He was returning home to Mexico City with his Mexican wife.
MIAMI -- A well-known Mexican scientist, who lived a double life with two families located on different continents, pleaded guilty Tuesday in a case of being coopted by Russian agents to spy on a U.S. government informant living in Miami.
Hector Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican man who was looking to return home to Mexico City with his wife and Mexican wife (the other is from Russia), was arrested at Miami International Airport in 2020.
The couple were captured on surveillance tape following another vehicle into a condominium in Miami. They also snapped a photo of the U.S. source's car, license plate, and ignored instructions to not take pictures, but simply jot down its location.
A plea agreement was announced Tuesday by Miami federal court. It included a recommendation for a four-year sentence for Cabrera on the single charge of acting in America on behalf of foreign governments without notifying U.S. Attorney General. Cabrera will be sentenced May 17.
Cabrera's bizarre story of his botched intelligence mission started in 2019, when Cabrera's Russian wife and two daughters traveled from Germany, Russia, to attend to a bureaucratic matter. In an accompanying affidavit, an FBI agent stated that the woman was not permitted to leave Germany when she tried to return home.
Cabrera went to Russia to visit his family. He was then contacted by a Russian official whom he had worked with years before. Cabrera was advised by the individual, who was not identified in court documents, that his family should not travel to Europe or apply for a U.S visa.
Cabrera believed that Cabrera was working for Russia's FSB intelligence service at this point, according to FBI.
Later, during a meeting in Moscow, the same official presented old emails from Cabrera’s account. The email showed that the Mexican scientist was looking for Miami real estate.
Cabrera's family was brought up by the Russian official, who told Cabrera that "We can help one another," as per the original indictment.
Cabrera, following the instructions of the official, traveled to Miami with an associate and rented an apartment at the same complex as the U.S. source.
Although it is not clear whether the Russians asked the scientist to rent the apartment for their purposes, intelligence agents often seek to protect themselves by hiring other people to do various tasks. Rarely is the recruit fully informed about the mission.
Cabrera is not identified in court papers. He is only described as a U.S. government "confidential person source" who provided previously information about Russian intelligence activities that could affect U.S. national security interests.
A local hero in his hometown
Cabrera was an associate professor in a joint medical school run by the National University of Singapore and Duke University before his arrest.
In 2018, he was also appointed director of the FEMSA biotechnology center at Monterrey Institute of Technology, northern Mexico. He said that he has doctorates in molecular cardiology and molecular microbiology from Germany.
Cabrera, a hero in his hometown El Espinal in the southern state Oaxaca is remembered for his efforts to promote scientific research and heal diabetes patients. He also helped rebuild homes following devastating earthquakes.
It is strange that this could happen, as he is an altruistic person with a lot social conscience. "He helped people and all of this seems strange," Hazael Matus, the town mayor, told The Associated Press shortly before his arrest. We don't know the details of what happened but we suspect it was a scientific attack or confusion. It is possible that he discovered something that disturbed some people or business interests.