Cubans Admit to Visa Lies
By ZITA AROCHA
Three Cuban-born pilots suspected of spying for the Castro government pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to lying on a U.S. visa application, said their attorney, Ira Kurzban.
In exchange for the guilty plea, charges that they entered the United States illegally were dropped, Kurzban said.
The three were arrested at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport by the FBI in September, carrying Nicaraguan passports while attempting to board a Nicaraguan-registered Learjet.
The FBI arrested the men "as a result of information developed as an outgrowth of investigations into Cuban intelligence matters."
"They are Nicaraguan citizens. That's never been contested," Kurzban said Tuesday. "The FBI has never accused them of being spies."
KURZBAN SAID his clients, Simon Delfin Espinosa Alvarez, 36, Luis Leonardo Herrera Altuna, 34, and Jorge Hermenegildo Toledo Infante, 35, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to lying on a visa application they filled out at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, in April of this year. The visa was granted a few days later.
The men falsely stated on the application that they had never filed for U.S. visas before and also lied about the number of years they had lived in Nicaragua, Kurzban said.
U.S. District Judge James W. Kehoe sentenced all three men to 90 days in jail and two years' probation.
The FBI had no immediate comment on the case.
After they serve the sentence, Espinosa, Herrera and Toledo will be turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation proceedings, Kurzban said.
THE THREE MEN, who also held Cuban passports, were able to obtain U.S. tourist visas after presenting U.S. Embassy officials in Managua with passports issued by the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Interior on Feb. 5.
They had traveled to the United States on at least three prior occasions with visas obtained at the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua.
Kurzban said right before being arrested, the men flew the Learjet to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International to fix a broken fuel computer.
They flew out of Fort Lauderdale Sept. 4, but had to return to the airport when the fuel computer again broke down. They were arrested two days later as they prepared to board the airplane.
The jet, Kurzban said, is Panamanian-registered and is leased to Aerotaxi, a private air service company in Managua.
The FBI discovered travel expense vouchers and fuel receipts belonging to Cubana de Aviacion, the Cuban national airline, inside the Learjet.