WASHINGTON — The posh apartment where accused Cuban spies Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, live is 2.6 miles from the Cuban's government's equivalent of an embassy — too close to stop them if they tried to flee, a U.S. magistrate said Wednesday, ordering the couple jailed pending trial.
"Once they enter that building," U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola of the U.S. District Court in Washington wrote in his order, "they will have effectively fled from the United States."
The former State Department employee, 72, and his wife, 71, who've been held without bond since they pleaded not guilty last week to charges of wire fraud, serving as illegal agents for Cuba and conspiring to deliver classified information, appeared together in court, clad in rumpled blue jail jumpsuits and white T-shirts. Both listened intently, though they showed little emotion.
Through their attorney, Tom Green, they asked to be allowed to be detained at home, under supervision. They noted that they had ties to the area, and four children between them.
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Facciola, however, sided with government prosecutors, who say the Myerses spied for Cuba for nearly 30 years and pose a significant flight risk. Facciola said he believes the government's case that the pair spied for Cuba is "very strong" and that "the greater the possibility of conviction, the greater the motivation to flee."
Because the United States doesn't have diplomatic relations with Cuba, it would have no standing to apprehend the couple, he wrote.
"And, as a matter of common sense and international comity, it is fanciful to even suggest that the United States would invade the Cuban Interests Section to remove the defendants," he said.
Facciola noted that the couple is charged with offenses that carry recommended prison sentences of between 14 and 17 years.
"If convicted, they face incarceration for what may very well be the rest of their lives," he said. "That fate provides a most compelling motivation to flee and avoid it at all costs."
He also wrote that the United States doesn't have an extradition treaty with Cuba and that if the Myerses fled to Cuba, "a country they have described as their home," they couldn't be sent back to the United States.
He suggested that Cuba "has a powerful motivation to assist them."
"There is not a single imaginable reason why Cuba would want the defendants to remain in the United States subject to prosecution," he wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Michael Harvey called the couple "plainly a serious flight risk" and argued during the 40-minute detention hearing that the Myerses are accomplished sailors who own a 37-foot yacht.
The Myerses — who were arrested after they divulged a life of espionage to an undercover FBI source they thought was a Cuban intelligence officer — told the FBI that they had plans to leave the United States for Cuba. Harvey also said the couple has the means to leave, noting that Walter Kendall Myers has an inheritance and $500,000 in investments.
Facciola — noting that he'd arraigned convicted Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes on an espionage charge that carried the death penalty — asked Harvey whether prosecutors would be charging the couple with espionage. Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Harvey called the current charges "significantly serious," but noted that the case is ongoing. Investigators now have access to the couple's computer back-up files "and we anticipate that we may well be looking at additional charges against the Myerses," he said.
The couple is scheduled to appear on June 17 before Judge Reggie Walton for a status hearing.
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