A confidential informant who helped build a terror case against a man charged with crafting homemade bombs to attack post offices and police stations has legal trouble of his own, the terror suspect's new lawyer said Tuesday.
A person familiar with the matter said it was a minor marijuana charge.
Attorney Lori Cohen said she'd been appointed to represent terror suspect Jose Pimentel, an American who authorities have described as an al-Qaida sympathizer arrested as he pieced together a pipe bomb in the informant's apartment. Pimentel initially was represented by a Legal Aid Society lawyer, but Cohen said she was told Legal Aid had represented the informant in an unspecified other case, creating a conflict of interest.
The informant's case is "a low-level marijuana arrest," a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information hadn't been made public.
Pimentel and the informant smoked marijuana together during the investigation, according to two other people briefed on the probe. They also spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters not made public.
The change of lawyers came after Pimentel expressed reservations about his representation. Pimentel said he didn't want to be represented by his Legal Aid lawyer, Joseph Zablocki, the attorney told a judge at Pimentel's arraignment Sunday. Zablocki said he wasn't comfortable disclosing why because it "could prejudice the jury pool."
A Legal Aid spokeswoman didn't immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday. The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.
Pimentel, 27, is being held without bail on charges including weapons possession and conspiracy as terror crimes. Zablocki had said Pimentel wasn't a clandestine operator planning a true threat, noting that authorities say Pimentel had a website detailing his belief in holy war, or jihad, and advocacy of violence against U.S. army installations, police stations and other locales in the United States. Pimentel also posted an article, from an online al-Qaida magazine, with instructions on how to make a bomb, according to a criminal complaint.
The Dominican-born Pimentel has spent most of his life in the U.S. and is a naturalized citizen, authorities said. Raised Roman Catholic, he converted to Islam in 2004 and went by the name Muhammad Yusuf, authorities said.
The informant had been helping police watch Pimentel for the past year, authorities said. Pimentel told the informant he was interested in building small bombs and targeting banks, government buildings and soldiers returning home from abroad, the criminal complaint says.
The informant accompanied Pimentel as he bought pipes, Christmas lights and other supplies for bomb-making, and the informant's apartment served as a laboratory for it, the complaint says.
Prosecutors have said they have "countless hours" of audio and video recordings in the case, some showing Pimentel scraping the heads from matches and drilling holes in the pipes. After seeing him drill the holes, police moved in, the complaint says.
Pimentel told police he was about an hour from finishing his bomb, according to the complaint.
The investigation has produced one of relatively few terror cases brought by New York state authorities, rather than federal ones. Some law enforcement officials have said police sought to get the FBI involved but the federal investigators felt Pimentel didn't have the inclination or ability to act without the informant's involvement.
New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the NYPD kept federal authorities in the loop all along before circumstances forced investigators to take swift measures using state charges.
Pimentel is due in court Friday to learn whether he has been indicted, though the date could be extended.