A Syrian citizen lost a bid to a federal appeals court in San Francisco today to get back $40,000 he paid to an undercover agent for four forged green cards in 2005.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Abdul Masih Kardoh was not entitled to have the government return his money because he paid it in an illegal transaction.

According to the ruling, Kardoh paid the $40,000, in bundles of currency bound with rubber bands, to the undercover immigration agent during a meeting in the agent’s car in downtown San Francisco on Dec. 12, 2005.

In return, he received four forged alien registration cards, also known as green cards, allowing legal residency for four Syrians.

Kardoh was then arrested, but was never prosecuted and was deported to Syria two months later.

He claimed he should get his money back because he was never convicted of a crime.
A trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco, agreed and ordered the government to return the money.

But a three-judge appeals panel overturned that ruling, saying the money was forfeited under a longstanding legal doctrine in which a person who delivers a payment under an illegal contract isn’t entitled to recover that money.

The panel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court extended that doctrine to a bribery case beginning in 1880 and other courts since then have applied the concept to money paid in undercover drug investigations.

Jonathan Kaufman, a lawyer for Kardoh, said it’s too early to tell whether his client will appeal the decision.

Kardoh lived in the Bay Area before being deported, Kaufman said.

Evidence in the case showed that Kardoh had previously paid the agent $67,500 for six other cards, including one for himself, but sought back only the $40,000 he paid in the final transaction, according to court records.

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