WASHINGTON — A retired State Department employee will spend life in prison without parole after he and his wife pleaded guilty Friday to serving as covert agents for Cuba for three decades.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72 — known to his Cuban handlers as "Agent 202" — agreed to a life sentence without parole and to cooperate with the federal government. His wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71 — known as "Agent 123" and "Agent E-634" — agreed to a sentence of between six years and 7 1/2 years in prison, and will also continue to cooperate with the government.
Prosecutors said the tough sentences — which will be imposed in April after the couple briefs government investigators — should send a warning to others looking to divulge state secrets.
"Today's guilty plea and impending sentence close the book on this couple's contemptuous betrayal of our nation," said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips. "Thanks to a well-planned and executed counterintelligence investigation that included unprecedented cooperation among multiple U.S. agencies, the Myerses' serious transgressions of compromising our nation's classified secrets will now be appropriately addressed with significant prison sentences."
The pair also agreed to pay the government $1.7 million — the salary Kendall Myers made while working at the State Department. They'll forfeit their Washington apartment, a 37-foot sailboat and various bank and investment accounts.
Clad in dark blue jail jumpsuits and long-sleeved shirts, they appeared to be in good spirits, with Kendall smiling broadly to a group of relatives sitting in the front row of the courtroom. Gwendolyn joked to U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton that she was "only 71" to Kendall's 72, and Kendall complimented their legal representation as "thorough and balanced."
Then Walton asked if they were pleading guilty because they were guilty. "Yes," they each answered.
Through their lawyer, Bradford Berenson, the Myerses said they pleaded guilty to conduct they undertook "not out of selfish motive or hope of personal gain, but out of conscience and personal commitment."
"They always understood that they might some day be called to account for that conduct and always have been prepared to accept full responsibility for it," the statement said. "They have done so today. They stand ready to accept the punishment the court will impose with grace and dignity. In the meantime, they have agreed to continue their efforts to cooperate with the United States law enforcement and intelligence communities."
The case presented by prosecutors was something out of spy novel, complete with code names, messages delivered via shortwave radio and shopping carts in the local supermarket.
Prosecutors say the Myerses first agreed to serve as clandestine agents for Cuba in 1979, with Kendall Myers securing a job at the State Department to pass along information he obtained on the job.
In a search of the Myerses' home, investigators say they found a shortwave radio, sailing charts for Cuban waters, a travel guide to Cuba and a book titled "On Becoming Cuban."
Prosecutors also say that in 2006 and 2007, Kendall Myers used his State Department computer to view more than 200 intelligence documents relating to Cuba, though Myers' area of expertise at the department was Western Europe.
The Myerses were charged in June with wire fraud, serving as illegal agents for Cuba and conspiring to deliver classified information.
On Friday, Kendall Myers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud. The espionage charge could carry a death sentence, but prosecutors hadn't sought one.
Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty to conspiring to gather and transmit national defense information. She'd faced more than 17 years in prison.
They asked Judge Walton to ask the federal Bureau of Prisons to incarcerate them as close together as possible.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington
McClatchy Newspapers 2009