Cuban spy Juan Pablo Roque's jilted ex-wife won $27 million for his deception
Juan Pablo Roque tiptoes inside the master bedroom of the West Kendall house he shares with his wife, Ana Margarita, and her two children. It's February 23, 1996, and the alarm clock on the nightstand reads 3 a.m. The handsome, olive-skinned 40-year-old Cuban defector has told his wife he's making an unexpected business trip to Key West. His shoes squeak on the tile floor as he goes to grab a vinyl suitcase.
Juan Pablo's rustling wakes up the attractive 35-year-old brunette, who left Havana when she was in first grade. She can make out the silhouette of his broad shoulders and salt-and-pepper crew cut. She motions him to sit next to her. He obliges, leans over, and softly kisses her thin lips.
"JP, you don't love me," Ana Margarita teases him in Spanish.
Puzzled, he responds, "Why do you say that?"
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"Because you are leaving me all alone," she pouts.
Juan Pablo doesn't reply. He stands and leaves.
That afternoon, a frantic Ana Margarita barges into the master bedroom. All day, she's been dialing Juan Pablo on his cell phone, but the calls go straight to voicemail. When she opens the closet door, her blood drains and she begins to shake. All of Juan Pablo's suits are gone. She opens his drawers. Only his wallet, with all of his credit cards, remains. Where the devil would he go without his wallet and credit cards?
Three days after Juan Pablo's disappearance, local and national news reporters swarm Ana Margarita's front yard. They want answers to her husband's whereabouts. And they're not the only ones. FBI agents have appeared on her doorstep, searching for clues.
"That's when I found out JP was working for the FBI," Ana Margarita would later recall.
The FBI, she is told, has been using her husband to infiltrate a Cuban-American paramilitary group involved in narcotics and firearms trafficking. He also has been providing firsthand information about the activities of Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban-American activist organization that flew peace missions to the island and helped rescue refugees lost at sea.
The day after Juan Pablo disappears, Cuban MiGs shoot down two Cessna planes belonging to the organization. Four pilots are killed in the attack. The group's president, José Basulto, and two volunteers are the only survivors. Their plane escapes. But the Cuban government claims it has a Brothers to the Rescue pilot in custody. Juan Pablo is a member of the group. "It couldn't be JP," she assures herself.
The truth is far worse. During a CNN newscast live from Havana, Juan Pablo finally reappears. The hunky ex-Cuban Air Force pilot sports a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses Ana Margarita bought him and his precious Rolex. His wedding band is no longer on his finger.
He declares his allegiance to Castro, denounces Brothers to the Rescue as a terrorist cell, and refuses to answer questions about his Miami wife. Asked what he would miss most about the Magic City, Juan Pablo replies, "My Jeep."
It is a rare nippy night in March, and Ana Margarita sits at a table in the live broadcast booth of Spanish-language Radio Mambí's studio on SW Eighth Street near Douglas Road. Her stylish bob haircut is a vibrant shade of auburn-brown, and her violet eye shadow complements the purple blouse and matching scarf that loosely covers her neck.
Fourteen years after her husband's disappearance, Ana Margarita is at the eye of a media storm. Among the headlines dominating news about Cuba is her latest salvo against Fidel Castro and his communist regime. After getting an annulment from Juan Pablo, she sued the Cuban government in 1999, charging it was responsible for her spouse's deceit. It was Juan Pablo's superiors who had ordered him to marry her so he could infiltrate the Cuban exile community. As a result, she had "suffered debilitating emotional and physical trauma," according to the complaint she filed in Miami-Dade circuit court. Castro and his government would be made to pay.
In 2001, Ana Margarita would win by default. The Cuban government never contested the lawsuit. Judge Alan Postman awarded her $27.1 million. But collecting the money hasn't been as easy. In 2005, President George W. Bush ordered she be paid nearly $200,000 from frozen Cuban accounts. Her attorneys also seized a couple of Cuban airplanes hijacked by refugees who sought political asylum in the Keys. But that's all.
Now Ana Margarita is suing eight Miami-based charter companies that book direct flights to Cuba in order to garnish fees paid to a company called Havana Tours, which handles air travel to and from the country. Her lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, claims Havana Tours is indirectly owned by the Cuban government.
