- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MIAMI (AP) | A man convicted of spying for Cuba while working at a Navy base in Florida received a reduced prison sentence of 22 years Tuesday, far shorter than the original life term thrown out by an appeals court.

Antonio Guerrero, a member of the so-called Cuban Five, reached an agreement last week with federal prosecutors for a flat 20-year term. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year threw out the life sentence as unjustifiably harsh because no U.S. secrets were stolen.

But U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard would not go as low as the deal called for, citing the seriousness of the espionage conspiracy conviction even if Guerrero failed to obtain classified material.

“The evidence in this case does indicate that he very much wanted to,” Judge Lenard said.

The decision came in a courtroom packed with Guerrero’s family and supporters, including his elderly mother from Havana as well as Cuban exiles, among them relatives of four pilots who were shot down by Cuban jets over the Florida Straits in 1996. The slain pilots were part of Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that dropped pro-democracy pamphlets on the island and assisted Cuban migrants attempting to reach U.S. shores.

Information provided by the Cuban Five and other spies played a role in the shootdown, according to court records.

Myrta Costa, the mother of slain pilot Carlos Alberto Costa, said Judge Lenard reached the proper result for Guerrero. “I feel sorry for his mother, but those were crimes that were very serious and very big, and they destroyed families,” Mrs. Costa said in Spanish.

The Cuban Five is lionized as heroes by Cuba’s communist government and its allies, which regularly brand the case an example of U.S. persecution.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller said the 20-year deal with Guerrero was intended in part to quell “misstatements and distortions that have circulated around the world” about the spy case.

Guerrero attorney Leonard Weinglass said he was surprised the judge opted for the term of 21 years and eight months, longer than the sentence defense attorneys and prosecutors had agreed on.

“When you approach the United States government in good faith and all seriousness, you would expect a federal judge would honor that,” Mr. Weinglass said.

Other than answering routine questions, Guerrero, 50, made no statement. Mr. Weinglass said his client will serve about seven more years, counting time already served since his 1998 arrest and time off for good behavior.

Guerrero was part of a spy group that sought in the 1990s to infiltrate U.S. military installations and law enforcement agencies and monitor Cuban exile groups, according to court documents.

Guerrero, a U.S. citizen trained in civil engineering in the Soviet Union, was tasked by Cuban intelligence in 1993 to get a public works job at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West.

Guerrero delivered to Cuba’s intelligence service detailed reports about U.S. military assets - nearly 400 pieces of information from 1994 to 1997. Court documents show this included day-to-day operations of the base’s aircraft, communications systems, security arrangements and personnel who might be recruited as spies. Of special interest were the U.S. surveillance aircraft that monitor Cuba.

The appeals court also vacated the sentences of two other members of the Cuban Five, but their new sentences will be imposed at a later date.

Attorneys for Ramon Labonino and Fernando Gonzalez are attempting to obtain any U.S. national security damage assessments of the case, which might be used to bolster their cases for more lenient sentences. Labonino was serving a life sentence and Gonzalez 19 years.

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