Mexico scientist accused as Russian spy due for bail hearing

February 21, 2020 Off By The Wall of Law

MIAMI — A bail hearing is set Friday for a Mexican scientist accused of spying for Russia in Miami.

An FBI affidavit said a Russian government official tasked Hector Cabrera Fuentes, 35, with tracking down a vehicle owned by a U.S. government informant.

The FBI says Cabrera and his Mexican wife did this on Valentine’s Day in an event captured by surveillance video at a Miami-area condominium complex. They attracted the notice of security by driving directly behind another car through a gate.

It’s not clear exactly why the Russians wanted this done, but the affidavit says the informant had previously provided information about Russian intelligence operations and implications for U.S. national security.

Cabrera was detained Sunday while attempting to leave the U.S. at Miami International Airport and subsequently gave a statement to the FBI. Cabrera is listed as an associate professor at the medical school jointly run by Duke University and the National University of Singapore, and was working in Singapore.

According to Cabrera’s statement, he has two wives — the Mexican one and a Russian one. The Russian woman and her two daughters were living in Germany but returned to Moscow last spring to attend to some administrative matters. Then, the Russian government wouldn’t let them leave, the affidavit said.

That prompted Cabrera to visit Moscow and his family in May 2019, where he was approached by a Russian official who he had met previously at professional events and exchanges. Cabrera told the FBI he believed the official was an intelligence officer.

It’s common for intelligence agents to insulate themselves by recruiting other people to carry out various tasks. Rarely does the recruit have full knowledge of the entire mission.

The Russian official, according to the affidavit, brought up Cabrera’s family situation in Russia and said, “We can help each other.”

Before Cabrera’s Miami mission to photograph the informant’s license plate, the FBI says the Russian official asked him to rent an apartment in the same complex as the informant but not in his real name. Cabrera paid an associate $20,000 to do so in late 2019, the FBI said.

It’s not clear from the affidavit if anything was done with the apartment.

Cabrera, a microbiologist who has held several prestigious posts, is originally from El Espinal, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

He is charged with acting in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general and conspiracy to do so. He will at least temporarily be represented by a public defender, but that lawyer hasn’t been named yet.

Curt Anderson, The Associated Press

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