A Michigan gem merchant who claims he tipped the FBI to the location of Osama bin Laden's secret compound in Pakistan eight years before his killing has hired a high-powered Chicago law firm to help him seek the $25 million reward offered for the terrorist's capture.
Tom Lee, 63, of Grand Rapids, Mich., "accurately reported" to an FBI special agent in 2003 that bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to a letter sent in August to FBI Director James Comey by an attorney for the Loevy & Loevy firm.
Lee's account, however, differs from numerous published reports that the bin Laden compound wasn't even completed until 2005. U.S. officials were quoted as saying it was believed bin Laden didn't move to the complex until early 2006. One of bin Laden's wives who was taken into custody following the 2011 raid reportedly told interrogators they'd been there for five or six years.
Lee, a U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent, said he learned of the complex's location from a Pakistani intelligence agent who told him he had personally escorted bin Laden and his family from Peshawar to Abbottabad. The agent was a member of an anti-al-Qaida family who had done business with Lee for decades, according to a copy of the letter provided by the law firm.
Lee claimed he relayed the information to a U.S. customs agent who had previously worked with Lee on investigations into corruption in the international gem trade. Lee and the customs agent later met with an FBI agent who wrote a report of the interview. A compact disc copy of an interview the customs agent purportedly gave verifying Lee's claims was sent with the letter but not made public by the law firm.
Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 during a raid by U.S. special forces on the heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, about 70 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
U.S officials said later that year that the $25 million offered by the U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program for the "capture or conviction" of bin Laden would not be paid because the compound was located by tracking a key bin Laden courier through electronic intelligence, not an informant.
But Lee's attorneys said the information he provided entitled him to the full reward.
"Once Mr. Lee learned that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in the precise location he had identified ... in 2003, (he) made numerous attempts to contact the Grand Rapids FBI field office in order to claim his reward," the letter stated. "Unfortunately, all of Mr. Lee's communications to that office have gone unanswered to date, as has his electronic submission to the FBI via its website."
Reached by email Friday, Lee did not respond to requests for comment. Calls and emails seeking comment from the FBI in Washington were also not returned.
According to the letter, Lee has been an international gem merchant for more than 40 years and founded the Gem River Corp., which has counted among its board members William Ruckelshaus, the former acting director of the FBI and U.S. deputy attorney general.