The judge was not sure whether Mahanad Badawi had been actively recruiting for Islamic State.
The 24-year-old Anaheim man had already been convicted by a federal jury in June of conspiring to help the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. Badawi had used his debit card to purchase a one-way ticket so that a friend, Nader Elhuzayel, could board a plane to the Middle East to join Islamic State.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter asked to listen to audiotapes of Badawi in which he seemed to be trying to entice other men from a local mosque. After listening to the recordings and a five-minute recess, Carter said he was convinced.
"I believe you're radicalized. I believe you're a recruiter and I believe you're dangerous," the judge told Badawi, who did not appear to betray emotion.
The judge sentenced Badawi to 30 years in prison — the same sentence Elhuzayel got after being found guilty of the same charge.
After the sentencing, Badawi's mother, Samia Suliman, was embraced by family members and friends as she sobbed.
Badawi had purchased a ticket for Elhuzayel to fly from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. While Carter initially admitted feeling torn about the sentence he would give Badawi, he said he believed Elhuzayel was "beyond redemption."
Kate Corrigan, Badawi's attorney, argued that her client was not an Islamic State recruiter. If that were the case, she stated, federal officials would have had secured multiple indictments of the people he had allegedly recruited.
But for Carter, the audiotapes clinched the sentence he would hand down.
Badawi and Elhuzayel were convicted after a two-week trial that detailed their efforts to join the terrorist group, including their recorded pledges to "fight for the cause of Allah and to die in the battlefield," according to court documents
The pair were arrested on May 21, 2015. Agents from a counterterrorism task force intercepted and detained Elhuzayel at Los Angeles International Airport before he boarded a plane bound for Israel. Badawi was arrested at an Anaheim gas station.
Agents began monitoring the men after seeing their inflammatory remarks on social media. Scrutiny of the men intensified in April and May of 2015 as agents eavesdropped on their phone calls and surveillance teams tracked their movements.
Elhuzayel was found guilty of attempting to provide material support to Islamic State, and Badawi was convicted of aiding and abetting the attempt to provide material support. In September, Elhuzayel was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Corrigan argued that a sentence of more than 15 years for Badawi would be excessive. She said the sentencing guidelines had resulted in an "outrageous" punishment and that the terrorists had already won because people's rights to fair sentencing were being trampled on.
She said such sentences were normally reserved for criminals who have been in prison several times for felony convictions.
"My client has no evidence of even a parking ticket. He's not a career offender," she said.
Badawi's family was stunned. They had expected a more lenient sentence, his older brother said.
Mohamed Badawi didn't want to elaborate any more on Wednesday, but did say in an earlier interview that his brother was naïve and had a "misguided friendship."
Follow Cindy Carcamo on Twitter @thecindycarcamo
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.