N.Y. Contact of Alleged Spy Denies Giving Cuba Secrets
February 24, 2000 - Miami Herald
A flamboyant New York publicist linked to accused Cuban spy Mariano Faget denied Wednesday that he passed secrets to Cuba.
Cuban-born Pedro Font, 57, a man with a troubled financial past and a deep interest in doing business with Cuba, confirmed to the Univision television network that he has known Faget since childhood and had met with diplomats attached to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
But his contacts with the diplomats from Havana were only to renew the Cuban passport he still uses for travel, Font told Univision anchorwoman Maria Elena Salinas during an interview in the European principality of Monaco.
His account contradicted a Tuesday report in the Cuban newspaper Granma that Font hosted a 1998 meeting in Connecticut between Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, in effect Cuba's ambassador to the United States, and Cuban-American business people.
"I challenge the Cuban government and any other person in the United States to show Pedro Font has passed information ... to Cuba," he said. "That would be humiliating [because] I've raised my children to be anti-Communists."
Font, whose full name is Pedro Jesus Vidaurreta Font, said he has known Faget since childhood because both were sons of senior officers in Cuba's pre-Castro armed forces, but he refused to answer substantive questions on the Faget case.
Font has been identified as the man that Faget telephoned and to whom he relayed secret information on a purported Cuban defector soon after Faget received the tip from the FBI Feb. 11 - in fact, an FBI trap to arrest the INS official.
Faget was charged with revealing classified information. Font was not charged, and lawyers experienced in espionage cases say he probably did nothing illegal unless he passed Faget's tip to Havana.
"Having access to sensitive information is not a crime in itself. It's what you do with it that makes it a crime," said J. Richard Diaz, Miami attorney for convicted Cuban spies Nilo and Linda Hernandez.
Font's secretary in New York said he returns March 7 from a four-week trip to China and Europe.
Friends and business associates, meanwhile, are describing Font as a bombastic businessman with a list of solid successes marred by financial snags.
"He was always a controversial person, very original, did things in a different way, a very eccentric man who called attention to himself," said Arturo Villar, head of Hispanic Market Weekly.
Font, whose father died in Cuba before Fidel Castro's rise to power, fled to Miami with his mother and three sisters while still a teenager in the early 1960s. He became active in the entertainment business in Peru and Ecuador at the end of the decade, said Humberto Cortina, a Miami businessman who lived in Lima at the time.
Some of his businesses were dogged by complaints of financial shenanigans, and one in Ecuador once ran up a bank overdraft of $34,000, according to former Ecuadorean banker Jose Regalado, who is now a Miami stockbroker.
SUCCESS IN NEW YORK
By the time Font turned up in New York City in 1979, however, he seemed to be relatively rich, initially trying to buy a Spanish-language advertising agency and eventually setting up a new firm, Font and Vaamonde.
Font and Vaamonde quickly established itself as a major player in the field, winning accounts from Procter & Gamble, WXTV-Channel 41 in New Jersey and New York's huge Key supermarket chain.
He later sold the firm and founded Global Media Distribution, which holds the distribution rights for Mexican television giant Televisa's programs in Asia and Eastern Europe, Villar said.
Acquaintances described Font as a man who smokes foot-long cigars, pays an office aide just to make him Cuban coffee and once wore a set of progressively longer toupees. When he got to the longest, he would announce he needed a haircut, they said, and turn up the next day wearing the shortest.
Font married a wealthy Peruvian woman and they had two children, according to friends. The couple were divorced in Miami in 1977.
One business associate said Font recently closed or sold his $1.3 million home in Greenwich, Conn., and bought a home in Denver, a more convenient location for doing business with customers in Asia.
SOUGHT CUBA TRADE
But friends said Font's real passion for years was the possibility of being able to develop business opportunities in Cuba once Washington lifts its trade embargo.
"Since about 1990 he was always saying that one had to return to Cuba to do business," said one former business associate. "Usually he would say, 'after Castro,' but the way he talked sometimes made you wonder."
According to two former business associates who did not want to be identified, Font's son, Peter, has recently boasted that his father was working on a deal to market luxury Cuban real estate to European and Latin American business people. Font did not address that issue in his interview.
In 1993, Font, Faget and three other investors established a Florida firm, America-Cuba, to be prepared to do business with Cuba when the time came. Two of the owners have said the company never did any business.