made clear that he would prefer that Shqaire — who is free on bond — be allowed to self-surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on the appointed date. Walter said that as part of his plea deal, the defendant agreed to a judicial removal order and will not contest deportation to his native Jordan.
Although immigration agents attended the hearing, Shqaire left the courthouse accompanied by a friend without being detained.
Shqaire remained in the United States for nearly a decade after federal officials uncovered his criminal history, a fact that plainly irked the judge, who questioned why the mistake was not remedied earlier.
Prosecutors said Shqaire first entered the United States on a visitors visa in 1999 and managed to have his citizenship application approved in November 2008. He pleaded guilty in January to illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Shqaire’s attorney, Mark Werksman, told the court that his client is not a danger to anyone and has not engaged in any political activities since coming to the United States.
“He was glad to come here for peace and prosperity … to escape the turmoil and craziness of the Middle East,” Werksman said. “He’s the opposite of a flight risk — he would camp out in this courtroom if he could.”
The Palestinian-born Jordanian was trained by a cell of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in bomb-making and the use of rifles and grenades, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In 1988, Shqaire and an accomplice used a pipe bomb to try and blow up the public bus, but no one was injured in the roadside explosion, according to prosecutors. Shqaire was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in a military prison in 1991, but was released from Israeli custody after four years, documents show.
“By concealing his violent, terrorist conduct, defendant circumvented the procedures our immigration system depends upon,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Shqaire apologized to the court for lying to immigration officials
“I’m very, very sorry for what I did,” he said. “I love this country and want to stay here.”