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U.S. announces espionage charge against former government lawyer

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Thursday alleged that a former federal government lawyer helped the Cuban intelligence service recruit a woman who was later sentenced to 25 years in prison for spying.

An indictment filed in 2004 was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Marta Rita Velazquez with conspiracy to commit espionage for her alleged role in recruiting Ana Belen Montes to the Cuban intelligence service and helping her get a federal government job.

Velazquez and Montes became friends while studying together at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, according to the indictment.

In 1984, Velazquez took Montes to New York, where they met with a Cuban intelligence officer, the government alleged. Velazquez, who the Justice Department said kept in contact with Cuba via encrypted messages, also traveled with Montes to Cuba in 1985, according to the indictment.

Velazquez now lives in Sweden and is unlikely to ever face trial, a federal law enforcement official said. During her government career, Velazquez worked as a lawyer at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she had top secret security clearance.

Montes, who worked at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency for 16 years, was arrested in 2001 and later pleaded guilty to an espionage offense. She is still serving her prison sentence.

The indictment against Velazquez was originally filed in 2004 but kept sealed until Thursday.

Velazquez, who is from Puerto Rico, left the United States in 2002 after news of Montes's guilty plea, according to the Justice Department.

A Justice Department official said Velazquez was aware of the charge and that there was no longer any reason to keep the indictment sealed. The extradition treaty between the United States and Sweden does not allow for extraditions for espionage, the official added.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

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