Opening statements delivered in INS espionage case

MIAMI - Jurors in the trial of an immigration official accused of spying watched an FBI surveillance video today showing the man meeting with a top Cuban diplomat in a Miami hotel.

Mariano Faget, a veteran Immigration and Naturalization Service official, is charged with violating the Espionage Act by failing to report meetings with Cuban officials and passing on classified information about a Cuban defector that was given to him during an FBI sting.

In the video, shot in October at a Hilton Hotel, Faget and Jose Imperatori, a diplomat at the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, sit at a small table in a lobby.

Faget, 54, then the acting district deputy director at the INS office in Miami, can be seen talking and gesturing as Imperatori nods his head.

FBI specialist John Victoravich, who recorded the silent video, said the meeting lasted about two hours, although he captured only a few moments on camera.

''To obtain photographic evidence of the two of them together was our objective, and that's what I did,'' Victoravich said.

Faget has acknowledged meeting with Imperatori but said it was to talk about potential business opportunities in a post-embargo Cuba, not to relay U.S. secrets. The case led to Imperatori's expulsion from the United States.

During opening statements Wednesday, defense attorney Edward O'Donnell said Faget meant no harm when he alerted longtime friend Pedro Font that a former Cuban diplomat wanted to defect.

According to the government, Faget was shown secret documents and told that the Cuban official was about to defect. He allegedly called Font minutes later and passed on the information. Font, a Cuban-American, is a childhood friend of Faget's.

O'Donnell told jurors his client acted out of concern for an old friend and would never have done anything to compromise national security.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Gregorie told the jury that as a high-ranking official, Faget had access to secret government files.

Gregorie also alleges Faget and Font created a corporation to conduct business with Cuba, and while Font and other partners put up money, Faget had nothing to give except his status as a government official.

Faget has been held without bond since his arrest and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.


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