MIAMI – A second Cuban spy was sentenced Thursday to life in federal prison for espionage work targeting two U.S. military bases in South Florida.
Ramon Labanino, a Cuban intelligence major who supervised a husband-and-wife team assigned to infiltrate the U.S. Southern Command, was sentenced a day after the ringleader received the same punishment.
The spy ring never got any classified information, but the judge decided the goal of three agents convicted of espionage coez Roque called the life sentence imposed Wednesday on Gerardo Hernandez, leader of Havana's Wasp Network, "a grave injustice."
"He was doing absolutely nothing that put the United States in danger," Perez Roque said Thursday in Venezuela. Hernandez called his trial a "propaganda show" in a 20-minute speech to U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard.
Labanino, 38, a husky man nicknamed "Rough Treatment" by his FBI watchers, temporarily led the ring when Hernandez went home on leave.
Labanino was under surveillance for about two years and was videotaped exchanging packages with a Cuban U.N. diplomat in a fast-food restaurant restroom in New York.
His attorney, William Norris, argued that the life sentence was not justified because nothing Labanino did or dealt with threatened U.S. security.
But the judge said the agent's intent "was to acquire top secret information that, if it were disclosed, would cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security."
Hernandez and Labanino were arrested in 1998 on an indictment accusing Cuba of planting 14 agents in Miami.
Hernandez, 36, was sentenced for his role in a MiG attack that killed four Miami fliers with the exile group Brothers to the Rescue as well as the espionage plot targeting military bases and exile groups.
Hernandez warned two agents who infiltrated the exile group not to fly on its planes during a four-day period that included the day of the air-to-air missile attack in international airspace. Relatives of the dead fliers spoke in court.
Hernandez's mother received a visa to attend his sentencing, but none of Labanino's relatives were present. Several of them videotaped messages to the judge, which she viewed privately.
After the sentencing, Hernandez called his wife of 13 years, Adriana Perez, 31, in Havana.
"He was in good spirits because he is sure that his cause is just," Perez told The Associated Press. "He said that he had felt safe with his mom there and that he had been thinking of me."
Cuba's Perez Roque said the agents' mission was to obtain information about exile groups who he said were terrorists operating in the United States with impunity.
Information gathered by the ring was passed by the Cuban government to the FBI, but Perez Roque said there still has been no response.
The prosecution's case centered on computer diskettes seized at the agents' South Florida apartments. Messages that passed between the spy ring and Havana were peppered with communist rhetoric, denunciations of the United States and snide references to prominent Cuban exiles.
The other three convicted spies — Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez — are scheduled for sentencing later this month.