Zion man gets more than 13 years in prison for conspiracy to support Islamic State, telling informant ‘I want to see blood flowing’
U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood called Edward Schimenti the “more culpable” of the two men charged in the case, but she also described the crime as “on the less serious end of a scale that starts at a very serious level.”
A federal judge on Friday sentenced a Zion man to 13 and a half years in prison for taking part in a conspiracy to support the Islamic State, in part by collecting cellphones he thought could be used as detonators overseas.
Edward Schimenti, 39, was originally charged with Joseph D. Jones in 2017. In handing down the sentence Friday, U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood called Schimenti the “more culpable” of the two, having had a “better idea of what he was getting himself into.”
However, Wood also described the crime as “on the less serious end of a scale that starts at a very serious level.”
A federal jury found Schimenti and Jones guilty in 2019. Prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence for Schimenti, noting that he had also been convicted of lying to the FBI. They sought a 17-year sentence for Jones, but the judge last month gave Jones 12 years instead.
Authorities said the FBI opened an investigation into Jones and Schimenti based on “troubling” comments they made online. For example, they said Schimenti wrote, “Islamic State will control your country, matter of fact, Islam will dominate the world!!” They said he also displayed the Islamic State flag on his Google+ account.
Ultimately, the feds created what they called “a ruse scenario” to determine the true intentions of Jones and Schimenti. But attorneys for both men have insisted they were entrapped. Schimenti’s defense lawyers wrote in a memo last week the feds “infiltrated every part of his life” and created a “false reality” for Schimenti at the gym, online and at home.
“Mr. Schimenti only acted when the government placed the opportunity before him and then consistently manipulated him over an extended period until he took the bait,” defense attorneys Joshua Adams and Stephen Hall wrote in that memo.
They also said that, despite Schimenti’s online commentary, no member of any terrorist group ever reached out or “ever took Ed seriously.”
Friday’s sentencing took place in Wood’s 19th-floor courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Before he was sentenced, Schimenti apologized and told the judge, “In the end, your honor, really I guess I’m just asking for another chance at life.”
Before he was escorted out of the courtroom later, after the hearing ended, Schimenti looked toward the gallery, put his hand on his heart and pointed toward members of his family.
As part of their “ruse scenario,” the feds sent an undercover agent, who called himself Omar, to strike up a relationship with Jones in 2015. The two crossed paths at the Zion police station, where Jones was summoned for questioning about the recent murder of a friend.
Omar also told Jones he knew of a person who could help facilitate travel to join the Islamic State. That man, who went by the name Bilal, turned out to be a second undercover agent.
Jones and Schimenti met with Omar and Bilal on Dec. 29, 2015, according to prosecutors. But when Bilal asked Jones and Schimenti whether they had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, they said Schimenti became suspicious and abruptly left the meeting.
Nearly a year later, in November 2016, the FBI sent a confidential informant to get a job with Schimenti’s employer. Not only was the informant hired, but he began socializing with Schimenti after work. The informant told Schimenti he had a brother in the Islamic State and hoped to join his brother in Syria. Schimenti then told the informant about Bilal, records show.
Schimenti helped the informant get into fighting shape at a gym, prosecutors said. There, they said Schimenti said he hoped to be the one to “cut the neck” of non-believers.
The informant also told Schimenti that Islamic State fighters had been tracked by compromised cellphones and fighters could use cellphones for bombs. He even told Jones and Schimenti about watching a YouTube video that showed how the Islamic State would use the phones. The feds say that when the informant paused to remember an English word, Schimenti interrupted and asked “Detonator?” — prompting confirmation from the informant.
Prosecutors said Schimenti helped the informant gather cellphones and declined payment for them, telling the informant, “I know where they’re going.” During one shopping trip to help prepare the informant to travel overseas, Schimenti allegedly said, “I want to see blood flowing, either way.”
On April 7, 2017, prosecutors say Jones and Schimenti ate dinner with the informant and drove the informant to O’Hare Airport thinking he’d be traveling to Syria. The feds say Schimenti told the informant to “drench that land with they, they blood.”