Aquino Plea Bargain Drops Espionage Charge & Life sentence

Michael Ray Aquino pleads guilty in US spy case

ABS-CBN Interactive - July 31, 2006

Former police senior superintendent Michael Ray Aquino on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) entered a guilty plea to the charge of unauthorized possession of classified US government documents, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau reported.

Aquino entered the plea during the hearing before US District Court Judge William Walls.

Aquino, 40, said he received classified US government documents from Filipino American Leandro Aragoncillo from January to September 2005. At that time, Aragoncillo, a former US marine, was working at an Army base in New Jersey as intelligence analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Aquino is now an admitted spy, who cultivated and used Aragoncillo, a willing accomplice, to transfer US intelligence secrets abroad," said US Attorney Christopher J. Christie.

"He (Aquino) did this at the behest of a high-level government official in the Philippine legislature. We view that as a grave intrusion on the integrity of our national security, and we will seek the longest prison sentence possible for Aquino," he added.

With his plea, Aquino avoided a more serious charge of espionage and possible life sentence. Legal experts said that with the plea bargain, Aquino could face a minimum term of three to six years.

Court records showed Aquino is scheduled for sentencing on October 30.

The plea, it was learned, was coupled with a settlement of Aragoncillo. The settlement spared the US government a trial that would have detailed how classified documents were pilfered from the White House and FBI. Aragoncillo also worked at the office of US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

In May, Aragoncillo pleaded guilty to espionage charges. He faces a prison term of 15 to 20 years.

The former marine said he stole hundreds of top-secret documents while working as an aide to Cheney and former vice-president Al Gore and later, as analyst at Fort Monmouth.

Investigators said Aragoncillo passed on the documents to opposition politicians in the Philippines, including former president Joseph Estrada, Aquino's former boss, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and ex-House speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella. Lacson headed the Philippine National Police during Estrada's term.

The three were not indicted as co-conspirators in the espionage case.

Aragoncillo and Aquino were both arrested in September last year.

Meanwhile, Mark Berman, Aquino's lawyer, has yet to be make a statement to media following the plea bargain.

  • See Also: Unequal Justice