MINNEAPOLIS - A Minnesota man whose tip helped the FBI catch Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has finally received a $100,000 reward, while another man credited as a tipster still has received nothing.
Tim Nelson, of St. Paul, said yesterday that he collected the reward at the Minneapolis FBI office last week. He said he was satisfied to finally get the recognition, but thought that the $5 million reward that went to a colleague last year was "exorbitant" and that the government's procedures for handing out rewards were too secretive.
Nelson was a flight engineer who worked until 2004 as a contract manager at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minn. He called the FBI about a month before the 2001 terrorist attacks to report his suspicions about Moussaoui, who had shown up at the school with thousands of dollars in cash and asked for training on Boeing 747 simulators. Moussaoui was arrested on Aug. 16, 2001.
Hugh Sims, a former instructor at the school who independently and separately called the FBI the same day as Nelson, said yesterday that he had still not received anything. "I'm kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing," said Sims, of Fort Myers, Fla.
E.K. Wilson, a spokesman for the FBI's Minneapolis office, told McClatchy Newspapers that "for security and privacy reasons," the bureau is "not even confirming that any of these guys were nominated for any awards."
The U.S. Senate approved a resolution in 2005 commending Nelson and Sims for their bravery and heroism in alerting the FBI. The resolution was sponsored by then-Sens. Norm Coleman (R., Minn.) and Mark Dayton (D., Minn.).
Another instructor at the school, Clarence Prevost, received a $5 million reward in January 2008 through the State Department's Rewards for Justice program, which says it has paid more than $77 million to more than 50 people who provided information that led to the arrests of terrorists or prevented attacks.
Prevost was a key witness at Moussaoui's 2006 sentencing trial, at which Moussaoui got life in prison without parole. Prevost testified that he had urged his bosses at the flight school to call the FBI.
Members of the state's congressional delegation questioned why Prevost was rewarded when Nelson and Sims were not. Coleman and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) met with FBI and State Department officials to press for a review.
Nelson and Sims said Prevost had not called the FBI himself, as they did.
Nelson said that during the Dec. 2 reward presentation, his wife, Jodie Quinn-Nelson, asked what Prevost had done to deserve $5 million. He said Agent Harry Samit, who had arrested Moussaoui, replied that Prevost had testified.
Sims said he would understand if the FBI had no record of what he and Nelson had done. But he said he called the FBI Monday and was able to reach the agent to whom he originally gave his tip. He said the agent still remembered their conversation.
Nelson said his and Sims' names are included in FBI documents that Moussaoui's lawyers introduced during his trial.
Nelson said he asked the inspectors general of the Justice and State Departments this week to investigate how the rewards were vetted and whether Prevost had exaggerated his role. He said he was told his reward required approval from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Prevost, of Coral Gables, Fla., declined to comment yesterday.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made an unannounced visit to a Manhattan courthouse yesterday to inspect security for the pending trial of the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He inspected the federal jail and the courthouse, blocks from the World Trade Center site, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others are due to be tried on charges they plotted the attacks.
The five suspects have been held for years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A trial date has not yet been set.
- Associated Press