Urooj Rahman struck plea deal with Biden Justice Department to avoid a decade in jail
Josh Christenson • November 18, 2022 12:27 pm
NEW YORK—Urooj Rahman, a public interest lawyer who firebombed a police cruiser during the 2020 George Floyd riots, was sentenced to just 15 months in prison on Friday after the Biden Justice Department intervened on her behalf, pressing the court to issue a sentence below the guidelines that called for 10 years.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan of the Eastern District of New York handed down the sentence to a packed courtroom in Brooklyn, where Rahman’s allies gathered in solidarity. Rahman, who faced up to five years in prison, told supporters the sentence “wasn’t the result we wanted.” Her attorney, Peter Baldwin, said Rahman’s defense team was “obviously disappointed with the result, but we are excited that Urooj can move on to the next phase of her life.”
Rahman and her accomplice, Colinford Mattis, leveraged their connections to top universities, white-shoe law firms, and the Obama administration, to win sympathy from liberal elites. They were the subjects of glowing profiles in national media during their prosecution, and struck a sweetheart deal with the Biden Justice Department, which, in a rare move, intervened to ask the court to go easy on them after the Trump administration had pressed for an aggressive prosecution.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The plea deal paid off for Rahman, who was also sentenced to two years of supervised release. Cogan chastised Rahman for the “amazing level of arrogance” it took for a lawyer to perpetrate an “attack on the rule of law.” But the judge also called Rahman “a remarkable person who did a terrible thing one night,” echoing the case her lawyers made in her defense.
On May 29, 2020, Rahman, a graduate of Fordham University’s law school, threw a Molotov cocktail into an NYPD vehicle along with her accomplice Mattis, a Princeton and New York University Law School graduate. The pair pleaded guilty in June, which qualified them for automatic disbarment. New York officially disbarred them on Tuesday.
The Trump administration initially pursued a domestic terrorism sentencing enhancement against the pair, which would have carried a maximum 10-year sentence. But the Biden Justice Department dropped the enhancement, and the lawyers confessed to counts of conspiracy to commit arson and to making and possessing an unregistered destructive device.
The lesser charges carried a maximum sentence of five years. In September, prosecutors requested the duo serve just 18 to 24 months based on the “history and personal characteristics of the defendants.”
Rahman has been under electronically monitored house arrest since June 2020, when former Obama administration official Salmah Rizvi posted her $250,000 bail. Rizvi, an attorney at the Washington, D.C. law firm Ropes & Gray, told the judge that she was Rahman’s “best friend” and that she earns “$255,000 a year.”
Rahman’s attorneys asked for a sentence commutation in September, arguing she was “numb, disassociated, and inebriated” and coping with “unprocessed trauma” stemming from “abusive partnership relationships” and being taunted as a Muslim after 9/11. They said the firebombing “marked deviation from her otherwise exemplary life” and claimed Rahman’s “commitment to social justice” should earn her a more lenient sentence.
“Tossing the Molotov cocktail was a way of expressing anger at those police officers around the country for whom Black lives did not matter,” Rahman’s attorneys said. “It was an act of protest intended to avoid exposing others to harm.”
But prosecutors said Rahman and Mattis explicitly approved of violence. In text messages, the pair “encouraged others to engage in violence; mocked reportedly injured police officers; and disparaged law enforcement generally,” prosecutors noted in court documents.
On the night of the protest, Rahman sent Mattis videos of rioters throwing fireworks and Molotov cocktails at law enforcement, damaging another NYPD van. “Bring it to their neck,” Mattis responded to the footage.
“[F]ireworks goin and Molotovs rollin,” Rahman responded. “I hope they burn everything down. Need to burn all police stations down and probably the courts too.” She even “announced with a smiley face emoji that her rock had struck a police officer,” prosecutors said.
Rahman has agreed to pay restitution of $30,137 to the NYPD, the approximate cost of the sedan she firebombed. Mattis’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 16.