The Miami Herald
Thu, June 18, 2009

Couple accused of being Cuban spies seek house arrest


Two retirees accused of spying for Cuba say they'll stay away from their sailboat and give up their passports and ''maps or other navigational equipment related to Cuba's navigable waters'' in exchange for being released from jail and detained at home.

Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and Gwendolyn Myers, 71, say they are also prepared to stay away from Cuba's equivalent of an embassy in Washington if U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton grants their request.

The couple filed the petition before a hearing Wednesday. Walton said he'll consider the request and may grant a hearing to listen to arguments on both sides.

A federal magistrate last week sided with U.S. prosecutors and ordered the couple jailed, declaring them a flight risk, because the avid sailors had told an undercover FBI agent about their interest in sailing ''home'' to Cuba.

But their attorney, Thomas Green, argues that defendants must be released unless the court is unable to find a way to ''reasonably assure'' their appearance at trial. He argues that ''a combination of conditions can be set'' to do so.

The couple were arrested June 4 -- at the Capital Hilton, blocks from the White House -- and have been held in jail without bond since pleading not guilty to wire fraud, serving as illegal agents for Cuba and conspiring to deliver classified information. Prosecutors say the pair worked for 30 years as clandestine agents for Cuba with former State Department employee Kendall Myers, passing along information he obtained on the job.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, cited the couple's case in arguing against congressional efforts to cut off funding to anti-Cuban government station TV Martí. Critics argue that the programming is a waste of taxpayer dollars because Cuba blocks the station's signal and it never reaches Cuban homes.

Mack argued that the Myerses' arrest is a reminder ``of the continued threat the Castro brothers are to the United States.

''This couple shows us that Cuba is not a relic of our Cold War past,'' Mack said, ``but instead an immediate and present threat.''

In asking Walton for release, the Myerses cited the case of Asher Karni, who was caught shipping suspected U.S. nuclear components to Pakistan. A federal court allowed Karni released on home detention, the Myerses argue, even though ''the weight of the evidence against the defendant was substantial'' and Karni was an Israeli national with no ties to the United States.

The Myerses are asking to be released after posting bond, guaranteed by their apartment, their 37-foot sailboat and $250,000 in cash. They would have to surrender all travel documents.

They asked to be released into the custody of Brad Trebilcock, Gwendolyn Myers' son, who would have someone with them around the clock. They would pay for their own electronic monitoring and would have to stay in the apartment, except for meetings with their attorneys, court hearings and other approved activities.

U.S. Magistrate John Facciola said last week that he feared the Myerses live too close to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to be apprehended if they decide to flee there. But the Myerses say they could be ordered to stay away from the building or serve house arrest ``at least 20 miles from the Cuban Interests Section.''

They would also agree to stay at least 20 miles from their sailboat in Annapolis and to surrender maps and other navigational aids related to Cuba.

In a search of the Myers home, investigators say they found an entry on their calendar for a sailing trip to the Caribbean in November. They also found sailing charts for Cuban waters, a travel guide to Cuba and a book titled On Becoming Cuban.

Green said the two, who appeared together in court, clad in blue jail jumpsuits, are ''holding up remarkably well.'' They're being held at the District of Columbia's Correctional Treatment Facility, a medium-security facility that houses female and low-security risk offenders.