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Foreign Interference in Local Courts
Saudi students aided in fleeing justice in Polk and Benton Counties

Recently, it was discovered that several Saudi Arabian college students studying in Oregon who had been charged with various felony level crimes had fled the United States before trial, with the help of the Saudi government. The students were all represented by Oregon attorney Ginger Mooney. At least two of the cases happened right here in Polk and Benton Counties.

What nobody has reported until now are the irregularities with the bail money that was paid by Ginger Mooney’s client, the Saudi government, to Oregon’s circuit courts. In at least one case, a large amount of bail money paid to the Polk County court is apparently unaccounted for.

It is a state-wide law (ORS 135.280) that when a defendant out of jail on a 10% bail deposit fails to appear in court, the court must order that bail money forfeit -- even the remaining 90% that had not yet been paid. All of Oregon’s circuit courts and attorneys know exactly how to properly handle bail, which is why these two local Saudi cases stand out.

In the 2014 Polk case (No. 14CR30024), defendant Abdulaziz Hamad Al Duways was accused of violent sexual crimes against a fellow student at Western Oregon University. At his first appearance, then-Judge Sally Avera ordered bail set at $4.5 million. While that may sound like an appropriate amount of bail for such horrific crimes, it is actually wildly unconstitutional according to Oregon law -- which sets bail amounts by the offense charged. In this case, bail would normally initially be set at or about $1.25 million.

Judge Avera certainly knew that it was not constitutional, which calls into question what she thought she and court staff were doing.

At Al Duways’ next appearance, Ginger Mooney negotiated Judge Avera down to $500,000 -- a sum that the Royal Consulate General of Saudi Arabia agreed to pay, turning over the 10% deposit of $50,000 into the custody of Polk court staff.

When Al Duways was spirited back to Saudi Arabia and failed to appear in court, a month and a half after his release on bail, Judge Avera was required by law to immediately follow Oregon’s statewide bail procedures: She had a duty to send an official notice to the Saudi Royal Consulate, then release the $50,000 deposit to Oregon’s Department of Revenue, and then enter a court order compelling the Saudi government to pay the remaining $450,000 in bail money through the court, to be released to the Department of Revenue.

Instead, Judge Avera did nothing. She sent no notice, signed no order, failed to acknowledge the $50,000 that was already in the court’s possession, and failed to send a bill for the remaining $450,000 owed to Oregon by the Saudi government.

The fate of the $50,000 paid to the court remained entirely unknown until 2019, after Ginger Mooney and her Saudi cases was first reported by national and international media. That spring, I brought the issue of the unreleased bail money to the attention of Polk Trial Court Administrator Heidi Bittick, on the off chance that she had somehow overlooked it. Bittick refused to give a straight answer, and would state only that “$50,000 is being held in the state of Oregon.”

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Technically, that would not be a lie even if the money was being hidden in Bittick’s sock drawer. However, Bittick was terminated as Court Administrator shortly thereafter. In a Bureau of Labor and Industries complaint that Bittick filed in the wake of her termination, she claimed that she was fired by Polk Presiding Judge Norman Hill due to her “whistleblowing activity,” and that Judge Hill subjected her to “unwarranted discipline” regarding court cashbox money she discovered to be missing. The Saudi bail receipt was filled out by Bittick personally. Whether Bittick misappropriated the money herself or did so as part of a larger scheme is a question that may be answered by the records surrounding her termination. Except those records are unfortunately “confidential” according to the Oregon Judicial Department, who refuses to release them to the media or the public.

Other Saudi cases at Polk and other courts strongly suggest that this was just one episode of a repeated scheme to take custody of large amounts of Saudi bail money that would then be abandoned when the Saudi government predictably removed the defendant from the US, causing him to fail to appear in court.

Regarding Al Duway’s case in Polk, Judge Hill was recently notified that the court had failed to order the release of even the $50,000 deposit to the State of Oregon. Judge Hill has thus far also refused to act, or even acknowledge, that there is a problem in his courthouse regarding the disappearance of bail money.

The situation was slightly better in a 2014 case (No. 14CR16191) in Benton County, although the crimes charged were even more abhorrent: ten counts of encouraging child sexual abuse. That defendant, Waleed Ali Alharthi, was bailed out with another $50,000, again paid by the Saudi Royal Consulate.

It took another half-year for Alharthi to flee the same way Al Duways had, but he did so -- using his Saudi passport, even though it was supposed to be held securely in the custody of the court.

Unlike Polk County, the Benton court ordered the $50,000 deposit released to the State of Oregon immediately. But like Polk, Benton also refused to send the Saudi government the bill for the remaining 90% ($450,000) they owe to the State Oregon.

Even after the Benton District Attorney vehemently complained to the court about letting the Saudis off the hook for the $450,000, Ginger Mooney inserted herself into the discussion, confusing the matter and encouraging Judge Matthew Donahue not to follow Oregon law.

These two cases alone represent $1 million that should, by statute, have been used by the State of Oregon to support the Crime Victims Fund. The fund was set up by the legislature to help Oregonians victimized by criminals to recover mentally, physically, and financially from exactly the kinds of crimes these Saudi defendants were charged with -- and were enabled to escape trial for. So far, only 5% of that million dollars has reached the Crime Victims Fund -- a mere $50,000, all of it from Benton. Polk still has not turned over a single penny.

If the law is not followed in extreme cases such as these -- in which defendants accused of horrific crimes are enable to flee back to a country they cannot be extradited from, such as Saudi Arabia which has no extradition treaty with the US, then when can the public count on Oregon’s courts and judges to follow the law?

If it takes only $50,000 to buy justice for a Saudi defendant accused of horrific sexual offenses, what else can criminals getting away with by leaving piles of cash unattended with the courts?

US Senators Merkley and Wyden have shown lasting concern and interest in these Saudi cases from an international perspective. They need to hear from the public that Saudi interference in Oregon’s court system is unacceptable.


--Stephanie Volin

Post Date: 2021-03-28 14:59:14Last Update: 2021-03-28 17:01:32



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