CubaBrief: Former U.S. Diplomat Rocha sentenced to 15 years in prison, fined $500k for spying for Cuban dictatorship. Judge forced changes to plea deal to allow victims to pursue restitution.

Victor Manuel Rocha in the Dominican Republic in 2013. Foto: presidencia república Dominicana

Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, a former career U.S. diplomat, admitted in a plea deal that he had conspired to operate as an agent of a foreign government for decades, and as a result, he was sentenced on Friday April 12th to 15 years in federal prison and fined $500,000. Prosecutors dropped over a dozen other offenses, including making false statements and wire fraud, in return.

The Associated Press reported that “Federal authorities have been conducting a confidential damage assessment that could take years to complete.” 

Despite this the government in its plea deal with Rocha had attempted to strip other potential victims of the right to seek restitution arguing that the only victim was the U.S. government. Carolina Bolado reported for Law 360 the position of the prosecution.

“Prosecutor Jonathan Stratton told the court that the statutes for the two counts to which Rocha is pleading guilty — conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and to defraud the United States and one count of acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government — do not contain forfeiture provisions. And because the U.S. government is the only victim in this case, there is no restitution, he said. “It’s a tremendous loss to the U.S. government,” Stratton said. “It’s frankly incalculable. There is no other victim that can establish a direct and proximate effect of the defendant’s criminal conduct.”

CFC’s executive director attended the hearing yesterday presided over by Judge Beth Bloom on Rocha’s plea deal at the Wilkie D Ferguson Jr Courthouse.

Ofelia Acevedo attended the sentencing hearing of American traitor Manuel Rocha. Photo by John Suarez.

The Judge at the start of the hearing announced she’d received two letters, and that one of them was from Ofelia Acevedo, the widow of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. EFE news provided additional information on the content of the letter translated below to English.

The letter blames Rocha for being part of the reason why “the Cuban dictatorship can silence and murder its political opponents” and recalls that “the Cuban dictatorship killed Payá on July 22, 2012.” “As victims of harsh injustices of the Cuban dictatorship,” we feel “deeply concerned” about the possibility that the US Government “is trying to eliminate the discretion” of the judge when handing down the sentence against Rocha. , they added in the letter. In 2023, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that there were “serious and sufficient indications” to conclude that Cuban state agents participated in the death of opponents Oswaldo Payá, winner of the Sakharov Prize, and activist Harold Cepero.

Judge Bloom repeatedly questioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Stratton for the plea agreement being too lenient on the confessed traitor, and forced changes to it before she agreed to accept the plea deal. Stratton repeatedly went further than his initial argument above and made the claim that the only victim of Rocha’s five decades of treason was the United States government.

Judge Bloom brought up the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down in which four men were murdered in an act of state terrorism by the Cuban dictatorship in 1996, and that Ambassador Rocha talked about on the 2023 FBI surveillance tape that incriminated him.

The Judge did not buy Stratton’s line of argument. “I do not subscribe to the idea that there are no victims beyond the government.I’m not agreeing to this plea agreement absent a reservation of restitution.”  Defense and prosecution met during a brief recess and provided new language recognizing the right of potential victims to restitution, and the deal was amended.

Judge Beth Bloom also insisted that the right of the U.S. government to strip Rocha of his U.S. citizenship be included. Judge Bloom observed that when Victor Manuel Rocha swore his allegiance to the United States in order to become a citizen that in reality he was working as a spy against the United States for the Cuban dictatorship.

Rocha began spying for the Communist dictatorship of Cuba in 1973, became a U.S. citizen in 1978, and spent the next 51 years in sensitive positions in and out of the United States government. The full level of harm committed is unknown, but it is a safe bet to make that his work for the Intelligence Directorate harmed many, including the Cuban people by helping to prolong the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

It is also a safe bet that others are still out there working for the Cuban dictatorship against American interests. CBS 4’s Hank Tester provided some context on Havana’s ongoing espionage, and some of the long history in a December 5, 2023 report.

NBC 6, April 12, 2024


15 years in prison for ex-US diplomat who secretly spied for Cuba for decades

Manuel Rocha appeared in a federal courtroom in Miami Friday to plead guilty to defrauding the U.S. government and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government as part of a plea deal.

By Associated Press and NBC6

•Published April 12, 2024

A former career U.S. diplomat who admitted to working for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba, in a case prosecutors called one of the most brazen betrayals in the history of the U.S. foreign service, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars Friday as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Manuel Rocha, 73, appeared in a federal courtroom in Miami Friday to plead guilty to defrauding the U.S. government and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government under the plea deal.

The deal included a 15-year prison sentence with three years of supervised release, along with $500,000 in fines.

But Judge Beth Bloom rejected the initial plea deal, saying it lacked restitution for any possible victims and didn’t include denaturalization for Rocha.

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