Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

FBI Claims Lipka Said He Spied 'Strictly for Money'

February 25, 1996|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MILLERSVILLE, Pa. — Sitting in his blue-green Chevy van three years ago, talking to an undercover FBI agent he believed to be a Russian intelligence official, Robert Lipka allegedly confided his reason for betraying his nation during one of the most frigid stages of the Cold War: "I worked strictly for money."

The life Lipka led in Pennsylvania before FBI agents arrested him Friday on charges of espionage lends credence to that claim.

Lipka, according to people who know him, has two obsessions: trading rare coins and betting on horses. Although he worked briefly as a high school history teacher after supposedly financing a college education with espionage earnings, Lipka essentially dropped out of the work force in his late 20s.

Since then, authorities and acquaintances say, his only steady occupations appear to have been dealing coins and placing bets.

Over the past year, Lipka spent much of his time at an off-track betting facility in York, Pa., about a 30-minute drive from his home in Pennsylvania's Amish country.

On almost any afternoon, the hefty, loquacious betting enthusiast could be found placing wagers on horses and talking to friends at the Penn National Race Course's off-track betting parlor in a York strip mall, according to manager Rob Marella.

"He's one of our regulars," Marella said. "Most of the time he was laughing and jovial. Most of the people around here were surprised to hear he's accused of spying. He's closer to Oscar Madison than James Bond."

*

Gambling, it seems, has been a big part of Lipka's life for decades. His first wife said in court papers that she filed for divorce in part because he wagered away most of their money.

What authorities believe to be his biggest gamble ever--smuggling classified documents out of the National Security Agency headquarters at Ft. Meade, Md., and selling them to the Soviet KGB--apparently came due 20 years after the fact: His first wife, Patricia, helped authorities build the case against him.

Sources confirmed Saturday that the cooperating witness in the case against Lipka is his ex-wife. She provided key information on Lipka's alleged contacts with Soviet agents, who paid him $500 to $1,000 every time he provided them with U.S. documents, the sources said. She was approached by FBI agents who were investigating Lipka after following leads provided in 1993 by a KGB defector.

*

Authorities say Lipka himself corroborated much of the government case against him during four meetings in 1993 with an FBI official who posed as a Russian spy trying to resume contact. In the recorded meetings, Lipka allegedly described his former espionage activity, expressed willingness to work for the new Russian intelligence agency and complained that he was paid too little when he worked for the KGB.

In addition, the FBI says, Lipka went so far as to request $5,000 for classified documents he said he had kept since leaving the NSA in 1967. The government gave him the money but he never produced the material, according to the affidavit for his arrest.

Lipka told the undercover FBI agent that he had used his rare-coin business as a front to launder money, according to the affidavit.

Lipka's declaration to the FBI three years ago seems to place him in the same category as other spies prosecuted since the mid-1980s who appear to have been motivated more by greed than by ideology. Government officials believe that financial gain was the primary consideration in the espionage activities of Aldrich H. Ames, the CIA counterintelligence official who pleaded guilty in 1994 to spying for the Soviet Union, and retired Navy Warrant Officer John A. Walker Jr., who headed a family spy ring that sold secrets to the Soviets.

The fact that Lipka might take his place in the same rogues' gallery of traitors has stunned his neighbors along the neat, upper-middle-class street where he lives with his second wife and two sons, ages 10 and 13. The Lipkas' modern, spacious, brick ranch-style home is in Manor Township, a residential community surrounded by farmland just a few miles from Lancaster. Their street faces a cornfield, and most of the traffic consists of children on skateboards and in-line skates. It is the kind of street that children can run across without looking.

*

Neighbors say they are shocked to learn that the seemingly "normal" father they thought they knew is suspected of selling secrets to the KGB. The FBI says Lipka turned over highly classified information to the Soviets during his military service in the 1960s, when the Army assigned him to work as a clerk at the super-secret NSA. Lipka allegedly continued to supply Soviet agents with material after leaving the military in 1967 to attend college at nearby Millersville University.

"I was just telling my husband today: Who would have ever thought we would wake up and find out that someone like this was living right beside us?" said Vickie Dunk, 38, who lives next door to the Lipkas. "They seemed like the typical American family."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|