The Miami Herald
October 6, 1998
Prosecutors seek to withhold papers

             By DAVID KIDWELL
             Herald Staff Writer

             The criminal trials of 10 alleged Cuban spies could be delayed for months -- even
             longer -- because of an infrequently used law that gives prosecutors the ability to
             withhold secret documents vital to national security.

             Defense attorneys face extensive -- some say intrusive -- personal background
             checks, and prosecutors already have asked for delays in procedures that under
             normal circumstances would force them to begin handing over evidence by

             ``We're all standing around like a bunch of idiots with literally nothing to do right
             now,'' said Paul McKenna, defense attorney for alleged ring mastermind Manuel
             ``Giraldo'' Viramontes. ``The government has made these broad allegations, and it
             appears we're not going to see any actual evidence for quite some time.''

             All 10 suspects are being held in federal detention without bail on charges of
             conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent.

             Federal prosecutors Caroline Heck-Miller and Guy Lewis are expected to file a
             motion this week seeking to keep certain records secret for national security
             interests, Heck-Miller said during a hearing Monday. At the same hearing, eight of
             the 10 suspected spies pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate William Turnoff.

             Even the motion itself, defense attorneys said, will be held under seal.

             ``It's kind of ironic,'' McKenna said. ``I've got to go explain all this to my client,
             and I'm sure he won't be surprised. After all, he is from Cuba.''

             Meanwhile, two suspects who were not arraigned Monday have been negotiating
             a plea agreement, as prosecutors maneuvered behind the scenes in attempts to
             nudge cooperation.

             The plea deal, which would have kept the husband/wife team of Nilo and Linda
             Hernandez from being named in Friday's indictment, fell through late last week,
             their attorneys said.

             ``Prosecutors are shopping deals and possibly flips,'' said Richard J. Diaz, who
             represents Nilo Hernandez, 44. ``We listened, but in the end decided to reject the
             offer. It would be malpractice for me to advise my client to plead guilty to a crime
             when we haven't been afforded an opportunity yet to see the government's hard

             Other defense attorneys suggest its a typical case of ``first rats to the cheese,'' a
             saying attorneys use to describe the practice of defendants lowest in the criminal
             hierarchy racing to cut early deals with prosecutors.

             The 10 alleged Cuban spies were arrested last month in what authorities said was
             a sophisticated -- although low budget -- conspiracy to infiltrate Cuban exile
             groups and U.S. military installations and send information back to Cuba.

             A federal grand jury on Friday indicted three on charges of conspiracy to deliver
             national defense information to Cuba and seven others on much less serious
             charges of acting as agents of Cuba without notifying the U.S. attorney general.

             Defense attorneys rushed to point out that while the 19-page indictment alleges a
             conspiracy, and specific acts of deception and attempts at infiltration, it does not
             make any specific allegations of espionage, the actual transfer of sensitive
             information to Communist Cuba.

             ``There are no substantive charges here at all,'' said Jack Blumenfeld, the
             court-appointed attorney for Antonio Guerrero, one of three facing a life prison
             sentence on the conspiracy charge. ``They have three years of wiretaps, room
             bugs, even surreptitious entries -- burglaries -- and they don't have any specifics.''

             The three-year federal investigation allegedly began after an alleged conspirator's
             computer was stolen in a Los Angeles burglary and later was given to authorities, a
             government assertion defense attorneys say they view with skepticism.

             Defense attorneys for each of the alleged spies are also being forced to apply for
             security clearance -- answering personal questions about unpaid bills, mental
             health maladies or previous drug use -- before they are allowed to inspect

             It remains unclear what documents or evidence against the alleged spies would
             remain secret. Prosecutors have been mum. But attorneys interviewed suggest that
             the records in dispute will have to be reviewed in secret by Magistrate Turnoff,
             who will make a decision how to handle sensitive evidence.

             Defense attorneys in South Florida were asked to submit to similar procedures
             during the 1992 trial of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, when
             sensitive documents were inspected in a secured basement at the federal

             But aside from the inconvenience, some defense attorneys are lamenting an
             invasion of privacy. ``The whole process is pretty extensive, and intrusive,'' said
             Gary Kollin, a Fort Lauderdale attorney appointed to represent Amarylis Silverio.
             ``Especially with the kind of weak case they've got.

             ``What bothers me is that this could really grind everything to a halt for months,
             while our clients sit in jail,'' he said.


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