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Originally published July 31, 2014 at 9:36 PM | Page modified July 31, 2014 at 10:06 PM

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Defendant hopes photos with Seattle officials will lighten his sentence

In an unusual move, a first-time offender who faces a nearly 9-year sentence for selling crack cocaine argues for a lower sentence using photos of himself with city officials as proof of his community spirit.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Pregnant wife and three kids. Shouldn't be selling crack cocaine. Should have thought of the consequences before... MORE
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You might say Ali Abukar Mohamed is trying to photobomb his way to freedom — or at least a lighter sentence.

Mohamed, 30, was convicted of selling crack cocaine earlier this year and is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.

The first-time offender is facing a standard sentence of 8½ years due to three mandatory two-year enhancements added to his sentence because the drug sales took place within four blocks of an elementary school, according to prosecutors.

In an effort to win a lower sentence, the sentencing memorandum his attorney submitted to the court includes nine reference letters from the leaders of local charities and community organizations that speak of Mohamed’s tireless and altruistic work. It also includes the names and signatures of more than 200 individuals who support him.

The thick filing also includes more than a dozen photos of Mohamed taken with Seattle city officials, police officers and members of the community.

One of the photos shows him with a smiling Mayor Ed Murray.

Others show him with newly appointed Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole; former interim Police Chief Harry Bailey; and City Attorney Pete Holmes. The photos appear to have been taken at a variety of mostly outdoor public events.

Others show him standing in the front of public meetings looking at the speaker with interest.

Yet another shows him at what appears to be a police news conference.

Mohamed’s attorney, Howard Phillips, said in court filings the photos do not constitute endorsements of his client by those in the photos. In fact, none of the officials who were photographed with Mohamed was aware they would be included in the file.

Murray declined to comment when reached Thursday, and Holmes would only say through a spokeswoman that he does not know Mohamed.

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, said it’s no surprise O’Toole would be photographed with a Seattle citizen.

“Whether or not that person is able to make a convincing argument is up to the court,” said Whitcomb. “But Chief O’Toole spends a lot of time out in the community and prides herself on being accessible.

“She enjoys meeting people out in the neighborhood and has been accused more than once of photobombing someone else’s pictures.”

Phillips concedes the inclusion of the photos in the sentencing memo is unusual.

He said it was Mohamed’s idea and that they are intended to show he has been engaged in the South Seattle community where he lives and works, he said.

According to the reference letters and his attorney, Mohamed has been a representative of the Somali community in liaisons with community and city leaders.

He has run incentive programs, such as allowing students who earn a 4.0 GPA to “shop” for free at his clothing and apparel store, and has helped organize youth sports and elderly assistance programs.

Mohamed was charged with five counts of violating the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in 2013.

Police and prosecutors alleged Mohamed sold crack cocaine to a confidential informant on five different occasions between 2012 and 2013 from his shop at the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Mead Street.

Prosecutors offered to let him plead guilty to one count of solicitation to possess a controlled substance in exchange for a recommended sentence of 30 to 90 days of work release, court documents show.

But Mohamed declined the offer and went to trial, where he was convicted by a King County Superior Court jury.

In the sentencing memorandum, Mohamed’s attorney asks Superior Court Judge Regina Cahan to consider a number of alternative, and much lower, sentences.

Among them, his attorney is asking that Mohamed — who supports a pregnant wife, three children and his mother — be given a Family Sentencing Alternative sentence that would net him 12 months of probation.

Failing that, his attorney proposes several other options, including the 30- to 90-day work-release sentences originally offered by prosecutors in their plea deal.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.

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