FIU professor says FBI promised immunity

Published August 25, 2006

MIAMI - A college professor charged with being an illegal Cuban agent testified Thursday that he only divulged details about "my past" with the Havana government because he believed FBI agents had promised that he wouldn't be prosecuted if he was truthful.

"I did consider it as a promise," said Carlos Alvarez, indicted along with his wife Elsa on charges of acting as longtime Cuban intelligence operatives. "Otherwise, why would I have said the things I said about my past life? I said a lot. I said everything, basically."

Alvarez, a psychology professor at Florida International University, testified at a hearing on his motion to throw out his purported confession as evidence. The motion contends that FBI agents made promises of immunity from prosecution and that he also had no real choice in deciding whether to speak with them.

"I felt that if I refused to talk with them, I would be in trouble," he said.

Alvarez did not specifically admit Thursday that he or his wife were Cuban intelligence agents, as alleged by prosecutors. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges and face trial in early 2007.

The FBI agents - Albert Alonso and Rosa Schureck - both testified that they made no firm promises to Alvarez and insisted he was told he was free at any time to leave the interviews, conducted June 22 and 23 and July 1, 2005, at a hotel in the Miami area. Two of the sessions were videotaped.

Alonso and Schureck said their goal in meeting with Alvarez was not to gather evidence in a criminal case but to persuade him to become a double agent who would keep his alleged links to Cuba's intelligence service, but secretly work for the U.S. government to gather information about President Fidel Castro's government.

"We did not promise him anything," Schureck said. "We were approaching Mr. Alvarez not only to talk to him but to solicit his cooperation with the government of the United States."

Ultimately, however, the two FBI agents said Alvarez refused their offer and he and his wife were arrested six months later. The purported confession is key to the prosecution's case.

In his testimony Thursday, Alvarez said the agents repeatedly mentioned his family, including his 13-year-old daughter, in saying his truthfulness and willingness to cooperate would determine their future.

Alvarez also testified that he was led to believe he would not face criminal charges if he gave the FBI agents what they wanted. The agents testified that they made no such threats or promises.

Prosecutors say Alvarez, 61, and Elsa, 56, worked for Cuba's communist government for decades, mainly reporting on activities of Cuban-American exile groups in Miami and on U.S. political affairs.

There are no allegations that he either passed on any U.S. government secrets or military information.