September 3, 2001

Cuba News

Miami Herald

30 smuggled Cubans found at Key Largo

The Miami Herald. Published Monday, September 3, 2001

Thirty Cuban migrants, including a 1-year-old girl and seven other children, spent nearly 10 hours in the mangroves near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo before being found and ferried to the mainland Sunday.

The 16 men, six women, five girls and three boys were spotted about 8:50 a.m. by Department of Environmental Protection officials and turned over to the Border Patrol. They all appeared to be in good health, said Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Norbert Gómez.

They told agents that they arrived in a 30-foot boat and paid a smuggler, a Cuban who returned to the island with the boat, $8,000 a person for the journey.

But Gómez said the price may have been discounted for families or made flexible for others who had less.

Couple accused of reporting to two Cuban spies

An indictment says George and Marisol Gari tried to gain access to CANF mail and Southern Command.

Herald Staff Report. Published Sunday, September 2, 2001

Alleged Cuban spies George and Marisol Gari, known in their intelligence-gathering cell as Luis and Margot, reported to at least two of the five spies convicted in June, U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said Saturday.

The FBI, meanwhile, said the low-profile couple arrested in Orlando on Friday also reported at times to alleged fugitive spy Ricardo Villareal, also known as Hector. "He is probably in Cuba,'' said Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the FBI in Miami.

A federal indictment -- born out of the ongoing crackdown against La Red Avispa, or The Wasp Network, Cuban spy organization -- accuses the couple of trying to gain access to mail going to the Cuban American National Foundation and attempting to infiltrate Miami-Dade County's Southern Command.

The couple lived and worked in Miami for eight years until they moved to Orlando 18 months ago. Sometimes, they would travel to New York, where they would pass information to Cuban spy leaders and pick up money, authorities say.

Receiving information from the couple while they were in Miami, Lewis said, were Ramón Labañino, code-named Alan, and Fernando González, aka Oscar. They were convicted in June along with ringleader Gerardo Hernández, René González and Antonio Guerrero. The five convicted spies are being held at the federal detention center in Miami while they await sentencing.

"There was a connection to the five [convicted spies]'' Lewis said. "For part of their careers, the Garis were handled by 'Alan' and 'Oscar.' ''

Lewis said the code names of these suspects -- including those of the Garis -- were sometimes mentioned during the spy trial, or their activities were described in documents introduced as evidence.

Lewis said there is increasing evidence that La Red Avispa was much more than an unsophisticated ragtag network of informants. "I've continued to say our arrests are ongoing,'' Lewis said. "Frankly, I do expect the arrests of additional individuals.''

The FBI and other U.S. organizations have been monitoring the activities of Cuban spy suspects for more than 30 years. The United States, however, made only occasional arrests until the Clinton administration decided to crack down following the killings of four Miamians aboard two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft shot down by Cuban MiGs in February 1996.

The first arrests -- 14 people in the La Red Avispa case, including the five convicted spies and five more who quickly pleaded guilty and began cooperating with the FBI -- came in September 1998. Gerardo Hernández was found guilty of conspiring with Havana to commit murder in connection with the shoot-down.

"I am glad the United States is finally acting to put behind bars these spies who have hurt Cuban exile groups for many years,'' said José Basulto, leader of Brothers to the Rescue, who managed to avoid being shot down. He calls the crackdown "definitely a political decision by the Clinton administration, and now the GOP is doing the same.''

Basulto said Havana's Radio Progreso -- broadcasting at 890 AM -- has been stepping up its denunciation of the spy arrests in nightly round-table broadcasts starting at 6 p.m., but has not yet mentioned the Garis.

The Havana government has been organizing nationwide protests against the conviction and jailing of the five spies, who it insists were doing nothing more than defending Cuba against terrorism.

The Red Avispa probe also caused the expulsion of three Cuban diplomats who the United States believes were involved in the spying and the fingering of two other diplomats who had already left the United States. Four more alleged spies were indicted but are fugitives.

The activities of Cuban diplomats accredited to the United Nations in New York and to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., are constantly scrutinized by the FBI. Three years ago, a high State Department official said all but one of the 40 diplomats at the U.N. mission were engaged in spying, together with the 20 to 30 members of the support staff.

"This one [La Red Avispa] was designed in a typical cell fashion,'' Lewis said. Leading each cell grouping of spies were intelligence officers like Fernando González and Labañino. George Gari allegedly was a mid-level manager, in charge of lesser spies. To preserve the internal security of the network, officers did not know who the other cell leaders were handling.

Lewis said the officers, in turn, reported directly to officials of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, which has several branches dealing with both internal and overseas espionage. They sent encrypted data gathered by individual spies to Havana by e-mail or in high-frequency radio messages.

Lewis said some of this material passed through Cuba's U.S. mission.

"I can't say it always was the U.N. [mission], but often it was,'' Lewis said. "The Cubans have an incredibly advanced intelligence operation, but they also use the typical dead drop [drop box] stuff.''

Couple belonged to Cuba spy ring, FBI says

Husband, wife are arrested in Orlando

By Gail Epstein Nieves, Lesley Clark and Sara Olkon. Published Saturday, September 1, 2001

A husband and wife who lived in Miami for about eight years were arrested in Orlando on Friday and charged with being part of a now-dismantled Cuban spy ring -- the latest salvo against Fidel Castro's foreign espionage apparatus on U.S. soil.

