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Feds seek 5-year sentence for professor's ties to Cuba

The couple pleaded guilty to reduced charges in December.

Associated Press
Published February 27, 2007


MIAMI - A college professor who pleaded guilty in a federal case involving allegations that he and his wife spied for Cuba should receive the maximum five years in prison because he did "classic intelligence work" for Fidel Castro's communist government, prosecutors said Monday.

Carlos Alvarez, 61, and his wife Elsa, 56, were set to be sentenced today. Both pleaded guilty Dec. 19 to reduced charges in the case involving accusations of exchanging coded messages with Cuban intelligence services about Cuban-American exile groups and prominent figures in Miami.

Carlos Alvarez's lawyers have asked for a sentence of time served, or a sentence which would allow him to serve his time at home. The Florida International University psychology professor has spent one year and about two months at a federal detention facility.

The professor's attorneys argue he was never a Cuban intelligence agent, and that he was trying to open avenues of communication between the two countries.

In Monday's filing, prosecutors argued that he deserves a five-year sentence because the information he relayed was more sensitive than he said. Alvarez has downplayed the importance of the information.

"The reporting done by the Alvarezes contained substantially more than 'harmless gossip,' " Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Axelrod wrote. "Rather, the Alvarezes were engaged in classic intelligence work."

Carlos Alvarez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to become an unregistered foreign agent, while his wife admitted knowing about her husband's activities but failing to report them to authorities. Both were charged previously with the more serious charge of acting as illegal Cuban agents.

Elsa Alvarez faces up to three years in prison on the revised charges. The government Monday requested a 21-month sentence for her, but her attorney Jane Moscowitz requested a sentence of no additional jail time. Elsa Alvarez served five months in a federal detention facility before she was released on bond.

Monday's filing by government prosecutors discusses evidence gathered from one of the couple's home computers concerning Cuban-Americans and other prominent figures.

A written report cited by prosecutors stated that one of Carlos Alvarez's contacts met with Richard Nuccio, then-President Bill Clinton's special adviser to Cuba, in 1996. The report said Nuccio was very depressed and devastated by the signing of the Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Steven Chaykin, Carlos Alvarez's attorney, said his client never personally met with Nuccio and there was no proof that he sent the information found in the computer.

In 2005, Carlos Alvarez admitted in FBI interviews to being a "collaborator" with Cuba's intelligence service beginning in 1977, insisting he was mainly interested in opening dialogue with Cuba's government. His attorneys unsuccessfully tried to have that statement thrown out.

But Chaykin said Carlos Alvarez did not think he was disloyal to the United States and was trying to create dialogue concerning the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island.

"He naively believed the representations of the people with whom he had been in contact on behalf of the Cuban intelligence service that this was something they also were interested in promoting," Chaykin said. "He got ensnared in their web."

[Last modified February 27, 2007, 00:35:30]

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