- Affiliated with Help the Needy, Inc.
- Accused of illegally conspiring to transfer funds to Iraq
- Affiliated with terrorist front groups
- Sentenced to 22 years in prison
- Released from prison in 2020
Dr. Rafil Dhafir – a Fayetteville, New York oncologist and Iraqi-born naturalized American citizen – is affiliated with Help the Needy, Inc. (HTN) and the Help the Needy Endowment (HTNE). Both are unlicensed, unregistered Islamic charity organizations based in Syracuse, New York. Both organizations were founded in 1994 to solicit money “for the starving and oppressed people of Iraq.” In February 2003, both groups, along with Dhafir and three other individuals, were charged with “conspiring to transfer funds to Iraq in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).”
In addition to the conspiracy charges, Dhafir and the two charities were charged with twelve counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Federal investigators said the men used HTN and HTNE to funnel over $2.7 million through the Jordan Islamic Bank. Dhafir was also charged with ordering checks for up to $100,000 to be paid to individuals located in Baghdad.
In April 2004, a federal grand jury indicted Dhafir on ten new charges, including mail fraud and wire fraud. He was accused of telling donors that their money would go to starving children in Iraq, while he secretly re-invested their money in his own business, including $300,000 for income-producing properties in Syracuse. Other charges include Medicare fraud and Tax evasion. Moreover, he was indicted for signing someone else’s name on 200 checks from an HTN bank. He pled “not guilty” on all charges.
On February 10, 2005, Dhafir was found guilty on 59 of the 60 federal charges against him, ending a 15-week trial. The prosecution successfully argued, among other things, that Dhafir had embezzled over half a million dollars from Help the Needy for his own purposes. The Justice Department also contended that little of the more than $4 million raised by his organization over nine years went to serve the people of Iraq. Dhafir could be sent to prison for up to 20 years when sentenced in June 2005. Lead defense attorney Devereaux Cannick expressed “shock” at the verdict and told reporters that the legal team had not yet considered the possibility of an appeal, as its members had been certain of an acquittal.
On October 28, 2005, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for violating the Iraqi sanctions by sending money to Iraq through his charity program Help the Needy, as well as fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and a variety of other crimes.
An appeal was filed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Oral arguments were presented on August 28, 2008. Ruling almost a year later, on August 18, 2009, the court of appeals upheld Dr. Dhafir’s convictions but vacated his sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing. Dhafir was released on May 15, 2020.
Dhafir’s organization, Help the Needy, is affiliated with the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), a group which Federal investigators allege funnels money to activities supporting terrorism. Dhafir was IANA’s chairman at one time. IANA co-founder Bassem Khafagi has pled “guilty” in federal court in Detroit to two counts of bank fraud and one count of visa fraud. HTN’s web master, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, was a Saudi doctoral student at the University of Idaho who also ran websites linked or belonging to the IANA and posted fatwas from Salan Al-Awdah and Safar Al-Hawali, both supporters of suicide attacks against the U.S. In addition, HTN gave over $42,000 to the Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation, both of which have been designated “global terrorist-support organizations” by the U.S. government.