| Crime |

Russians Recruited Man to Spy on a Government Agent in Miami, Feds Say

The man told investigators he was directed by an official for the Russian government, led by President Vladimir Putin (above), to conduct surveillance in Miami.
The man told investigators he was directed by an official for the Russian government, led by President Vladimir Putin (above), to conduct surveillance in Miami.
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In February 2019, Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes decided to move to Miami. To put things mildly, he had covered a lot of ground already: He was a Mexican citizen who had been living in Singapore, and he'd been making trips back and forth to Moscow to allegedly receive mysterious instructions from the Russian government on how to track the whereabouts of a Miami federal informant.

But this week, Fuentes made another move — to federal jail. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested him at Miami International Airport after they found incriminating information on his cell phone, they say. He's been charged with acting as a foreign agent without informing the federal government.

The Miami Herald first reported last night that Fuentes appeared in court yesterday to face his charges. Though seemingly wild, the case didn't come entirely out of the blue: Since the days of the Cuban Revolution, Miami has served as a sort of Casablanca for spies from Latin America and the former Soviet bloc as well as American CIA agents.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't give many details about the bizarre case, but the feds say that in February 2019, Fuentes somehow made contact with a Russian agent while he lived in Singapore. The Russian then told him to fly to Miami and begin renting an apartment in secret.

"The Russian official told Fuentes not to rent the apartment in Fuentes' own name and not to tell his family about their meetings," prosecutors wrote in the news release. "Fuentes traveled to Russia and informed the Russian government official about the arrangements. The official approved and told Fuentes to see him again on his next trip to Russia."

Fuentes apparently remained undetected for about a year. That changed this month. The U.S. government says Fuentes flew to Moscow once more to meet with an unnamed Russian source. The Russian then described a U.S. government source he wanted Fuentes to tail and told him to fly back to Miami, photograph the source's license plate, and take notes on where the car was located. The Russian asked Fuentes to fly back to Moscow in a few months to report on his progress. He never got there.

The feds say Fuentes flew to Miami this past February 13, rented a car, and began stalking his prey. Last Friday, prosecutors say, Fuentes conspicuously followed the informant into his apartment complex by tailgating the informant's car close enough to sneak past a security gate. When a security guard approached, Fuentes' wife got out of the car and snapped a photo of the informant's license plate, according to prosecutors. He and his wife then allegedly said they were visiting someone in the complex who didn't exist.

The couple tried to flee Miami to Mexico City two days later. The feds say Customs and Border Protection agents stopped Fuentes and his wife at the airport and searched their phones — and found that Fuentes' wife had left photos of the informant's plates in her phone's "recently deleted" folder. It was soon discovered she had sent Fuentes a copy of the photo via WhatsApp.

"Fuentes admitted to law enforcement officers that he was directed by a Russian government official to conduct this operation," the feds say. "According to court documents, messages on Fuentes' phone showed that the Russian official initiated and directed the meetings."

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