A retired State Department worker and his wife accused of a decades-long plot to spy for Cuba pleaded guilty Friday in a deal that will leave him behind bars for the rest of his life but gives her a chance at freedom in six years.
Walter Kendall Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, were caught in an undercover FBI sting operation, arrested in June and held without bail.
Two people familiar with the plea deal, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations, said Walter Kendall Myers agreed to a life sentence partly to help his wife get less prison time in the hopes she would not die behind bars.
Walter Kendall Myers pleaded guilty to plotting to commit espionage and to wire fraud.
His wife pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of plotting to gather and transmit national defense information and agreed to serve six to 7 1/2 years in prison. Both agreed to cooperate fully with investigators.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton accepted their pleas Friday afternoon.
The couple's lawyer Bradford Berenson said they acted "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 lawyer said in a written statement.
Through court documents filed in connection with the plea, Walter Kendall Myers admitted he was known as "Agent 202," and that he and Gwendolyn began a conspiracy in 1979 to provide national security information to the government of Cuba. The couple married three years later.
U.S. authorities say the Myerses delivered government secrets to Cuban agents over the past 30 years using a shortwave radio, by swapping carts at a grocery store and in at least one face-to-face meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Key evidence in the case came from an undercover sting involving an FBI operative who approached Kendall Myers on the street on the defendant's birthday, April 15. The operative gave Kendall Myers a cigar, said he knew his Cuban handler and asked that they meet later.
The ruse worked, and the Myerses met three times with the undercover operative at Washington hotels over the next two weeks. The FBI secretly videotaped the sessions, in which they say the couple made many incriminating statements about their time as spies.
In one of those sessions, Gwendolyn Myers allegedly proposed to the undercover agent that her husband could be an instructor at a Cuban intelligence academy.
"So when can we come?" she allegedly said.
Previously filed court documents indicate the couple received little money for their efforts, but instead professed a deep love for Cuba, Castro and the country's system of government.
The documents describe the couple's spying methods changing with the times, beginning with old-fashioned tools of Cold War spying: Morse code messages over a short-wave radio and notes taken on water-soluble paper. By the time they retired from the work in 2007, they were reportedly sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes.
One court filing says changing technology also persuaded Gwendolyn Myers to abandon what she considered an easy way of passing information, by changing shopping carts in a grocery store. The document quoted her as saying she would no longer use that tactic. "Now they have cameras, but they didn't then."
When they fell for the FBI sting earlier this year, the Myerses had been out of touch with their Cuban handlers for some time, according to court documents. The couple said they lived "in fear and anxiety for a long time." Kendall Myers feared his boss had put him on a watch list in 1995.
The Myerses lived in a luxury co-op complex in Northwest Washington that over the years was home to Cabinet members, judges, congressmen and senators, including the late Barry Goldwater.