|RALPH E. FERNANDEZ
DARIO D. DIAZ
|109 SOUTH MOODY AVENUE
TAMPA, FLORIDA 33609
FAX (813) 254-7532
& DIAZ, P.A.
Counselors at Law
December 12, 1997
United States Congressman
327 Cannon House Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20515
I want to bring you up to date on a most important matter involving three young men, Adel Regalado Ulloa, Jose Roberto Bello Puente and Leonardo Reyes Ramirez. I understand that Congressman Diaz- Balart sent a note to your office asking for your cooperation. I promised your staff I would prepare this briefing which follows. once you review it you will probably find what is now taking place equally as disturbing as I do.
Adel Regalado Ulloa, Jose Roberto Bello Puente and Leonardo Reyes Ramirez, were accused by the federal government last summer of skyjacking a plane under a novel long-arm provision of Title 49, U.S.C. Section 46502. The statute allows for the prosecution of individuals who allegedly skyjack airplanes of any kind at any time outside the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. it further allows the government of the United States to bring (using whatever means may be necessary) any individual seized to the United States for trial. There is no nexus to American planes, American citizens or any of the normally associated legal requisites. I give this explanation because by the conclusion of this letter you will realize that Cuba will probably use the spirit of our law to justify kidnapping and execution, if and when these men are released, unless they are protected.
In reality the case originated with a conspiracy between four individuals to steal a four seat tourist passenger plane from Cuba. The pilot, Adolfo Perez Pantoja, as well as the three defendants were in on the escape. However, after the small plane took off, the pilot became disoriented and lost, off the Florida coast. Fuel was about to run out. A Russian ship was spotted at anchor. Approximately thirty miles west of Naples, Florida, the occupants decided to crash the plane at sea next to the Russian vessel.
Prior to the water landing, when the foursome recognized the ship was Russian, a discussion took place. The pilot was convinced the ship would take them back to Cuba. The three defendants said they would rather chance their fate than return to Cuba. Because of the friendship between Ulloa and the pilot, they made up a story about the skyjacking. Upon being interviewed, all of them told the same story. They said that the plane had been seized by force and that the pilot wanted to go back to Cuba. The pilot returned to Cuba but not before testifying before a federal grand jury shortly before the indictment was returned. Interestingly even the pilot acknowledged that there were only three life preservers and he was given one. The pilot was also helped to the Russian vessel due to his injuries. It doesn't seem reasonable to skyjack someone, hold a gun to his head and a knife to his throat, and then save his life so he can testify against you.
During the next several months, the Cuban DGCI conducted aninvestigation in this case. The DGCI is the intelligence and counter intelligence division of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. It is similar to the former Soviet KGB. Eventually a package was prepared and submitted to the prosecution here by the Cuban DGCI. The prosecution, with the help of the F.B.I. and the DGCI, moved towards trial in this case. The three young men have always remained detained where they still are today. The penalty sought was a minimum of twenty years of incarceration.
Several weeks before the trial I was asked by local Cuban activists to look into the then year old case. I volunteered to help Ft. Myers court-appointed counsel if and when they wished. I did not hear from them until Friday on the eve of trial when I was called by attorney Miguel Fernandez, no relation to me. On Sunday afternoon I visited the jail and I met the defendants for the first time. At 9:00 p.m. that evening two of the lawyers, Fernandez and Ted Wolfendale, came to my office. They were aware that since 1988 I have handled several high profile Cuban freedom fighter cases, all pro bono, and not one of my clients has gone to prison. I was handed a copy of this very complex file. Eleven hours before the actual opening statements I literally saw the file and documents for the first time. A jury had already been selected.
By morning I had become disgusted with what I had seen. The government had failed to disclose a multitude of exculpatory material. At 9:00 a.m. the Honorable Henry Lee Adams, District Judge, allowed me to enter the case. I tried the case as lead counsel. The rest is pretty much history.
During trial the court restricted my examination severely. I was not able to get into the living conditions in Cuba as had been done in the Leonardo Fernandez Pupo (another recent defector) case in Washington just a couple of months before. I was not allowed to develop the DGCI's history of terror and crimes against humanity. I was not allowed to go into three decades of DGCI killings in Florida from men like Jose de la Torriente in the 1970's up to ChiChi del Valle in the 1990's. I was not allowed to present testimony of how the DGCI secures statements at Villa Marista, where the documents used by the government here came from.
Nevertheless, nibbling away at these enemies of the United States who were testifying with a blanket of protection I was able to give the jury a flavor of a very disgusting scenario. The story of the hijacking was only a story. The Cuban government needed it f or political purposes and was using it. Then came the proffer which has changed so much in so little time. Adel Regalado Ulloa had been an unwitting participant in the practice run of the assassination of the four men flying the Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996. That testimony was precluded by the trial court. The pilot used in the practice run was Adolfo Perez Pantoja, the same as the governments chief witness here.
