Riad Hamad Search Warrant Affidavit Released

Austin media this evening are reporting allegations contained in a search warrant affidavit that was just released in the matter of Riad Hamad. Here is how the Austin American-Statesman is describing the document:

According to a search warrant affidavit, Hamad operated the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund, which bills itself as an organization to improve the lives of Palestinian children.

It said that Hamad received $633,965 in donations and that he sent some of the money — about $527,000 — to the Middle East. But the affidavit said authorities “can not determine the ultimate disposition of these funds at this time.”

The affidavit said authorities think Hamad was using the donated money for personal use and not paying federal income tax on it.

The document also said that Hamad failed to file several income tax returns from 2000 to 2006 and did not pay any taxes on earned income during those years.

Hamad also gave copies of unfiled federal income tax returns and false documents to various universities in Texas to obtain federal loans in the amount of $135,000, the affidavit said.

The lead paragraph of the story says federal authorities “could not trace the whereabouts of more than $500,000 he received for his charity”; yet the body of the article says that $527,000 was sent to the Middle East. Surely, the editors are aware that the impression they create in the lead paragraph is defamatory, especially by comparison to the facts that follow.

There is a curious use of the word “some.” It is used, for example, to describe most of the money raised, yet not used to describe the smaller sum in question that could have “allegedly” been used for personal purposes. We would have preferred the report to say “most” of the money went to the Middle East (83 percent says our calculator), while “some” of the remaining money is still under investigation.

If it is the case that Mr. Hamad secured loans on the basis of tax forms not actually filed, then perhaps the loans in question are student loans? Mr. Hamad was a lifelong student with several graduate degrees.

A local Fox News package (that is not yet posted online) mentioned the word “fraud.” As the narrator of the news report at 9pm talked about money allegedly going into family accounts, the screen zoomed to a high six-digit figure. But the news account from the Statesman suggests that 83 percent of the money raised went to the Middle East.

Nothing is yet clear about what federal officials allege regarding the $135,000 that did not go to the Middle East. For example, we believe (and reporters should know this much) that he spent some money on Palestinian refugees in Texas. He made it very clear at the time that he was making an exception to his usual rule that all money goes to the children of Palestine. But they were locking up Palestinian children at the T. Don Hutto prison, and Riad Hamad responded to their needs — without hesitation. He talked about driving to the prison and bringing care packages.

When federal officials claim in a document that they don’t know “at this time” exactly where the $527,000 went after it got to the Middle East, it is not clear how they are using their investigative power. They are apparently not saying that they know the money was mis-spent. If they had said such a thing clearly, wouldn’t the news reports have been more straightforward?

Fox News interviewed a neighbor who wanted to think the best things about Riad Hamad. And we venture to guess that anyone who ever met Riad Hamad shares his neighbor’s best hopes.

Riad Hamad is dead. He can’t make any further use of his good reputation with people who knew him. Nevertheless, we would very much appreciate more careful and respectful reporting on the life of a man who by all accounts was generous from inside out.–gm

Additional reporting from KVUE has been posted:

A federal search warrant reveals what Hamad was being accused of.

According to an investigator with the Internal Revenue Service, “… Riad Hamad, with the assistance of his son, Abdullah Hamad, his ex-wife, Diana Hamad, and his daughter, Rita Hamad, are using the ‘donated funds’ for personal use and not paying federal income taxes on these funds.”

Authorities believe Hamad was operating three organizations from his Southwest Austin home — The Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund, Clean Air of Austin and kKnder Kreative Konsultants.

The search warrant shows donations totaling more than $633,000 were collected. Investigators also traced $892,000 in cash being deposited into Hamad family bank accounts. It’s believed these are proceeds from donations to the Children’s Welfare Fund.

SOURCE: “Teacher found in lake investigated for spending donated money” (03:50 PM CDT on Thursday, May 1, 2008)

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