A mysterious Turkish Islamic cleric — whose followers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s family foundation and to her presidential campaign — is being accused of ordering the false imprisonment of three followers of a competing religious sect, according to documents filed in federal court earlier this week.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has lived in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains since 1998, when he went into exile from Turkey amid accusations that he plotted to undermine the secular regime that was in place at the time.
But the 74-year-old has been able to wield control from that that secluded compound over his worldwide network of media organizations and charter schools — some 120 of which are in the U.S.
Gulen also maintains enormous power in Turkey, where he uses his strong following to quash political opponents, according to Robert Amsterdam, an attorney hired by the Turkish government to investigate Gulen.
Gulen and Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were once allies against the nation’s secular regime. But the pair fell out publicly after a 2013 corruption investigation targeting Erdogan’s inner circle. The politician accused the cleric of coordinating the campaign. In turn, he’s reportedly asked President Obama to extradite Gulen to face charges back home.
It was against that backdrop that Amsterdam laid out during a press conference on Wednesday the claims made in a lawsuit against Gulen.
In the suit, three followers of the Dogan movement, which follows the interpretations of Mehmet Dogan and Said Nursi, claim Gulen ordered their arrest because they criticized the Gulen movement, also known as Hizmet. They also claimed that Gulenists planted false evidence to build the case against them.
According to the suit, Gulen’s alleged “targeted campaign of persecution” violates U.S. law.
But Amsterdam also laid out evidence against Gulen that lies closer to home, claiming that whistleblowers have come forward to shed light on how taxpayer-funded Gulen charter schools in the U.S. are operated.
He said that the whistleblowers have claimed that teachers proselytize to American students about the Gulen movement, which is considered to espouse a moderate form of Islam. He also said that teachers in those schools have claimed that Turkish teachers are given bonuses based on their indoctrination efforts. The ultimate reward is a trip to Gulen’s Pocono compound, Amsterdam claimed.
He also pointed to investigations conducted in several states and by the FBI which have found that the Gulen movement relies heavily on the H-1B visa system to fill its schools with Turkish teachers.
As Amsterdam noted Wednesday, in 2009, Gulen charter schools received more H-1B visas than Google, the massive tech company. He also pointed to audits conducted in some locales which showed that some of the taxpayer-funded Gulen schools have paid more for immigration attorneys for their Turkish teachers than they have for books.
“This is where American taxpayer money is going,” Amsterdam asserted, adding that “clearly, the United States didn’t need anything like that level of teachers.”
In turn, the teachers — largely males who often know little English — donate a large portion of their taxpayer-funded salaries to the Gulen movement.
And those funds are used, in part, to make the U.S. arm of the Gulen movement one of the “largest foreign interveners in American political activity,” Amsterdam claimed.
And perhaps the biggest beneficiary of those political funds is Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner.
As The Daily Caller reported last month, Gulenists have contributed heavily to Clinton’s presidential campaign and to the Clinton Foundation. (RELATED: Followers Of A Mysterious Islamic Cleric Have Donated Heavily To Hillary’s Foundation And Campaign)
Recep Ozkan, a businessman who has served as president of the Gulen-affiliated Turkish Cultural Center, contributed as much as $1 million to Clinton’s global charity in the third quarter of 2015. The Gulenist leader also contributed the maximum amount allowed under federal law to Clinton’s presidential campaign. He and another Gulen leader, Gokhan Ozkok, served as national finance co-chairs for Ready PAC, a political action committee created last year to support Clinton, TheDC found.
As a senator from New York, Clinton attended at least two functions at the Turkish Cultural Center.
The suspicious sourcing of the Gulenists’ contributions should compel Clinton to return them, Amsterdam told TheDC.
“Mr. Gulen has used his religious movement and network of charter schools to support political donations to Secretary Clinton and other politicians to build political support in the U.S. — support he uses to expand his massive charter school operation and attack the elected Government of Turkey,” Amsterdam said, adding that the donations are, “in part, taken from the salaries of teachers on H-1B visas.”
“The Clinton campaign and any other recipient of Gulen-linked donations should consider returning these funds as Senator Ayotte did.”
Last month, Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, returned more than $43,000 in contributions given to her campaign by Gulenists in April 2014. As USA Today reported at the time, many of the contributors appeared not to have known who was receiving their contributions. Others could not be tracked down, raising suspicion over whether the payouts were legitimate.
Ayotte called on Clinton to follow her lead in returning contributions her campaign has received from Gulenists. The Clinton campaign has not responded to requests for comment.