WASHINGTON — A messenger for a transcribing firm pleaded guilty Thursday to a lesser charge of delivering national defense documents to a person not entitled to receive them, although prosecutors said they could have proved that he tried to sell the Soviet Union top-secret congressional testimony on U.S. military capabilities.
The messenger, Randy Miles Jeffries, 26, could be sentenced to 10 years in prison under the plea agreement, which dropped a more serious espionage charge that carried a sentence of life imprisonment.
Prosecutors did not specify what damage Jeffries had caused to national security by giving the Soviets "samples" of defense documents that he had obtained at Acme Reporting Co., his employer, which transcribes classified congressional testimony.
But prosecutors told the court that disclosure of the testimony of Assistant Defense Secretary Donald C. Latham, contained in one of the documents Jeffries offered the Soviets, "could cause exceptionally grave damage" by revealing or confirming present U.S military strengths and weaknesses.
U.S. Dist. Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, in accepting Jeffries' plea, refused to free him on bond before sentencing, saying that it was "inconceivable" that he would not send Jeffries to prison and that Jeffries "better get started" on serving his time.
Joseph E. diGenova, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said he was "very satisfied" with Jeffries' plea. But he insisted that the government "absolutely" could have proved the more serious charge of attempting to deliver national defense documents to the Soviets.
He indicated that one reason the charge was dropped was to avoid disclosing counterintelligence sources and methods. DiGenova said the investigation is continuing, which other sources said meant Acme Reporting's actions are being scrutinized for possible charges. Acme officials refused to comment.
A document submitted to the court revealed that Jeffries, a former FBI clerk with a history of heroin and cocaine use, had no security clearance when an unnamed official of Acme directed him on Dec. 14 to rip up transcripts of top-secret and secret transcripts and throw them into a trash barrel.
Instead, Jeffries hid some of the documents and took them home when he left work, the government told the court. He told a co-worker, who was not identified, that he could make money with the material and wanted to contact the Soviets for sale of the documents, the government said.
Called Soviet Facility
Later that day, he telephoned a Soviet facility in Washington, identified himself as "Dano" and offered to sell the documents, according to a verbatim account of his conversation. The ability of the government to quote the conversation, complete with "uhs" and "ums," indicated that the Soviet facility is under electronic surveillance.
Soon after the conversation, Jeffries "was observed entering the (Soviet) building carrying a briefcase and remained inside approximately 33 minutes," prosecutors said in their submission to Gesell.
On Dec. 17, Jeffries told a friend, Kevin Quander, that he was trying to sell the material to the Soviets for $5,000 and then made a second visit to the Soviet facility, taking with him several pages of classified documents. He asked Quander to hold the remaining documents for him at a secure place, according to the prosecutor.
On Dec. 20, an FBI undercover agent, posing as a Soviet named Vlad, contacted Jeffries about his "business proposition," said the Soviets were "ready to do business" and arranged to meet Jeffries at a downtown motel.
Offered More Documents
During the meeting, Jeffries told the undercover agent that he had given the Soviets at least 20 pages of each of three classified documents and offered to supply more documents on a monthly basis.
Jeffries' court-appointed lawyer, G. Allen Dale, said that Quander had been given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony to the grand jury that indicted Jeffries. Instead of keeping the documents for Jeffries, Quander, "feeling uneasy," burned them, according to the government.
As a result, the prosecution had only ashes to offer as physical evidence of what Jeffries had tried to give the Soviets, a factor that could have led to the decision to drop the more serious charge.