The Miami Herald
February 12, 1999
Lawyer in Cuba spy tale clears security for U.S. nomination

             By JUAN O. TAMAYO
             Herald Staff Writer

             The FBI has cleared a former White House volunteer entangled in rumors that
             Cuban spies once tried to recruit her, and President Clinton will nominate her to a
             top government job, officials say.

             ``The agents who vet people's backgrounds gave her a clean bill of health, White
             House National Security Council spokesman Bob Nash said of Washington
             lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte.

             ``There's a strong view, held by the President and other senior members of the
             administration, that Miss Aponte is qualified and would make an excellent public
             servant, he added.

             Nash declined to comment further, but Clinton administration officials confirmed
             that the President will soon appoint her to the Housing Finance Board, an agency
             of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

             Aponte, 52, a Puerto Rico native and Hispanic community activist in Washington,
             worked as a volunteer in the White House personnel office in 1993 and helped
             raise campaign funds for Clinton in 1996.

             Clinton had nominated Aponte as ambassador to the Dominican Republic last year
             but she withdrew Oct. 25, citing ``personal reasons,'' after the spy tale began
             circulating in Washington gossip circles.

             Months earlier, the FBI had given her a top-security clearance for the
             ambassadorial post even though the bureau was aware of the Cuban spy tale,
             Clinton administration officials confirmed.

             One Aponte friend said she withdrew after staffers at the Senate Foreign Relations
             Committee, chaired by Jesse Helms, R-N.C., vowed the panel would ask her
             tough personal questions as part of her confirmation process. A committee
             spokesman declined comment.

             The spy tale dates back to 1993, when Florentino Aspillaga, an intelligence agent
             with Cuba's Interior Ministry who had defected in 1987, told it to Miami's Diario
             las Americas newspaper.

             Without offering any evidence, Aspillaga alleged that Cuban spies were trying to
             recruit Aponte through her Cuban-born boyfriend, Roberto Tamayo, who was
             known to frequently visit the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

             What Aspillaga apparently didn't know was that Tamayo, a Washington
             businessman, was also in contact with the FBI.

             ``Tamayo was a valuable source of information about some of the personalities
             within the Cuban Interests Section, retired FBI counterintelligence agent Ed Joyce
             told The Washington Times last month.

             Joyce confirmed to The Herald that The Times had accurately reported his
             comments on Tamayo.

             The story reported that Joyce ``questioned Mr. Tamayo regularly about his
             contacts with Cuban officials . . . during the late 1980s. But [Joyce] did not believe
             Mr. Tamayo was a professionally trained intelligence officer.

             ``Roberto was a fellow who had interests in all camps, the report quoted Joyce as
             saying. ``The Cubans knew Roberto was talking to me . . . I was getting
             information that I couldn't get other places.

             Aponte's friends said that as soon as she learned of Aspillaga's allegations, she
             went to the FBI to inquire about Tamayo, and later arranged a meeting between
             him and the FBI agents.

             She broke up with him in 1994, after he insisted on going on a trip to Cuba over
             her objections, the friends said.

             Aponte declined to comment for this story. Tamayo, who is said to be living in
             Washington and working as an insurance salesman, could not be located for

             Whether or not there was ever a Cuban attempt to recruit Aponte remains unclear.
             Aponte has told friends she never perceived any such attempt, and one White
             House official said it appeared that none took place.

             ``In the end, there was nothing at all, the official said.


                               Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald