INS official guilty of espionage in Cuba case

Longtime employee was nabbed in sting operation

May 30, 2000 - CNN

Mariano Faget, a Cuban-born Miami district officer for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, faces up to 10 years in prison after his conviction Tuesday on four counts of violating the Espionage Act.

Faget was found guilty of revealing classified information to a friend with ties to Cuba. As part of an FBI sting operation, Faget was fed phony classified information about a Cuban official who was about to defect. He was warned that the information was secret, but no secret material actually was divulged.

A 12-member jury that began deliberations last week returned the verdict against Faget, 55.

Sentencing is set for August 18, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said that under federal guidelines, Faget would probably get about five to six years behind bars.

Prosecutors: Case was strictly about money

Federal prosecutors claimed Faget was a traitor to his vows as a U.S. government official, all for personal gain. They claimed that the case was strictly about money.

Faget was a partner in America-Cuba Inc., a company seeking business opportunities in Cuba when and if trade restrictions are lifted.

The INS official was secretly videotaped and wiretapped by the FBI while meeting with officials from the Cuban Interests Section to discuss the future business.

Faget's business partner, Pedro Font, a childhood friend, was the president of the organization, whose clients included Procter and Gamble Inc.

"They were hoping to get in on the ground floor," Gregorie said. He said Faget was convicted of "a very serious crime, and the motive for it was gaining economic advantage for doing business in Cuba."

Faget, on videotape, is shown calling Font 12 minutes after receiving the information to warn him about the defection of the Cuban official.

As a result of the case, Cuban diplomat Jose Imperatori was later expelled by the United States and forced to return to Cuba.

Imperatori, coincidentally, was the Cuban official assigned to shepherd the grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the center of an international custody dispute, to Washington and Miami in January.

Defendant denied spying for Cuba

Faget, who took the stand on his own behalf last week, told the jury that he made errors in judgment but denied that he ever spied for Cuba.

"I would not do that to the country I love, which is the United States," he said.

Faget testified that he tipped off his friend because Font was meeting with a Cuban diplomat that day. Faget said he feared Font would be harmed if Cuban officials thought he was involved with the defection.

America-Cuba Inc., like other companies, is prevented by the U.S. embargo from doing business directly with Cuba due to the U.S. embargo.

Faget had been held without bond since his arrest February 17.

The FBI said it was trying to turn Faget into a confidential informant, because agents suspected he was part of a Cuban spy ring.

Arrest came a month shy of retirement

Prosecutors relied on the surveillance tapes to prove their case, while the defense challenged the assertion -- required for a conviction -- that Faget intended to hurt the United States or help Cuba.

"Mariano Faget was a government employee willing to betray the trust of people he was sworn to serve," Assistant U.S. Attorney Curtis Miner told jurors last week. "He disclosed classified information for no better purpose than his own personal reasons, his own personal gain."

Defense attorney Edward O'Donnell called Faget "an honest government servant who made a mistake."

Faget was an acting deputy director of the INS when he was arrested. He had been with the INS for 34 years and was a month shy of retirement.

  • Return to Cuban Spy page