Mariano Faget, the INS section chief jailed on a charge of spying for the Cuban government, took the stand Thursday at his bond hearing and admitted he had disclosed government secrets -- but only to save a friend, not to spy for Cuba.
"My whole life has been pro-American and living the American dream and bringing up my family," Faget said in a jammed federal courtroom in Miami. "I want to clear my name."
With his wife, three grown sons and their families in the courtroom, the 54-year-old supervisor at the Immigration and Naturalization Service repeatedly fought back tears as he discussed his family, his politics, and his loyalty to the U.S.
His attempts to minimize his illegal disclosure as an "error in judgment" didn't convince U.S. Magistrate Barry Garber, who ordered Faget held without bond while he awaits trial on what Garber called "perhaps the most serious offense in the statutes of this country."
Federal prosecutors -- surprised that Faget would subject himself to cross-examination so early in the case -- confronted him with what they depicted as a "pattern of deceit," undisclosed business ties and "overwhelming" proof that Faget used his position of public trust to betray his country.
Other details of the complex case emerged Thursday, including how federal authorities first identified Faget as a suspect more than a year ago. They produced transcripts of recorded conversations in which Faget disclosed the name of a high-ranking Cuban official as "one of the ones working with the Americans."
Faget, a 34-year INS veteran who oversaw some of the agency's most sensitive duties -- including the immigration paroles of foreign citizens being used as government informants -- was caught in an FBI sting on Feb. 11.
In the sting, FBI Special Agent in Charge Hector Pesquera and INS second-in-command James Goldman met with Faget at his Miami office to ask him to process parole paperwork for Luis Molina, a high-ranking Cuban official who they said intended to defect.
Throughout the meeting earlier this month, Pesquera and Goldman repeatedly stressed the need for secrecy about Molina's defection, which was actually a sham. Faget told Pesquera he knew Molina.
"Let me tell you something," Faget told them, according to the transcripts released Thursday. "I need, I don't know if this is going to make a difference. I've met this guy before ... He was at the Interest Section in Cuba, in Washington, D.C., and I went to a dinner here one day and he happened to be there."
"That's it?" Pesquera asked. "That's your only contact with him?"
"That's the only contact."
Pesquera and Goldman then left Faget.
Within 12 minutes, according to authorities, Faget used his personal cellular telephone to call New York businessman and lifelong friend Pedro Jesus Vidaurreta Font. Font, 57, is listed along with Faget as an officer in the firm America-Cuba. The firm's stated goal is to prepare to do business in Cuba once the U.S. embargo is lifted.
"Seems certain things are happening in Cuba," Faget told Font. "Certain negotiations, and a person we both know, that was in Washington before and now is in Cuba."
"Yes?" Font said.
"Seems he's one of the ones working with the Americans," Faget said. "Seems something pretty big is happening, so that you know, in case these people ask you two or three questions and catch you off base. Don't say anything ..."
Faget told Font he would call him back when he wasn't in the office. Both men knew that Font had a meeting scheduled later in the day with officials at the Cuban Interest Section in Washington.
Faget called Font later and provided more details.
"They've given political asylum to five members of the Cuban government, among them is our friend," Faget said. "But the big thing is this, that Mr. [Luis Molina] has, has been working with the FBI for the past two years, giving them information. And the time has come when they need to take him out of Cuba."
Font laughs. Faget continues:
"Then, of course, I start thinking ... well, s---, maybe it's better if I tell these people that I've met this guy, at a dinner where they, a dinner for business people that are thinking of doing business with, with Cuba ... if this man has been working for the FBI for the past two years.
"But then I started thinking," Faget said, that "Pedro has a meeting with Fernando [an official of the Cuban Interest Section] today; let me call in case they ask Pedro something or he asks something about this."
Faget acknowledged Thursday that he made the telephone calls, but said he was only trying to protect his friend Pedro Font by giving him a heads-up.
"I absolutely was concerned for the well-being of Mr. Font," Faget said in court Thursday. "That they would have gotten him involved in this so-called defection. I was concerned for his safety. They may have invited him to Cuba, and once you in Cuba all rules are over."
Faget said neither he nor Font is a communist or sympathetic to Cuba. He explained that their business -- America-Cuba -- has a letter of intent from Proctor-Gamble, which intends to use America-Cuba to represent it in Cuba after the embargo is lifted.
He said his company stood to profit only after the Castro regime falls.
"This makes no sense whatsoever," Faget said.