United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging Moses Slanger Wright, 69, of Philadelphia, PA, with fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, fraud in immigration documents, false statements in relation to naturalization, and perjury in connection with his fraudulent attempt to obtain U.S. citizenship.
During Liberia’s First Civil War, the Armed Forces of Liberia was locked in a brutal campaign for control of the country with various rebel groups, most notably Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The Indictment alleges that the defendant, when applying for U.S. citizenship, was not truthful about his activities during Liberia’s First Civil War while he was a member, and ultimately the commanding general of, the Armed Forces of Liberia.
According to the Indictment, Wright either personally committed, or ordered Armed Forces of Liberia troops under his command to commit numerous atrocities, including but not limited to, the following list of acts: 1) persecution of civilian noncombatant Gio and Mano tribesmen; 2) murder of civilian noncombatants; 3) assault of civilian noncombatants; 4) false arrest of civilian noncombatants; and 5) false imprisonment of civilian noncombatants.
Wright is the latest of several Philadelphia-area Liberian immigrants to face federal charges in recent years. U.S. authorities have sought to bring Liberian war criminals to justice — especially in Philadelphia, where thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict were relocated in the 1990s and 2000s.
In May 2013, Wright, who had been granted asylum in the U.S. in 2000 and lawful permanent residency in 2008, applied for U.S. citizenship. In applying for both asylum and lawful permanent residency, the defendant lied about his conduct during Liberia’s First Civil War. During his August 2016, in-person citizenship (naturalization) interview, Wright falsely swore and falsely certified under penalty of perjury that “[his citizenship] application, and the evidence submitted with it, [were] all true and correct.” His application included his false denials that he had: 1) “ever persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion;” 2) “ever committed a crime or offense for which [he was] not arrested;” and 3) “ever given false or misleading information to any U.S. Government official while applying for any immigration benefit or to prevent deportation, exclusion, or removal.” Additionally, while under oath, the defendant falsely answered similar queries posed by the examining USCIS officer.
“Wright sought to escape to the United States and start anew, where he lied about his appalling wartime conduct on federal immigration forms and to the faces of U.S. officials. The United States will not be a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” said United States Attorney Romero.
“HSI is committed to upholding the law, both within the United States and abroad. Moses Wright, the former commanding general for the Armed Forces of Liberia, is alleged to have misrepresented his participation in the First Liberian Civil War when he came to the United States, hiding his leadership of forces that committed -- with his participation and under his command -- persecutory atrocities against innocent civilians,” said William S. Walker, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations, Philadelphia. “HSI continues steadfastly in our commitment to ensure the United States will never be a safe haven for those who seek to flee from atrocities they commit abroad.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 165 years in prison and a $7,000,000 fine.
In a similar case earlier this year, another Liberian immigrant living in Philadelphia was arrested by federal authorities and charged with fraudulently hiding his background as a high-ranking member of a rebel group — he called himself “Dragon Master” — that is accused of committing atrocities during the Second Liberian Civil War.
In 2018, a federal judge sentenced Mohammed Jabateh, 54, of Lansdowne, to 30 years in prison for hiding his past as a brutal warlord.
That same year, a jury convicted Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu — a past spokesperson for Charles Taylor, a Liberian president later found guilty by an international war-crimes tribunal — for lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his complicity in war crimes committed by Taylor’s regime. He died in 2020 before he could be sentenced.