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Veteran fined $1.1 million for fraud

Wire • May 24, 2011 at 10:00 AM

A jury sent a $1.1 million powerful message to an Ohio man who used the names of veterans to collect money.

The Allen County jury of eight issued the verdict against Michael Muhammad on Friday after ruling he pocketed donations he solicited on behalf of veterans. Muhammad also operated a rental house he said was a homeless shelter for veterans.

Deputy Attorney General Samuel Kirk said the verdict was just after the jury heard four days of testimony about Muhammad using the names of veterans charities to collect money for himself.

"It was horrific stories and his behavior was so egregious it warranted this verdict," Kirk said.

Muhammad quickly left the courtroom afterward. His attorney, Bruce French, declined comment.

While it doesn't appear Muhammad has money to pay the verdict or assets to go after, Kirk said the state will try to collect the judgment. He said the state will look at placing liens on properties Muhammad owns.

Judge Jeffrey Reed still has to decide how much money Muhammad will have to pay in attorney fees as well as other civil penalties. The state also will seek to have Reed turn the preliminary injunction against Muhammad into a permanent order baring Muhammad from collecting for charity.

The ruling does not prevent Muhammad from selling items on the street, however, Kirk said.

Kirk will ask the judge to issue a ruling keeping Muhammad from ever setting up in front of the post office to sell anything. He said Muhammad has been out there for so long he doesn't want anyone to confuse him for a charity and give him money.

The state also wants to prevent Muhammad from operating a rental home he said was a homeless shelter for veterans. Muhammad has a house at 616 W. Elm St. He collected about $300 a month from each person who stayed there. Up to eight people stayed at the rental house at a time.

Kirk said the house was far from a homeless shelter. Muhammad used it to make hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars a month renting beds and if people couldn't pay he would kick them out on the street.

"What kind of a homeless shelter is that," Kirk said.

On top of that, the home was filthy and in desperate need of repairs. Kirk called the home "a nightmare on Elm Street."

Kirk also said Muhammad was a poor witnesses for himself. State agents caught Muhammad on tape soliciting money for veterans. When Kirk attempted to question Muhammad during the trial, he had memory lapses struggling to remember simple facts and acted confused with even the simplest of questions Kirk asked despite being able to clearly answer questions from his attorney.

Kirk also said the jury was not fooled by Muhammad's attempts to paint himself as a veteran and war hero. Muhammad even placed a hat on his table each day with the word "ARMY" on it which he turned toward the jury each day. Kirk pointed that out to the jury during closing arguments.

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By Greg Sowinski - The Lima News (MCT)

Copyright (c) 2011, The Lima News, Ohio

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

To see more of The Lima News or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.limanews.com.

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