Inmate still being held got safe-passage pledge
BY CAROL ROSENBERG
A Cuban prisoner now being held in a Louisiana jail was promised
to his homeland by federal authorities in exchange for ending a six-day prison
uprising, a copy of a letter on Justice Department stationery shows.
Roberto Villar Grana, 31, is one of seven Cuban prisoners listed
by name in the
official offer, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Herald.
``All instructions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation must
be followed in order
to ensure the safe passage for each of you,'' the letter said.
The inmates released the hostages, following the instructions.
But instead of safe passage, Villar Grana was removed from a Cuba-bound
service plane minutes before it took off Monday. He was handed over to Louisiana
officials, according to federal sources, because local authorities alleged he raped
a female inmate during the uprising.
But St. Martin Parish Sheriff Charles Fuselier denied Thursday
that he had made
such an allegation.
``I don't know where that rape came from; we have no evidence of it,'' he said.
The sheriff added angrily: ``I did not put him on the plane. I
did not take him off. I
didn't have him taken off.''
The letter raised the question of whether FBI and immigration
misled Villar Grana's mother, Mercedes Villar, when they asked her to vouch for
the safe passage offer.
Her son was in the Calcasieu Parish jail in Louisiana on Thursday
while the six
others who were returned to Cuba were reportedly in jail in Havana.
Villar Grana is facing sentencing Jan. 6 on an earlier conviction
high-speed car chase, while St. Martin's Parish prosecutors plan to indict him for
aggravated kidnapping in the jail takeover. Both crimes are punishable by life in
prison. Prosecutors in both counties said they would seek to jail him in Louisiana
``What kind of a government is this where they negotiate with
my mother, tell her
one thing and turn around and do the complete opposite?'' asked Miguel Villar,
older brother of the inmate, who described his mother as devastated by the
A KEY ROLE
Sheriff Fuselier said the mother's role was instrumental in ending
standoff. The prisoners gave up a few hours after she arrived in St. Martinsville
with her son's former girlfriend.
``This is no trap . . .,'' she said. ``You're going to Cuba.''
Her eldest son, who runs a Miami muffler shop, accused federal
officials of using
his mother, and said they never explained why they reneged.
``Where are they? They don't call and say anything. None of them,''
said. ``They got her help and they got the stuff resolved peacefully and they
Villar Grana was the only prisoner involved in the uprising who
had not completed
his latest criminal sentence. The others were INS detainees, being held
indefinitely because Cuba had refused to take them.
The Justice Department gave The Herald an unedited copy of the
resolved the Louisiana standoff.
It was dated Dec. 17, the day before Villar Grana's mother arrived
to convince her
son and the other hostage-takers that the deal was real. The mother and her
son's former girlfriend, Maggie Garcia, said FBI agents told them the deal had
been offered earlier, but the prisoners didn't trust it.
It is unsigned, but has at the bottom the name David Venturella,
and Naturalization Service's assistant commissioner for detention and removal.
INS is part of the Justice Department.
``At the present time,'' the letter says, ``the government of
Cuba has agreed to
accept the following Cuban nationals . . . '' It then lists the names of seven
Cubans, including two who had surrendered earlier, along with their immigration
service a-file numbers.
The last name on the list is Roberto Villar Grana, whose file
name is given as A#
The letter then says, ``For this agreement to be binding, all
instructions given by
the Federal Bureau of Investigations [sic] must be followed to ensure the safe
passage for each of you and the safe release of:''
It then lists the seven hostages held by the prisoners: Jail Warden
deputy Jolie Sonnier, and inmates Jessica Harman, Cora Perrodin, Rebecca
Richard, Barbara Thomas and Shirley Williams.
Sheriff Fuselier said by telephone Thursday that he was tired
questions about what transpired.
``I need to put this behind us. It's not that I'm being ugly about
it. It's time for us to
go back and get our things back to normal, if we ever do that. Let me tell you this:
I never called Washington -- the sheriff of St. Martin's Parish did not call anyone
and tell them to take anyone off the plane.''
He refused to say if he knew who ordered the man removed from the plane.
FBI officials have said they would not discuss the negotiations,
in keeping with
bureau policy. But New Orleans Special Agent Charles Mathews III said this
week, ``We always negotiate in good faith.''
In Washington, INS chief spokeswoman Maria Cardona said authorities
mislead the mother.
``It was certainly not the intention to misrepresent anything,''
``Unfortunately, circumstances arose later that led to his being taken off the
She added that the FBI was investigating all of the circumstances