The 66-year-old mother of an Islamic terrorist who went on a shooting rampage with his wife in San Bernardino over four years ago, killing 14 and injuring 22, admitted a criminal offense tied to the investigation, according to court papers released Tuesday.
Rafia Sultana Shareef, also known as Rafia Farook, admitted in a plea agreement filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday that she engaged in the “alteration, destruction and mutilation of records” that were destined to be part of a federal investigation.
The one-count criminal complaint was filed at the start of the year. Shareef is slated to formally enter her guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Riverside in the coming months. She is free on bond and could be sentenced to a maximum 20 years in federal prison, but the plea deal suggests 18 months is appropriate.
Shareef’s youngest son, 28-year-old Sayeed Rizwan Farook, along with her daughter-in-law, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik, perpetrated the mass killings at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2, 2015.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shareef was staying with the couple in Redlands, caring for their toddler daughter, when the pair went to the IRC Christmas party and fatally shot the 14 victims, many of whom were Farook’s co-workers in the San Bernardino County Department of Environmental Health.
Farook and Malik were confirmed fundamentalists and sympathized with Islamic State.
Prosecutors said Shareef heard about the terrorist attack and realized that her son was a suspect, prompting her to snatch a document — probably a map — tied to the mass murder, feeding it into a shredder.
“Shareef admitted that she knew her son had produced the document, and she believed it was directly related to his planning of the IRC attack,” according to the plea agreement.
The defendant then fled the home with her granddaughter. Farook and his wife were killed in a gunfight with a SWAT unit within several hours of the IRC attack.
Also indirectly implicated in the IRC murders is Sayeed Farook’s one- time confidant, 28-year-old Enrique Marquez of Riverside, who in February 2017 admitted charges alleging he helped acquire the semiautomatic rifles used in the attack.
Marquez, who is being held in a federal detention facility in San Bernardino, has since sought to withdraw his plea. U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal is weighing the defense’s motion and prosecutors’ arguments against it.
The investigation that ensued after the IRC attack uncovered Marquez had been involved in a sham marriage to defeat immigration laws — at the behest of Farook, who had helped convert the defendant to Islam.
Marquez wedded a Russian immigrant, who is the sister-in-law of 34- year-old Syed Farook, the terrorist’s elder sibling.
Mariya Chernykh, 29, and Marquez went all-out to make their fake nuptials appear legitimate, taking staged family photos, creating a joint checking account and a back-dated lease that implied they shared a marital residence, enabling her to remain in the country and collect benefits, according to court papers.
Marquez and Chernykh signed immigration documents, under penalty of perjury, falsely stating that they both lived at the same Riverside address, prosecutors said. However, Chernykh eventually moved in with another man in Ontario, while Marquez received money from her as part of the arrangement.
Chernykh ultimately admitted charges of conspiracy, perjury and making false statements to federal officials. She’s free on bond and is slated to be sentenced later this year.
In a separate plea agreement, Syed Farook admitted a conspiracy charge. He’s also free on bond and is scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months, along with his wife, 34-year-old Tatiana Farook, Chernykh’s sister, who admitted a conspiracy count.
Farook and his wife are each facing five years behind bars. Chernykh is facing up to 20 years. However, none are expected to receive the maximum sentences.