MIAMI, FL — A renowned Mexican scientist who led a double life with two families, one in Mexico, the other in Russia, pleaded guilty to spying for Russian in the United States.
As part of a plea agreement announced Tuesday in Miami federal court, prosecutors recommended a four-year sentence for Hector Cabrera Fuentes on a single charge of acting in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general, the Associated Press reported. He will be sentenced on May 17.
A Russian government official recruited Fuentes in 2019, according to a Department of Justice news release.
When Fuentes traveled to Moscow to meet with the Russian official again in February 2020, he was given a description of a U.S. government source’s car and told to find the vehicle in Miami, get its license plate number, and record its physical location. The individual isn’t named in court documents.
Fuentes and his wife, who lives in Mexico, where they’re married, traveled from Mexico City to Miami on Feb. 13, 2020. The next day, they were caught trying to enter the residence of the U.S. government source he was tracking by tailgating another vehicle to gain access to it, the DOJ said.
When the security guard approached Fuentes, who was driving a rental car, his wife left the car to take a picture of the U.S. government source’s vehicle and license plate. The security guard questioned them and Fuentes claimed to be visiting someone who supposedly lived at that residence that security didn’t recognize. They were asked to leave.
Fuentes and his wife were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection when they tried to fly back to Mexico City from Miami International Airport on Feb. 16, 2020.
Agents searching his wife’s phone found a close-up image of the license plate in her “recently deleted folder.” They also found a WhatsApp message from the wife to Fuentes containing the photo.
Fuentes told law enforcement officers that he asked his wife to take the photo and also admitted that he was directed by a Russian government official. Messages on his phone showed that the Russian official initiated and organized all meetings with Fuentes, the DOJ said.
Prior to his arrest, Fuentes worked in Singapore as an associate professor at a medical school jointly run by Duke University and the National University of Singapore. He also was appointed director in 2018 of the FEMSA Biotechnology Center at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in northern Mexico, which said he earned doctorates in molecular microbiology in Russia and molecular cardiology in Germany.
Fuentes is known as a community-minded person in his hometown of El Espinal, in the southern state of Oaxaca. He’s known for his work to promote scientific research, heal those suffering from diabetes and assist in the rebuilding of homes after devastating earthquakes.
“It is very strange for this to happen because he is a very altruistic person with a lot of social conscience. He helped people and all this seems strange,” the town’s mayor, Hazael Matus, told The Associated Press shortly after his arrest. “We don’t know what happened, but I bet it is a confusion or an attack for scientific reasons. He may have discovered something that upset some people or some business interests.”
This story includes reporting from the Associated Press.