West River Cruising Club
Gwendolyn and Kendall Myers, in an undated photo from the West River Cruising Club.
A retired State Department worker and his wife accused of a decades-long plot to spy for Cuba pleaded guilty Friday in a deal that will leave him behind bars for the rest of his life, but gives her a chance at freedom in six years.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, said they delivered government secrets to Cuban agents over the past 30 years using a shortwave radio, by swapping carts at a grocery store and in at least one face-to-face meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Two people familiar with the plea deal, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the
negotiations, said Walter Kendall Myers agreed to a life sentence partly to help his wife get less prison time in the hopes she would
not die behind bars.
Walter Kendall Myers pleaded guilty to plotting to commit espionage and to wire fraud. His wife pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of plotting to gather and transmit national defense information and agreed to serve six to 7 1/2 years in prison. Both agreed to cooperate fully with investigators.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton accepted their pleas Friday afternoon. The couple's lawyer Bradford Berenson said they acted "not out of selfish motive or hope of personal gain but out of conscience and personal commitment.''
"They always understood that they might some day be called to account for that conduct and always have been prepared to accept
full responsibility for it,'' the lawyer said in a written statement.
Previously filed court documents indicate the couple received little money for their efforts, but instead professed a deep love for Cuba, Castro and the country's system of government. In personal diary entries dating to 1978, Kendall Myers referred to Cuban leader Fidel Castro "brilliant and charismatic" and one of the greatest political leaders of our time, according to court documents.
The documents describe the couple's spying methods changing with the times, beginning with old-fashioned tools of Cold War spying: Morse code messages over a short-wave radio and notes taken on water-soluble paper. By the time they retired from the work in 2007, they were reportedly sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes.
One court filing says changing technology also persuaded Gwendolyn Myers to abandon what she considered an easy way of
passing information, by changing shopping carts in a grocery store. The document quoted her as saying she would no longer use that tactic: "Now they have cameras, but they didn't then.''
Known as "Agent 202" and "Agent 123," respectively, Myers and his wife agreed to become spies for the Cuban government shortly after a trip to Cuba in December 1978. The Cuban Intelligence Service had sized him up on the trip and a Cuban Mission Official visited the Myers at their home in South Dakota six months later and signed them up, according to an affidavit.
Kendall Myers, who had done prior contract work for the State Department, agreed to return to D.C. and resume that work, according to the affidavit. In 1985, he landed a position that required top secret clearance.
Key evidence in the case came from an undercover sting involving an FBI operative who approached Kendall Myers on the street on the defendant's birthday, April 15. The operative gave Kendall Myers a cigar, said he knew his Cuban handler and asked that they meet later.
The ruse worked, and the Myerses met three times with the undercover operative at Washington hotels over the next two weeks. The FBI secretly videotaped the sessions, in which they say the couple made many incriminating statements about their time as spies.
In one of those sessions, Gwendolyn Myers allegedly proposed to the undercover agent that her husband could be an instructor at a
Cuban intelligence academy.
"So when can we come?'' she allegedly said.
When they fell for the FBI sting earlier this year, the Myerses had been out of touch with their Cuban handlers for some time,
according to court documents. The couple said they lived "in fear and anxiety for a long time.'' Kendall Myers feared his boss had
put him on a watch list in 1995.
The Myerses lived in a luxury co-op complex in Northwest Washington that over the years was home to Cabinet members, judges,
congressmen and senators, including the late Barry Goldwater.
Myers is the scion of one of Washington's most storied families, according to the Washington Post. His mother, Elsie Alexandra Carol Grosvenor Myers, was the granddaughter of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
Under the plea deal, the couple agreed to hand over all of Myers's salary over the years, $1.7 million total, in cash and property to the U.S. government.