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National Perspective | SECURITY

Ex-INS Officer Is Convicted

Courts: Former Miami immigration supervisor is found guilty of espionage. He gave secrets to a business partner about Cuba, lied to FBI.

May 31, 2000|MIKE CLARY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — A former career U.S. immigration officer was convicted of four counts of espionage Tuesday in a case that was less about spying for Fidel Castro's Cuba than it was about cashing in once the Communist ruler is gone.

Mariano Faget, 54, a supervisor in the Miami office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act by disclosing official secrets and lying about his contacts with Cuban diplomats.

Faget, a 34-year INS employee who was one month away from retirement when arrested in February, faces up to six years in prison. He also stands to lose an annual pension of $47,000. Sentencing has been set for Aug. 18.

Lied to the FBI

On the witness stand last week, Faget admitted that he had lied to the FBI and disclosed classified information to an old friend and business partner in New York, Pedro Font. But, he told jurors, his motive was to protect both Font and their plans to do business in Cuba once the economic embargo is lifted.

He testified that he met with officials of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to pave the way for later business dealings on the island through a company he and Font had formed.

Prosecutors agreed that Faget's motives were economic, not political. Still, he broke the law, argued prosecutor Richard Gregorie.

"Mariano Faget was supplying information to a friend of his in order to gain an economic advantage in doing business with Cuba," Gregorie said.

Defense attorney Edward O'Donnell, however, called Faget "a decent man who made a mistake. The jury sees the mistake as a crime. So be it."

Faget, a Cuban native who has lived here most of his life, was arrested after FBI agents said he fell for a "dangle"--an operation in which a suspect is given a secret and then watched to see if he passes on that secret.

After a year's surveillance, an FBI agent visited Faget in his office to feed him phony information about an alleged Cuban defector. Twelve minutes after that meeting, Faget was recorded passing the bogus information on to Font in a telephone call from his INS office.

Diplomatic Expulsion

Three days after Faget's arrest, the United States ordered the expulsion of Washington-based Cuban consular official Jose Imperatori, one of two Cuban officials Faget was known to have met. Imperatori had accompanied Elian Gonzalez's grandmothers from Washington to Miami on the first of their two visits here, but prosecutors made no links between Faget and the case of the Cuban boy.

Asked if Font could be charged, Gregorie said prosecutors continue to review the case.

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Times researcher Anna M. Virtue contributed to this story.

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