MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) - A Mexican national accused of spying for Russia in South Florida will remain in a federal lockup in Miami without bail until his March arraignment.
Hector Cabrera Fuentes appeared in federal court Friday morning.
Fuentes, who lives in Singapore, is charged with "Failure to register as a foreign agent."
According to prosecutors, Fuentes made several trips to Russia to meet with his handler. That's when investigators say he got orders to pursue a person in Miami, a government informant, who was feeding information to the U.S.
A Russian government official reportedly provided Fuentes with a physical description of the U.S. government informant's vehicle. Fuentes was told to locate the car, obtain the vehicle's license plate number, and note the physical location of its location, according to court documents.
Investigators say Fuentes and his wife arrived at Miami International Airport on February 13th and rented a car.
The next day, Fuentes apparently tried to enter the residence where the U.S. government target lived. He caught the attention of a security guard because he was tailgating another car to get in.
According to the Department of Justice, when the security guard approached Fuentes' car, Fuentes' wife got out, found the source's vehicle and snapped a picture of the license plate.
When questioned by the security guard, the pair reportedly told security they were there to see someone, but the guard didn't recognize the name and asked them to leave.
Two days later, on February 16th, Fuentes and his wife made their way to Miami International Airport to fly back to Mexico City.
There they were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and both of their cell phones were checked. CBP agents found the license plate photo in the "recently deleted folder" of his wife's phone and in a WhatsApp message on his phone. He then gave a statement to the FBI.
Fuentes reportedly admitted that he was in South Florida at the direction of the Russian government. It's not clear exactly why the Russians wanted this done, but the FBI affidavit says the informant had previously provided information about Russian intelligence operations and implications for U.S. national security.
Fuentes told a judge previously that he worked part-time for an Israeli company and was a researcher in Singapore. Friday, in court, he told the judge he no longer has the job in Singapore.
"I just got informed by my family that my contracts just got finished and I will not have any more income," he said.
According to Cabrera's FBI statement, he has two wives — the Mexican one and a Russian one. The Russian woman and her two daughters were living in Germany but returned to Moscow last spring to attend to some administrative matters. Then, the Russian government wouldn't let them leave, the affidavit said.
That prompted Cabrera to visit Moscow and his family in May 2019, where he was approached by a Russian official who he had met previously at professional events and exchanges. Cabrera told the FBI he believed the official was an intelligence officer.
It's common for intelligence agents to insulate themselves by recruiting other people to carry out various tasks. Rarely does the recruit have full knowledge of the entire mission.
The Russian official, according to the affidavit, brought up Cabrera's family situation in Russia and said, "We can help each other."
Before Cabrera's Miami mission to photograph the informant's license plate, the FBI says the Russian official asked him to rent an apartment in the same complex as the informant but not in his real name. Cabrera paid an associate $20,000 to do so in late 2019, the FBI said.
It's not clear from the affidavit if anything was done with the apartment.
Cabrera, a microbiologist who has held several prestigious posts, is originally from El Espinal, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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