Ana Margarita's legal maneuver has some Cuban-American activists questioning her motives. Alvaro Fernandez, a Miami man who runs Cuban affairs website Progreso Weekly, suspects she needs cash. "She has been living off the Cuban-spy-leaving-her-behind story since it happened," he quips. "She's going after money that belongs to the Cuban people. And if she succeeds with her latest gambit, she will be hurting people on both sides of the Florida Straits."
That's because Ira Kurzban, the lawyer representing the charter companies, has ominously proclaimed that if she prevails, the Cuban government would halt all direct flights from the States to the island nation, disrupting travel for hundreds of Cuban-Americans a day wanting to visit relatives.
Before the show begins, Ana Margarita flashes a grin at Fidel Castro's daughter, who wears her long brown hair in a bun and two sweaters to combat the studio's robust air conditioning. Alina Fernández Revuelta — who defected 17 years ago from the island her famous father ran — has her own evening program on the Univision-owned radio station.
In an effort to counter the criticisms, Ana Margarita has agreed to go on the air with Revuelta, who praises her guest's physical appearance during a commercial break before the interview. "You look absolutely great," Revuelta says. "You look so much younger. And your skin is radiant."
Ana Margarita informs her she's been undergoing "brain training" sessions, a form of therapy that teaches how to control brain waves that cause depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and other mental ailments. "It has worked wonders," Ana Margarita attests. "Without it, I don't think I'd have the strength to be here."
Revuelta nods in agreement. "I want to give it a try," she says. The host gets the signal she is about to go live. Revuelta greets her listeners and introduces her guest.
"Here I am again," Ana Margarita says, speaking into a microphone. "This has become my personal battle."
Revuelta: "You were fooled by Roque, who turned out to be a spy and is responsible for the death of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots. You were disgraced by the entire experience."
Ana Margarita: "He used me and my children for a Machiavellian mission. I felt very profound pain. My children didn't just lose their stepdad, whom they loved a lot. They lost their mother too. I was in a state of shock and trauma so great that I don't remember much from those days after he disappeared. My children were abandoned because I could not be there for them. Emotionally, psychologically, I was destroyed."
Revuelta: "You have spent many years rebuilding yourself. I've gone through some hard moments in my life, but nothing like you experienced. It's terrible. But it appears that, finally, there is a way that you will be able to get your money through these charter companies that we all know do business with Cuba."
Ana Margarita: "Well, the reason I am here is that there are some media outlets that have spun the story that I want to stop flights to Cuba. That is not my intention. And I don't have that power. Only the Cuban government has the authority to stop the flights. The Cuban government is using me as an excuse to continue dividing la familia Cubana."
Revuelta: "That is absolutely true. I don't believe it is your fault if the flights are ended. And the Cuban government will find a way to shuffle the money somewhere else, but they are not going to end the flights."
Ana Margarita: "Cuba has a debt with me. And Cuba has to pay it."
Portraits of Ana Margarita and her family hang on the walls of her mother Antonia Alvarez's living room in West Miami. More pictures adorn a shelf on a glass-top TV stand. In one photograph, her daughter, Sasha, plays with her younger brother, Omar. Other pictures show Ana Margarita, Sasha, and Omar together. But there are no images of Juan Pablo, who first locked eyes with Ana Margarita the morning of Sunday, March 15, 1992.
She was with her kids and grandmother attending service at University Baptist Church in Coral Gables. She immediately noticed Juan Pablo, who only days earlier had been all over TV news reports. He was the Cuban Air Force major who braved shark-infested waters to swim to Guantánamo Bay, seeking political asylum.
Juan Pablo cut a dashing figure with his olive skin and athletic build. At the end of the service, one of his cousins introduced him to Ana Margarita. She sensed a mutual attraction but did not act on it.
Over the next two months, they saw each other at evening Bible classes, yet they still didn't engage in conversation. The Friday night before Memorial Day, some of the church members threw a party. This time, Ana Margarita worked up the courage to chat up Juan Pablo, which led to some dancing at the party and even more dancing at a nightclub nearby. From there, the relationship gradually evolved from a close friendship to a courtship.
"We didn't date per se," Ana Margarita explains. "He wasn't the type to take me out to dinner or buy me flowers. But he was there for me and the kids. He mowed my lawn, painted my house, fixed my car. And we enjoyed dancing together. That is how he won my heart."
