Somali gang case witness who refused to testify gets partial win on federal appeal

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — A federal appeals court has partially overturned the conviction of a witness who refused to testify in a sex trafficking case involving Somali gang members.

While the defendants who went to trial were either acquitted or had their convictions thrown out, Abudullahi Farah was sentenced to a total of 19 months for his refusal to testify.

According to court documents, Farah originally agreed to cooperate with the government in an investigation of what officials believed was a multistate child sex trafficking operation that took place in in Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee. Farah has said that he changed his mind about cooperating after other gang members began to suspect him. He claims he was assaulted twice and that gang members threatened to kill him and harm his family.

When Farah refused to testify at the April 2012 trial of nine defendants in Nashville, he was sentenced to four months of imprisonment for contempt. A judge then ordered him to testify by deposition, and he again refused. This time he was sentenced to serve two concurrent 15-month sentences. One was for disobeying an order by refusing to testify. The second was for interfering with the enforcement of child sex trafficking laws.

On appeal, Farah claimed the convictions should be overturned because they violated his right to be free from double jeopardy.

On Thursday, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, overturned the conviction for refusing to testify, ruling that Farah was being punished twice for the same offense.

However, the court upheld the conviction for interference with the enforcement of child sex trafficking laws. Although it was based on his refusal to testify, the court deemed that a separate offense.

Farah's attorney, James Mackler, said in a Friday phone interview that he was considering whether to appeal the ruling. However, he said he believes the court's opinion will protect his client from further prosecution should he again be called to testify and refuse.

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