The Miami Herald
May 17, 2000

Jury selection begins in suspected spy's trial


 Nine jurors -- including four Cuban immigrants -- were selected Tuesday in the
 federal espionage trial of Mariano Faget, the immigration officer charged with
 passing a government secret to a friend with alleged ties to Cuba.

 The remaining three jurors and two alternate jurors are expected to be selected
 this morning, and opening arguments are expected to begin this afternoon.

 Faget, 54, faces about five years in federal prison if convicted in a four-count
 indictment alleging he passed a classified secret to a lifelong friend and lied about
 his meetings with Cuban intelligence officers and his business dealings.

 Federal authorities argue Faget leaked information to help cultivate business
 relationships with powerful Cubans for the day when the U.S. embargo is
 eventually lifted. FBI agents watching officials from the Cuban Interests Section
 first began to suspect Faget early last year when he showed up at an after-hours
 meeting with a Cuban official at a Miami night spot.

 In February, the FBI conducted a sting operation on Faget. Faget was asked to
 prepare top secret immigration documents for what the FBI told him was a
 high-level Cuban defector. Twelve minutes later, he telephoned a lifelong friend
 and business partner in Washington to tell him about it.

 That friend, Pedro Font, was set to meet with Cuban officials that day.

 Faget and his attorneys acknowledge a lapse in judgment, but argue the
 information was never intended to be forwarded to Cuban spies and that Faget's
 motives were harmless.

 Concerns among attorneys about conducting Faget's trial in Miami-Dade County
 -- because of anti-Castro sentiments and controversy over the Elian Gonzalez
 seizure -- proved largely unfounded Tuesday.

 Of the 22 jurors interviewed Tuesday, only two of Cuban descent were excluded
 from serving because they told U.S. District Judge Alan Gold they would have
 difficulty being fair to Faget because of their personal beliefs.

 The nine jurors chosen Tuesday, all women, included an administrative assistant,
 a hospital secretary, a retired cosmetologist, a Bell South customer service
 representative, an auto parts saleswoman, a catering coordinator, a 25-year-old
 physical therapy student at Miami-Dade Community College, a retired printing
 press operator, and a Bell South sales and marketing representative.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald