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Jury Convicts Miller of Spying for Soviet Union : 1st FBI Agent Charged With Espionage Is Guilty on Six of Seven Counts, Could Get Life Sentence

June 20, 1986|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

The first FBI agent ever charged as a spy, Richard W. Miller, was found guilty in Los Angeles federal court Thursday of passing secret documents to the Soviet Union in exchange for a promised $50,000 in gold and $15,000 in cash.

After four days of deliberations, the jury in Miller's second espionage trial found the former counterintelligence agent guilty on six of seven espionage and bribery charges--two of them carrying a maximum possible life sentence.

Miller smiled and chatted with U.S. marshals as he waited for the verdict, but he showed little reaction as it was announced. He spoke briefly to reporters as he was led away in handcuffs:

"Let's say thank God for the Court of Appeals."

18-Month Battle

The quick verdict ended 18 months of courtroom battles that revolved around the bumbling agent's sexual affair and espionage misadventures with an alcoholic Soviet spy--Svetlana Ogorodnikova--who became the star defense witness in Miller's retrial.

But Ogorodnikova's testimony in Miller's behalf contributed to his downfall.

Jurors said after the verdict that they did not believe many of Ogorodnikova's claims during 13 days of dramatic testimony in which she protested that neither she nor Miller were guilty of espionage.

'Too Many Contradictions

"Ninety-eight percent of it I could not believe," said Dale Lowery, 51, an audio consultant from Pasadena. "There were too many contradictions."

The jury, after deliberating a total of 21 hours, announced it was unable to reach a verdict on only one charge--a bribery count alleging that Miller, 49, also solicited a $675 Burberry's trench coat in exchange for passing secrets to the Soviet KGB.

U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner, pleased with the quick verdict, moved to dismiss the trench coat charge and also asked U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon to lift a gag order he imposed last year on lawyers in the case.

Agreeing to both requests, Kenyon thanked the jurors for their service in the 15-week trial and set a July 14 sentencing date for Miller.

The verdict marked the end of a bizarre espionage case that started with the arrest of Miller and two Russian emigres--Svetlana and Nikolai Ogorodnikov--on Oct. 2, 1984, on charges of passing a secret FBI document called the Positive Intelligence Reporting Guide to the Soviet KGB.

The Ogorodnikovs pleaded guilty to conspiring with Miller last June and are both serving prison terms. Miller's first trial began in August, 1985, but ended in a deadlocked jury three months later, setting the stage for the retrial, which began Feb. 25.

Testimony Problem

Jury Foreman Jorge E. Cuellar, 57, an accountant from San Gabriel, said jurors found the case to be "very difficult" to decide, noting that a key problem for the defense in the retrial was the testimony of Ogorodnikova.

"We thought Svetlana's testimony was contradictory," he said. "We thought that in some instances she may have been telling the truth, but the rest of the evidence outweighed anything she said."

Jurors also cited the fact that Miller did not testify in his own defense and said the most convincing proof against him was a series of confessions he made to the FBI before he was arrested.

'Probably the easiest thing to look at was Miller's own confessions. The most difficult might possibly be looking at his motives, but we concluded it was mostly for his own gain," said juror Cathlene Lamprecht, 34, a market research analyst from Wilmington.

"We had the easiest time with his own admissions," said juror Clare Goss, 32, a hospital clerk from Torrance. "His own admissions were the most conclusive evidence we had to go with."

Miller's lawyers, Stanley Greenberg and Joel Levine, said they had expected the guilty verdicts and announced immediately that they will appeal, partly on grounds that Kenyon permitted the prosecution to introduce evidence that Miller had failed polygraph tests before his arrest and allowed testimony of previous illegal acts by Miller.

Termed a Victory

Bonner, in an interview, called the verdict a victory for the American people.

"Espionage is the only crime that's against the entire nation," he said. "In a case of this nature, it is the public that has won in a very real sense."

Bonner also had special praise for the FBI's investigation of Miller and the Ogorodnikovs.

"The job the FBI did from the very beginning of the case has been superb in the highest tradition of the FBI," he said. "I truly believe had it not been for the FBI, the damage to our national security would have been disastrous to contemplate."

But Bonner also said the Miller case had permanently altered the public perceptions about the invulnerability of the FBI to Soviet infiltration. "The bottom line that an FBI agent can be disloyal was an unthinkable concept before the Miller case. No more," he said.

Greenberg and Levine charged that Miller had not received a fair trial from Kenyon and contended that the Miller case revealed serious problems in FBI counterintelligence activities.

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