Within six months, Juan Pablo had moved in. According to Ana Margarita, he couldn't hold a job. He was a temporary clerk at a bank, quit to work construction, and then two months later took a position at a pharmacy. What she didn't know was that Juan Pablo was a confidential informant for the FBI. Apparently, his intel wasn't great. He received $7,000 over three years — just enough money for a Rolex and the down payment on a Jeep Cherokee.
About a year after the couple began seeing each other, Juan Pablo struck up a friendship with José Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue. Soon Juan Pablo was flying search-and-rescue missions with the pilots. When Juan Pablo's older brother escaped Cuba by raft, Basulto mobilized the planes to search for him. They were too late. The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted Juan Pablo's sibling and sent him back to the island.
To help Juan Pablo earn a living, Basulto and some of his friends hired him as a personal trainer. The ex-MiG pilot was a voracious gym rat, according to his ex-wife and Basulto. "I welcomed him like he was my brother," Basulto says, adding that Juan Pablo always talked about marrying Ana Margarita. "I believed he was in love with her. But he was really fortifying his cover." (In 1999, a federal grand jury indicted Juan Pablo and four other members of the Wasp Network, a Cuban spy ring, for conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting down of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes.)
Juan Pablo and Ana Margarita would wed April 1, 1995. The irony of the date is something she can lightly joke about now. "At the time, though, he gave me a sense of security," she says. "He gave me stability."
Like many Cuban exiles, Ana Margarita's life had been one of upheaval. She was born in 1960, one year after Castro's revolution shook the hemisphere. Her mother separated from her father when Ana Margarita was only a year old, and the two went it alone. To provide a home for herself and her daughter, Antonia worked the front desk of Cuba's telephone company in Havana. She resigned in 1964, and two years later — when Ana Margarita was 6 — defected to New York City. In 1967, Antonia moved to a townhouse in West New York, New Jersey, and worked a grueling factory job. "We lived pretty close to her school," Antonia says. "And the police officers in the community were pretty vigilant, so I didn't have to worry about Ana Margarita walking to and from school alone."
Ana Margarita was a quiet, studious girl from the time she attended elementary school until she graduated from high school in 1978, Antonia says. "She wasn't a party girl," she adds. "She would come home after school, do her homework, and practice her flute." From the ages of 8 to 10, Ana Margarita, along with her mother (who had since remarried and had another child), her grandmother, her stepdad, and her half-brother, would go on camping trips to the Catskill Mountains. "She loved walking along and fishing in the streams," Antonia says. "It was a very peaceful time for her then."
Antonia remembers buying a teenage Ana Margarita a blue Mustang as a surprise gift. "On Sundays, she would take her Mustang into the city to visit her grandmother," Antonia happily recalls. "That is where she learned to drive so crazy. You don't ever want to get into a car with Ana Margarita."
During adolescence, Ana Margarita rekindled her relationship with her father and visited him in Miami. In 1979, she moved to the Magic City for good. "I wanted to start my own life," she says. "I married my first love, a boy I had met when I was 14 years old." She was 19 when she got hitched. But the relationship didn't last long. They divorced in 1982. That year, while visiting her mother in New Jersey, Ana Margarita met her second husband and the father of her two children, Jalal Kasso. The relationship lasted seven years. "He was great until I married him," she says. "He became very possessive, and he abused me emotionally and physically."
The final straw came when he pinned her against a wall. "My son got between us, and he shoved Omar down," Ana Margarita says. "That was the end of that marriage." In 1989, she divorced him. "He has never seen the kids since," she notes. "And he probably owes me close to $90,000 in child support."
Ana Margarita says she worked two or three jobs to keep a roof over their heads. She had no social life. Her distrust in men solidified; she didn't date for several years.
So when she married Juan Pablo in 1995, it was a major step. For once she seemed part of a happy family. Sasha, who was 9 when her mother began dating Juan Pablo, says he was a wonderful surrogate father. "He always said he wanted to adopt my brother and I," Sasha recollects. "He wanted to make it official that we were his kids."
Now 24 years old and with fair skin just like her mom's, Sasha says her mother fell apart after learning about Juan Pablo's secret life. "She wasn't the same," Sasha says. "She didn't want to believe he was a spy even though it was on the news all the time. I couldn't understand how someone could be so cruel to us."
