Chicago fake-bomb suspect to plead guilty in deal

December 20, 2011 - 3:40 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — A young Lebanese immigrant accused of placing a backpack he thought held a bomb near Chicago's Wrigley Field will plead guilty in a deal hammered out with prosecutors, attorneys told a federal judge on Tuesday.

Sami Samir Hassoun, 23, had pleaded not guilty to charges that he received a fake bomb he believed was real from undercover FBI agents last year and then dropped it into a trash bin on a bustling street near the home of the Chicago Cubs.

At a hearing in Chicago, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman set a date of Feb. 14 for Hassoun to change his plea. But neither side offered details about just what charges he would plead guilty to.

Both defense and government attorneys declined comment after the hearing.

The defense has described Hassoun as gullible and prone to wild boasts — but as having no links to extremists. They also told reporters last year they would explore the possibility of using the trial defense that Hassoun was duped by federal agents.

Hassoun would have had a strong incentive to reduce his potential prison time via a plea deal. A conviction on just one charge he plead not guilty to earlier — attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — carries a maximum life prison term.

The jailed Hassoun, a one-time bakery worker, did not appear at Tuesday's hearing. He has shown up at earlier hearings — occasionally lifting his shackled hands to blow kisses to his mother on a spectators' bench.

An informant tipped off authorities about Hassoun and befriended him for more than a year. At least two FBI undercover agents then got in touch, posing as co-plotters, according to the government filings in the case.

Hassoun waffled about his plans, allegedly talking about profiting monetarily and another time broaching the idea of poisoning Lake Michigan or assassinating then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, according to the complaint.

While harmless, prosecutors have said the device planted by Hassoun near Wrigley Field appeared ominous — a paint can fitted with blasting caps and a timer.

Hassoun was deadly serious about the plot and it was "not a matter of talk or bravado," prosecutor Joel Hammerman told a judge shortly after Hassoun's arrest last year.