David Williams spent his first seven years of life in Brooklyn before his mother decided to move her family 70 miles north of New York City to the town of Newburgh, one of the poorest towns in New York state. As a teenager, Williams became interested in Islam and converted. After serving five years in prison for drug offenses, he moved back to Brooklyn where he worked in a steakhouse and attended technical school to study computers. It was only when his younger brother Lord was diagnosed with liver cancer that David decided to move back to Newburgh in 2009 so that he could help his mother care for Lord and assist with medical expenses.

In April 2009, Williams along with three other poor, unemployed, black Muslim ex-offenders unwittingly became involved with a FBI sting operation. The operation was headed up by government “superinformant” Shahed Hussain, who had agreed work with the FBI after he was arrested for providing illegal driver licenses for new immigrants. Prior to targeting Newburgh, the FBI used Hussain in Albany, New York, in sting cases that resulted in “material support for terrorism” charges for three working-class Muslim men there.

At Newburgh’s Masjid Al-Iklas mosque, Hussain found an easy target in down-and-out ex-offender James Cromitie. After courting Cromitie for over a year and offering rewards of $250,000, a new BMW and financing for a barbershop, Hussain was able to pull Cromitie and three other men including David Williams into his fake plot. The set-up entailed Hussain’s plan to bring bombs which he supplied to attack a Jewish synagogue in the Bronx.

The four men became part of a case that, in the federal judge’s own words, was all about “trolling among the citizens of a troubled community, and offering very poor people money if they will play some role, any role, in criminal activity.” Though they were found guilty and given 25-year sentences, the judge acknowledged in her decision that there was “something decidedly troubling about the government’s behavior. …. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it, and brought it to fruition.”  The men’s lawyers have submitted an appeal in this case.