The jury deliberated less than an hour before acquitting the defendants. Cuban DGCI Major Roberto Hernandez Caballero enjoyed the benefits of the best this country can offer while riding herd on his witnesses at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Yes, a counter intelligence expert who tortures anti-Castro and dissident elements in villa Marista, Cuba, was our guest. Only in America! During the course of the trial, Charles Blaha, U.S. State Department, was visibly upset at the defense and at the turn of events leading to the acquittal. - Apparently the State Department played a part in putting On this spectacle. I seem to recall Madelaine Albright making rather strong references to the Cuban government's downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes. Now I wonder what she meant, based on Blaha's active and most unpleasant demeanor and presence.
Contemporaneous to the acquittal the Immigration proceedings began in earnest. The Immigration Service is at this time attempting to exclude and repatriate the three men. Alternatively I presume they will seek to have them deported to a third country. This presents an interesting dilemma in view of what has happened. Never mind the fact that outside the U.S. they stand no chance of surviving.
For the last four months I have honored the wishes of agents and prosecutors, particularly those in the Southern District of Florida, conducting the Brothers to the Rescue investigation. As such 1 have only generally touched upon the "proffer" when discussing this case. The three men met with Assistant United States Attorney Alan Sullivan, who had traveled from the Southern District at the behest of Caroline Heck, the prosecutor apparently in charge of the Brothers to the Rescue investigation. Present at that meeting was Special Agent Pat Laflin who coincidentally had been the agent that traveled to Cuba with the prosecutor in the original case. Agent Laflin and prosecutor Sullivan were not the first, either prosecutor or agent, to meet with the men.
The level of cooperation to date has been significant in that the, government has expressed an interest to meet further and develop additional evidence. Allow me to volunteer that federal authorities have placed a great deal of weight on the statement given by one of the men for them to have spent the time and effort they have in this portion of the investigation. I will be glad to detail the debriefings to you at an appropriate moment.
At the same time this has been going on and arrangements have been entertained to have Regalado travel to further help the government's prosecution of the internationally recognized assassins that shot down the unarmed flyers, this same government is attempting to send these men to their deaths with unprecedented effort. The Cuban government is fully aware of the nature of their cooperation and their testimony on the international incident. Roberto Hernandez Caballero testified in court that Cuba's DGCI follows news accounts on a daily basis. At trial Hernandez and his cohorts, Cuban government representatives who also came to testify, heard the original general proffer in open court. There is no doubt that that has led to the monitoring of this activity to the extent that concerns have been voiced to Kent Dodd, the director at the Manatee jail, to assure the safety of the men while in detention.
Fidel Castro would like nothing better at this time than to have these men returned to Cuba under a illusory promise that they would only be prosecuted for the perceived violations of Cuban law. of course this government has substantial information in its possession that clearly proves and establishes that the Cuban government cannot be trusted. Yet it is the objective of the Immigration Service to send these material witnesses back to face certain execution. Definitely there is something wrong with the program. It is becoming increasingly clear that despite the pleas of the Southern District prosecutors in this case to the Immigration Service, Immigration is acting at the behest of someone else in the Department of Justice, and maybe higher up, that wants them silent. Maybe there is something to Jose Basulto's claim that someone in our government has gone bad. I didn't believe him when he first told me. I have doubts now.
Just last month, apparently not satisfied with the progress that the trial attorney handling the case was making, the Immigration Service brought its lead trial counsel, Daniel Vara and an assistant, Janice Neetenbeek, to the last pre-trial conference. Mr. Vara announced that the rules had changed and that the government would not be providing copies of the transcripts it had agreed on the record to provide defense counsel in anticipation of these proceedings. The Service has presently taken a position in opposition of moving the trial date set for January 20, 1998, due to certain conflicts of witnesses and scheduling that the defense has. If Fidel Castro was directing this case for Immigration he could not be doing a better job.
Jim, I have represented these men Pro bono since day one. All the expenses associated with their defense have also been borne by my firm. The government has spent nearly two million dollars in these prosecutions. My clients have been of service to the United States in attempting to get to the bottom of the Brothers to the Rescue tragedy. And thus far my honoring their expression of loyalty to this government by not bringing publicity to all that has happened, has hurt their case. Several weeks ago I told the government I would wait only until today. The time for their side to be heard is at hand.
These three young men deserve to be free. They have asked nothing in exchange for cooperating with the United States. But since they began to cooperate the Service has come down harder than ever. Until they became material witnesses to the assassination investigation all they had was an Immigration hold. Whoever is behind the efforts to deport these men is behind the efforts to make sure the prosecution in the Southern District of Florida goes nowhere. I know you can find out. Maybe you can even do something about it. What is taking place here is a mockery of our system of justice and of what America stands for. I trust in your judgment as I ask for your help.
RALPH E. FERNANDEZ
originals provided to:
Senator Bob Graham
Senator Connie Mack
Senator Jesse Helms
Senator Robert Torricelli
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Congressman Michael Bilirakis
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart
Congressman Robert Menendez