A federal indictment accuses George Gari, 41, and Marisol Gari, 42, of being agents for the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence who assisted in two primary goals: trying to infiltrate West Miami-Dade's Southern Command headquarters and to penetrate the inner circles of the Cuban American National Foundation, a prominent Cuban exile group.

The couple allegedly belonged to Cuba's La Red Avispa, or Wasp Network, which the FBI busted in September 1998. Five high-ranking intelligence agents from the group were convicted on federal spying-related charges in June. Those men are awaiting sentencing.

The investigation of the spy ring may lead to even more arrests, law enforcement officials said.

"We have indicated this investigation is ongoing, and we're going to follow every single lead we can and bring to justice every single person we can based on the evidence and the law,'' U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said.

Héctor Pesquera, special agent in charge of the FBI in Miami, said the case was not brought sooner because the Garis were not as high a priority as the earlier defendants and there was little chance of their leaving the country.

But neither was the couple at the bottom of the ring's hierarchy. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Buckner, who will prosecute the case, said George Gari was a "midlevel agent'' with management power over other agents.

Defense attorneys for the convicted spies said Friday they were not impressed with the government's latest effort. They said some information in the new indictment was disclosed to them more than two years ago for their trial, which also focused on spy attempts to infiltrate the Southern Command and Cuban exile groups.

"This is a dinky little indictment, said Paul McKenna, lawyer for Gerardo Hernández, a ringleader.

"It sounds like more of the same: people who talked about infiltrating military installations but who never did it, and who, in fact, focused on exile groups,'' said William Norris, lawyer for Ramón Labañino.

Officials said George Gari was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but moved with his family to Cuba as a child. His wife was born in Cuba. The pair received several years of training in weapons, explosives, encryption and surveillance techniques before moving to the Miami area about 10 years ago, officials said.

George Gari, Miami-Dade records show, was a registered Republican.

The couple moved to Orlando within the last 18 months. They have an older daughter and two school-age children who apparently were taken in by relatives following the arrests, officials said.

The former manager of the Hialeah apartment building where the couple first lived said George Gari moved into the building because his late grandmother, Gloria Rodriguez, had lived there for many years.

Gari was a supervisor at a window and door company.

The former manager, Alberto, who asked that his last name not be used, said he and his wife baby-sat for the couple. The Garis never discussed politics, he said, and blended in with other families.

The Garis brought their children by to visit about a year ago and said their oldest daughter was in the Army, said Alberto

"I feel really bad; I didn't expect this,'' his wife Antonia said. "It's like they were family.''

In May 1995, the indictment states, the couple checked out security measures at the Cuban American National Foundation headquarters.

Among the couple's specific targets, Lewis said: Roberto Martín Pérez, a former Cuban political prisoner and Foundation director who is married to radio commentator Ninoska Pérez, former spokeswoman for the Foundation.

Lewis said the agents sought to build a store of information on Martín Pérez similar to that the network gathered on other community and political figures.

"They want to know what kind of car you're driving. Where do you go? Where do you eat? Who do you associate with? What are your phone numbers? This is the kind of information they would seek to obtain and exploit,'' he said.

Martín Pérez was out of town Friday. Ninoska Pérez said neither she nor her husband had ever heard of the Gari family but said that if they saw pictures, they might recognize them.

"This does not surprise me,'' she said. "We always said the Wasp Network had many more members than those initially detained.''

Lewis said Marisol Gari used her job at the U.S. Postal Service's Miami International Airport distribution center to try to gain access to Foundation-related mail.

More recently, George Gari worked at Lockheed-Martin in Orlando as a machine tester from January to March of this year.

He was fired after the FBI told Lockheed he was under investigation, Pesquera said, though Gari was not believed to pose a security risk at work.

According to the indictment, the Garis managed another agent named Gabriel in his bid to get a job at the Southern Command, which oversees American military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The indictment charges the Garis -- who went by the code names Luis and Margot -- of being unregistered foreign agents as part of a conspiracy from 1991 to 1998.

The couple would travel to New York, where they'd pass information to Cuban spy leaders and pick up money, Lewis said.

On Friday, the Garis made their initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate James G. Glazebrook in Orlando. Both were expressionless as the judge appointed lawyers to represent them. Another hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Orlando.

In court, assistant U.S. attorney Greg Miller said George Gari had tried to get a job at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Neighbors at the Doral Springs apartments, where the couple moved from Hialeah, said their children were named Georgie and Marisol, after their parents. One neighbor said an older girl who she believed to be another daughter also lived with them. Public records indicate a Surama Gari, now 20, lived there in 1998.

In Orlando, Marisol Gari was working as a cashier at a gas station, according to a teenager who said she was George Gari's niece. The girl would not give her name.

Last November, the Garis moved to an apartment near Universal Studios, the niece said. Little Georgie recently began playing Little League baseball, she said.

"They're very honest, very hardworking people,'' the niece said. "Their life revolved around the family and, you know, trying to pay the bills.''

Staff writers Alfonso Chardy and Andres Viglucci contributed to this report.

Copyright 2001 Miami Herald


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