A Mexican scientist has been sentenced to four years and one day in prison after becoming a Russian spy.
Hector Cabrera Fuentes, 37, pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent in February and was sentenced in Miami on Tuesday. He has already served more than two years.
Two days previously, Cabrera had been seen attempting to conduct surveillance on an FBI informant alongside his wife.
The couple went to the informant’s apartment building, found his car and took a photo of the licence plate to give to his Russian handler, The Miami Herald reported.
He has been held in Miami’s Federal Detention Center since he was detained.
“I have zero interest in getting involved in anything like that from now on,” Cabrera said in court on Tuesday. “Freedom comes first and the family, too.”
Court records state that Cabrera was married to two women, one in Russia, and a Mexican woman who was with him in Miami.
The Russian had been struggling to gain permission to leave the country, something which could have been used as leverage against the cardiac scientist.
A Russian official told Cabrera to take photos of the FBI informant’s car, licence plate, and the location where the vehicle was parked.
Court records say that the informant was thought to be providing intel to the FBI on Russian spying efforts in South Florida.
A statement filed along with the plea agreement states that “the manner in which the defendant communicated with the Russian government official and his undertakings in this case are consistent with the tactics of the Russian intelligence services for spotting, assessing, recruiting, and handling intelligence assets and sources”.
Defence lawyers Ronald Gainor and Amber Donner said in a sentencing memo that Cabrera is “a world-renowned biochemist and cardiovascular scientist” who has been educated in Russia, Germany, and Singapore.
“His career is only surpassed by his charitable work supporting the people of his hometown Oaxaca, Mexico,” the lawyers said.
Cabrera was a researcher at the National Heart Centre Singapore before his arrest, and he also had a “joint appointment” at Duke-NUS Medical School – a joint project between Duke University and the National University of Singapore.
His appointments have been suspended as a result of the case against him.
An FBI criminal affidavit states that Cabrera arrived in Florida on 13 February 2020, where he rented a car and drove to the Miami apartment building the next day.
He and his wife were seen by a security guard in the private car park. Court records state that Cabrera was asked to leave shortly after his wife took the photos of the car and that the plan was to provide the images to his Russian handler on his next visit there.
“The defendant’s travel companion, at the request of [Cabrera], took a photo of the specified US [informant’s] car,” the factual statement filed with his plea deal says. “A WhatsApp message from the defendant’s travel companion to the defendant contained a close-up photograph of the specified US [informant’s] car.”
Cabrera used a business and tourism visa to visit Miami. He told FBI agents after he was detained that he had met with his Russian handler on multiple occasions in 2019.
His mobile phone revealed that there had been substantial contact between Cabrera and the handler, the affidavit states. The scientist also told the FBI about his other wife, who had two daughters.
He said he had visited them when he was in Russia to meet his handler, who told him not to reveal to his wife that he was meeting with an intelligence agent.
The agent also reportedly promised Cabrera that he would help his wife and children to leave Russia.
“We can help each other,” the agent told the scientist.