A judge on Wednesday ordered a former State Department employee and his wife held without bond on charges of spying for Cuba after prosecutors argued they are a serious flight risk and could endanger the United States by sharing what they know.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola agreed to hold 72-year-old Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, 71-year-old Gwendolyn, in jail pending a trial.
Prosecutors told the judge that the Myers talked to an undercover FBI agent about how they would like to sail to Cuba one day and live on their boat near the island.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Michael Harvey said they have a 37-foot yacht at a nearby club and the last entry on a calendar found at the couple's home showed they planned to go sailing in the Caribbean in November, with no date to return. Harvey said investigators also found sailing charts for Cuban waters in their home.
"The Myerses, if they are able to get back to Cuba, are a real and present danger to the United States," Harvey said. He said there would be no way for the United States to extradite them from a country it does not have a diplomatic relationship with, or even from the Cuban interests section located just a nine-minute drive from their Northwest Washington apartment.
"The Myerses would be greeted as heroes there," Harvey said. "They would not be coming back."
U.S. authorities say the Myerses delivered government secrets to Cuban agents over the past 30 years using a shortwave radio, by swapping carts at a grocery store and in at least one face-to-face meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.
17-year terms possible
If convicted on all charges, Harvey said sentencing guidelines indicate the Myerses face 17 years in prison, giving them a strong incentive to flee. He said the investigation is ongoing and they could face even more charges.
The pair were seated next to each other at the defense table in a packed courtroom, wearing matching blue jail jumpsuits with white t-shirts underneath. They did not speak, and their attorney Thomas Green only briefly argued that they should be allowed to return home with a monitoring device so that they could be with their four children.
Green declined to comment outside the courtroom, except to say, "We're going to keep plugging along" as the case is scheduled to be moved next to U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts. Facciola said he would issue a lengthy written opinion on the Myerses detention within an hour, so Roberts could give it prompt review.
Harvey said the government's case is "extraordinarily strong" with a great deal of evidence, the key coming from an undercover operation involving an FBI agent who approached Kendall Myers on the street on the defendant's birthday, April 15. The agent gave Kendall Myers a cigar, said he knew his Cuban handler and asked that they meet later.
The ruse worked, and the Myerses met three times with the agent at Washington hotels over the next two weeks. Harvey said they made many incriminating statements about their time as spies, and that the sessions were secretly video and audio recorded.
Allegedly known as Agents 123, 202
Harvey said the Myerses told the FBI agent that they were recruited by the Cubans in 1979 and that Kendall Myers was known as Agent 123 and Gwendolyn Myers went as Agent 202.
The prosecutor also said Kendall Myers told the undercover agent he got a job at the State Department at Cuba's direction and that when asked whether he shared information classified as more than secret, Kendall Myers replied, "Oh yeah, oh yeah."
Harvey said their statements were backed up with evidence, including a shortwave radio found in their apartment that they said they used to communicate with their handlers, a diary that Kendall Myers kept professing his admiration for Cuba and Castro, travel records and e-mail communications with "Peter," which they had said was the cover name for a Cuban intelligence official they worked with.
Harvey said Kendall Myers wove a "web of deceit" over the years, by making a series of false statements to the State Department about who he was.
"The Myerses have demonstrated with their own conduct they are not worthy of this court's trust," Harvey said.
Harvey argued that not only do the Myerses have classified information memorized, they also said they would be willing to share what they know about being spies. Harvey said Gwendolyn Myers proposed to the FBI agent that her husband could be an instructor at a Cuban intelligence academy.
"So when can we come?" Harvey quoted her as saying. Harvey said Kendall Myers added, "That I could see doing. That I would like to do."