"Up until recently, Ana Margarita was still in pretty bad shape," Antonia adds. "She has been to a lot of therapists. There were times I would never leave her alone after what happened with Juan Pablo."
The lights are turned off inside a windowless room in the penthouse office suite at 9990 SW 77th Ave. Ana Margarita, dressed in a white cotton shirt, black jeans, and black sandals, sits in a brown suede recliner. Next to her is brain imaging equipment and a computer that monitors brain waves via sensors affixed to her head and ear lobes. She wears earbuds that are also connected to the computer. Ana Margarita closes her eyes, listening to the musical tones and the distant sound of a softly flowing stream. On the flat-panel computer screen, bar graphs measure her brain wave activity.
Since January 7, Ana Margarita has undergone some 30 sessions at the headquarters of Brain Training Centers of Florida, a facility that treats a wide range of mental disorders.
For more than ten years, she had seen dozens of therapists and taken antidepressants to help treat her posttraumatic stress, severe anxiety, and adrenal fatigue syndrome. "Nothing really worked for me," she says. "So a friend of a friend recommended I give brain training a shot."
During her first consultation, Ana Margarita met with the center's president, Francis Flynn, a Catholic priest with a doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. A slender salt-and-pepper-haired man with a deep baritone voice, Flynn explains that the training involves conditioning a person's mind to focus on inhibiting brain waves that cause a particular disorder. "We get the brain to recognize when it is out of balance and heal itself," he says. "It is like holding up a mirror to the brain and pinpointing exactly where the trouble is."
Flynn introduced Ana Margarita to the center's "master brain trainer," Geoff Cole, a jovial, pudgy-faced man who has been working with the priest since 2001. Flynn and Cole ran inpatient drug addiction centers from 2002 to 2006, the year they introduced brain training into their treatment plans. According to Cole, he has successfully used brain training to treat people with depression, addiction, sleep problems, attention deficit disorder, and posttraumatic stress.
As with other patients, Ana Margarita's training began with a brain scan. The sensors were hooked up to a computer program that mapped the brain, allowing Cole to determine the stages of her life when she suffered traumas. For example, he found that she experienced her first trauma between the time she was still in the womb and age 2. "That was around the time of Castro's revolution and my parents' splitting up," Ana Margarita notes.
Cole says he detected traumas in her late adolescence and throughout her adulthood. However, he says, he cannot pinpoint if one trauma was worse than another.
The brain scan also picked up 27 active depression patterns and assigned a tone to each of Ana Margarita's brain waves. "In the right hemisphere of her brain, there were waves that caused her to feel overly emotional and she would feel three times the anxiety of a normal brain," Cole says. "All these waves inhibit people from functioning."
The treatment involves conditioning the brain to focus on the tones that don't cause problems. Normally, a person undergoing training comes in for ten sessions. Ana Margarita required three times as many. "She wore all the pressure in her life like a second suit of clothing," Flynn says. "She looked like she was trying to run through life wearing a medieval suit of armor."
Initially, Ana Margarita didn't respond to the treatment. "It was really hard for me to visualize a place that brought me peace," she says. "I would get really frustrated. But after a while, it started calming me down."
She would focus on the times she and her family visited the Catskills. Cole burned a CD that plays the distant sound of a running stream to help her concentrate on the positive brain waves.
Flynn says he noticed a dramatic change in Ana Margarita after her 20th brain training session. "I could tell from the expression on her face and the texture of her skin that she was doing a whole lot better," he says. "She was much more happy and relaxed."
Over the past decade and a half, Ana Margarita has gained a fair amount of fame and notoriety. Her MySpace page is decorated with photos of her hobnobbing with Gloria and Emilio Estefan, artist Carlos Betancourt, Telemundo's Al Rojo Vivo host Maria Celeste Arraras, actor Steven Bauer, and singer Jon Secada, among other local luminaries.
In 1999, local book publisher Ediciones Universal, which specializes in work by Cuban authors, printed 1,000 copies of Estrecho de Traición (Straits of Betrayal), Ana Margarita's tome documenting her tragic affair. The publisher's bookstore at SW Eighth Street and 31st Avenue declined to provide the number of copies the book has sold.
In 2008, Ana Margarita announced she was collaborating with Lt. Col Chris Simmons, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer and Cuban spook expert, to write another book, tentatively titled The Spy's Wire: Beyond Betrayal, as well as a screenplay. Although both projects are on hold, hers is still a sought-after story. The producers of the Discovery Channel documentary show Investigation Discovery recently spent four days with her. "They are going to air a minidocumentary on me," she says. "The show is about people who don't know the person they are married to."
