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Southland GI Gets 30 Years for Espionage

June 25, 1989|RICHARD BEENE | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County soldier who admitted giving top-secret U.S. military plans to Communist East Germany and then pleaded for forgiveness was sentenced Saturday to 30 years in prison.

The sentence, handed down by a panel of five officers, came three days after Army Spec. Michael A. Peri of Laguna Niguel pleaded guilty to espionage in a case that saw highly sensitive U.S. plans for the defense of Europe fall into the hands of the East Germans.

According to press accounts from Germany, Peri, 22, stood impassively and glanced briefly at his family as the sentence was announced in a military courtroom in Fulda, West Germany. His parents, Fred and Winnie Peri of Laguna Niguel, bowed their heads when the decision was read aloud and their son was led away wearing chains around his waist and shackles on his wrists and ankles.

Prosecutors said Peri will serve his sentence, with credit for 3 1/2 months spent in confinement in Mannheim, West Germany, at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. It was not immediately known when Peri will be transferred to the United States.

The Stars and Stripes newspaper, which serves U.S. soldiers in Europe, reported that the panel of officers deliberated two hours before announcing the sentence. The panel also determined that Peri should will be dishonorably discharged, required to forfeit all pay and allowances and be stripped of his rank.

The case automatically goes to a review panel and must be approved by the U.S. Army's 5th Corps, which has clemency power and can reduce the sentence. Under a pretrial agreement, five years of Peri's sentence will be suspended if he serves his first three years in prison with good behavior. He could have faced a life sentence for espionage.

Prosecuting attorney Maj. Michael D. Graham said the government did not ask for a fine because "his poor parents would pay any fine assessed by this court."

'Calculated Move'

According to Stars and Stripes, Graham called Peri's 12-day disappearance beginning last Feb. 20 "a planned and calculated move."

"He was the proverbial fox in the chicken house," Graham said. "He violated the trust his unit had in him. And like Judas betrayed Jesus at the Last Supper, Specialist Peri kissed off his friends, kissed off his family, kissed off his unit and kissed off his country."

On Friday, Peri took the stand and begged for forgiveness.

"I know I made a mistake," he told the court, sometimes breaking down in tears. "I'm sorry for what I've done. I want forgiveness from the unit and the corps for what I've done. I know I made a mistake. People don't think I have remorse for what I've done, but I'm willing to . . . put my life on the line in a front-line unit during war."

Peri's parents blamed themselves for their son's action, saying that he had been a sheltered child and that this may have caused him to seek acceptance and intrigue by passing secrets to the East Germans.

A 'Perfect Child'

They portrayed him as an immature young man who had been a "perfect child" and who had caused no problems as a youngster.

Fred Peri, contract administrator for Fluor Daniel Corp. in Irvine, said the family's eight moves throughout Europe and the United States proved difficult for their son.

Military prosecutor Graham called the testimony a "noble act by the family, blaming themselves, but there is only one person responsible for this crime: the accused. He wanted the world centered around him. Nothing else matters but himself. Not his family, his unit or NATO."

Prosecutors said they believed that Peri's fantasies of espionage were fueled by a Time magazine article about a Moscow spy scandal involving Marine guards.

Peri, who graduated from La Quinta High School in Westminster in 1985, worked as an intelligence expert in the 11th Armored Cavalry Unit at Fulda and was a specialist in enemy radar. Peri's regiment, positioned near the East German border, is part of NATO's extensive deployment of tanks, troops and helicopters whose mission is to repel a Soviet-led push across the common German border.

Takes Computer With Him

Military officials said Peri left his unit Feb. 20, checking out a vehicle and taking a lap-top computer and floppy discs containing secret information on how his unit would respond to a Soviet attack. He allegedly climbed a fence, crossed into East Germany and handed over the information to Communist officials there.

Peri testified Friday that he received no money from the East Germans and voluntarily returned to the West because, "I couldn't handle leaving my parents behind, my friends behind."

Defense lawyers, led by Utah attorney Michael J. Christensen, suggested that Peri could have taken more secrets but only gave the East Germans information that was "very general" and contained "lots of gobbledygook."

"He had access to the most top-secret documents in his office but he didn't take those," Christensen said. "This was not a high-level penetration."

He suggested that the military should do more to safeguard sensitive documents.

Concern for Security

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