Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ex-FIU prof, wife face sentencing

Posted on Mon, Feb. 26, 2007

Ex-FIU prof, wife face sentencing

One-time Florida International University professor Carlos Alvarez and
his wife Elsa supplied agents in Castro's government with classic
intelligence information that went far beyond the ''harmless gossip''
the couple said they gathered on the Cuban exile community, federal
prosecutors said today.

On the eve of the couple's sentencings Tuesday, the U.S. attorney's
office disclosed for the first time that the FBI obtained material from
one of the Alvarezes' home computers showing that rather than reducing
their illicit operation in the mid-1990s, they were still actively
contacting the Cuban Intelligence Service.

In court papers filed today, prosecutors cited ''sensitive details''
gathered from ''slack space'' on the Alvarezes' computer showing that
Carlos Alvarez prepared written reports on:

• FIU president Modesto Maidique's personal finances and private
business ventures.

• A ''redacted'' U.S. government study on the ``status of
telecommunications in Cuba.''

• Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto, including that ''an
investigation should continue'' into ``the ties he has to the CIA, the
Cuban American [National] Foundation and financial interests such as

• A personal contact who had met with Richard Nuccio, then-President
Bill Clinton's special advisor for Cuba, who ''was very depressed'' by
Cuba's shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes killing three
Cuban-American men and a Cuban exile and the subsequent Helms Burton law
toughening the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

• Lula Rodriguez, a personal assistant to then-Attorney General Janet
Reno and later a deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs
in the Clinton administration.

''Although it was Carlos Alvarez alone who would write and encrypt the
reports [on computer disks], the reports would include information
gathered by Elsa Alvarez as well,'' wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney
Matthew Axelrod in court papers. 'The reports would be signed with the
names `David and Deborah,' the code names given to Carlos and Elsa
Alvarez by the [Cuban Intelligence Service].''

Axelrod filed the couple's computer information obtained by the FBI
under court seal. But he cited sections to bolster his argument that
Carlos Alvarez should receive the maximum five-year prison sentence for
pleading guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for the
communist government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Axelrod also cited parts to back his argument that Carlos' wife, Elsa,
an FIU counselor on unpaid leave, should receive 21 months' imprisonment
for pleading guilty to knowing about her husband's illegal activities
and harboring him.

''This man has been dealing with sensitive information for years,'' said
Basulto, a founder of the Brothers to the Rescue, an exile group that
searches for Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits.

''Don't tell me this is research on the exile community,'' added
Basulto, who denied any involvement with the CIA since the 1961 Bay of
Pigs invasion and any investments in Bacardi. ``This is information used
for strategic purposes by the Cuban government.''

The Alvarezes, whose arrests in January 2006 sent shock waves through
Miami's exile community, have claimed they never turned over any U.S
secrets to the Castro government and that they never caused any harm in
spying on Cuban-American leaders, and and reporting on exile attitudes
and current events to their Cuban handlers.

The Alvarezes averted a difficult jury trial in January on the more
serious, previous charge of being Cuban agents who did not register with
the U.S. government, an offense that carried up to 10 years in prison.

Their plea deals were struck after U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore
decided to allow a major piece of incriminating evidence at trial --
Carlos Alvarez's ''confession'' in summer 2005 to the FBI of his
collaboration with Cuban intelligence agents, including use of a home
computer, encrypted disks and travel to the island. Carlos Alvarez had
destroyed much of the information on his hard drive, but not all of it.

Prosecutors believe Carlos Alvarez began spying for Cuba in 1977 and
that Elsa Alvarez became aware of it in 1982.

Miami attorney Steven Chaykin, in court papers, has urged Moore to be
lenient on Carlos Alvarez, saying he should be sentenced to the time he
has already served since he was placed in custody in January 2006 in the
Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami. Alternatively, he
recommended that Alvarez serve whatever sentence he receives at his
Miami-Dade home.

Chaykin portrayed Alvarez, 61, a longtime FIU psychology professor
before his resignation last year, as a naive intellectual who was only
striving to resolve the Cold War conflict between Castro and the exile
community through educational exchanges and programs. He said Alvarez
was trying to manipulate his Cuban handlers to find an alternative to
the U.S. embargo that could lead to the end of the Castro government.

Chaykin said Alvarez became a victim of his own naiveté.

''Providing the [Cuban Intelligence Service] contacts with his personal
analysis of the Cuban exile community's opinion on issues of interest to
Cuba and with other harmless gossip appeared to him at the time to be a
small price to pay for a much greater and nobler purpose,'' Chaykin
wrote in court papers.

''Of course, Carlos Alvarez did not realize until it was too late that
it was he that the [Cuban Intelligence Service] was after, not his
information,'' Chaykin wrote. ``It was he who had been manipulated, not
the Cubans. Once he realized he was trapped, there was nothing he could
do but to do as little as he could get away with, and pray he would not
be exposed by the Cuban government for propaganda value.''

In December, Chaykin also said his client had become a victim of the
FBI's questioning when he agreed to talk with them three times in a
Miami-Dade hotel without a lawyer present. Chaykin said Alvarez told FBI
agents ''everything he did'' after they dangled a ''promise'' to leave
him alone if he told the truth.

The FBI disagreed with his interpretation that bureau agents had made
such a promise, saying Alvarez's confession amounted to enough evidence
to charge him and the wife.

Elsa Alvarez, 56, has downplayed her role in her husband's
communications with Cuban intelligence agents. She served five months at
the Federal Detention Center before her release last June. Her attorney,
Jane Moscowitz, said she deserves a sentence of the time she already
served in custody.

''That period of time is more than sufficient to punish her for the
crime to which she has pleaded guilty,'' Moscowitz wrote, referring to
the lower charge of misprison of a felony. ``Given her background, her
[poor] health and her record of unselfish service to others, Elsa
Alvarez should not be required to return to jail.''

The Alvarezes are parents of five children, including a 13-year-old

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