Her pursuit of lucrative book and movie deals and a $27 million payoff from the Cuban government has given Ana Margarita's critics grist to question whether she really "suffered debilitating emotional and physical trauma" because of her sham marriage.
Progreso Weekly's Alvaro Fernandez says it is unfair that the people of Cuba should have to pay because a Cuban spy was good at doing his job. "Does that mean that the people in foreign countries duped by American spies are entitled to judgments against the United States?" he asks. "Maybe she should be the one paying the Cuban government for the time she got to spend with Richard Gere's Cuban double."
Ana Margarita scoffs at Fernandez's remarks. "Portraying me as a greedy fame seeker is so far off," she says. "This ordeal has been a mission for me."
Ira Kurzban, a short man with thinning wavy hair, wears a snazzy navy blue pinstripe suit as he stands at the podium facing federal Judge Federico Moreno. The attorney representing the eight charter companies that fly to the communist island, Kurzban argues that Ana Margarita's lawsuit should be heard by a federal, not a state, court.
The stakes are high as Kurzban prepares to make his case. Since Ana Margarita's lawyers filed for a garnishment order in state court this past February 19, the charter companies have voluntarily set aside the $4 million to $5 million they owe Havana Tours.
And the pot is growing. An average of 60 flights a week depart from Miami, New York, and New Jersey to Havana and four other cities in Cuba, according to Armando Garcia, president of charter company Marazul Tours. Today, individual ticket prices range from $300 to $600, but the rates fluctuate depending on the travel season. Since last April, when President Barack Obama lifted the tougher travel restrictions enacted by George W. Bush, approximately 210,000 Cuban-Americans have flown to the island, Garcia says. "If the numbers continue increasing the way they have, we could see more than 300,000 Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba this year."
The charter companies, he explains, pay Havana Tours to obtain landing permits from the Institute of Civil Aeronautics of Cuba and other airport-related services such as refueling planes, handling luggage, and processing passengers.
"I've seen Ana Margarita on television news reports claiming that she doesn't want to stop direct flights to Cuba," Garcia says. "That is absurd. If we can't pay Havana Tours, the flights will be paralyzed. She is trying to obtain money that has nothing to do with her case."
That argument is at the heart of Kurzban's pleading. "This case has the potential of shutting down travel to Cuba," he intones. "This action will force my clients out of business. And it is a matter of federal law that she needs a court order before granting the garnishments." He adds that Havana Tours is not directly owned by Cuba, so under U.S. law, the company cannot be treated as an agent or entity of that state.
Ana Margarita, dressed in a black business suit, black stockings, and black heels, sits next to her attorneys at a table to the left of Kurzban. Some of the charter company owners sit behind her. They don't utter a word. Her lawyer Robert Hartley counters that Judge Moreno has no jurisdiction in the case because the charter companies are Florida corporations and the case should remain in state court, which had initially ruled in his client's favor. He adds that he will prove "Havana Tours is an alter ego, a conduit for the Cuban government."
Just how high the stakes are becomes clear when Kurzban informs the judge that the U.S. government might also intervene in the case, and a lawyer from the Justice Department makes his presence in the courtroom known. The DOJ special counsel, Anthony Coppolino, asks Moreno to postpone the hearing so that the federal government can analyze the ramifications of Ana Margarita's case. "With the possible disruption of flights to Cuba, it could affect U.S. policy toward Cuba," Coppolino says. "It is the policy of the U.S. government to allow citizens to visit relatives in Cuba."
Moreno obliges Coppolino's request and postpones the hearing until early April. As the charter company owners file out of the courtroom, none wants to discuss Ana Margarita. One of them, an elderly Cuban lady with red hair pulled into a ponytail, says, "I have nothing against her. She is well within her rights to do what she is doing."
Kurzban only says, "We are very concerned about resolving this issue as quickly as possible."
Outside the federal courthouse, Ana Margarita lets out an emphatic sigh of relief. Sasha, who was at the hearing to lend support, hugs her mother. "The brain training has really helped me a lot," Ana Margarita says. "Otherwise, I'd be in shambles right now. All this publicity can be so draining."
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