Alan Gross' wife suing U.S., husband's company up to $60M for Cuba incarceration

Alan and Judy Gross
In this file photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross in an unknown location.
AP Photo/Gross Family, File

(CBS News) In 2009, Cuba's government arrested Alan Gross, of Maryland, who was working for the State Department.

His wife, Judy Gross, has been fighting for his release ever since, saying his life is in danger. Now she's putting pressure on the U.S. government with a big-money lawsuit.

Gross, 63, was jailed for taking part in a democracy-building project funded by the U.S. State Department. Cuba considers it illegal.

Judy Gross told CBS News, "It's this country that sent Alan on this mission, and Alan is rotting in a jail cell, and I'm asking President Obama to do something about it."

In 2009, Alan Gross was working as a subcontractor for DAI, a company paid by the U.S. to distribute communications gear. He gave the gear to the Jewish community so that they could communicate with groups outside of Cuba.

Judy Gross said her husband, to her knowledge, was delivering cell phones and laptops. Asked if he was a spy, Judy gross said, "absolutely not."

Alan Gross did not speak Spanish and traveled alone. His wife says that he told his employer that the visits were getting risky.

On his fifth trip, the Cuban government arrested him, later sentencing him to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state.

The State Department acknowledges that Alan Gross' work is illegal under Cuban law. The U.S. program was created in 1996 to hasten the fall of the Castro regime.

Roberta Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Alan Gross in jail, said Gross was not a spy. Jacobson said she believes Cuba is using Alan Gross as leverage to change U.S. policy.

"If they believe that Mr. Gross is a bargaining chip, he's not," Jacobson said. "He's not, in a policy sense, and he's not as a human being."

Recently, the Cuban government offered to trade Alan Gross for five convicted Cuban spies. The U.S. refused to release them.

In the meantime, Alan Gross' health has suffered. Since his arrest, he's lost more than 100 pounds and his family is under strain. Judy Gross said, "I've lost 80 percent of salary. I'm working full-time, and then I come home, and I have almost another full-time job working on bringing Alan home."

Judy Gross is suing the U.S. government and DAI for up to $60 million. She claims they did not properly train her husband for the risks of working in Cuba.

Judy Gross said, "The government, again, sent him there, and I'm footing the bill to try and get him home."

For now, Judy Gross hopes that by bringing attention to her husband's case, she will force the Cuban government to set him free.

But freeing Alan Gross is "complicated on so many levels," according to CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, former assistant director of National Intelligence. He said on "CBS This Morning," "If he was a straight up spy, this would be much simpler."

For more on Gross' case, watch Miller's full analysis in the video below.

"It would be a spy trade. 'We'll trade you one of your spies for one of ours.' Unfortunately, you know, what they are asking for is -- it's in the ballpark, but a bit of a miss. The Cuban Five (which Cuba asked for in exchange for Gross) didn't come to spy on the U.S. government, they didn't come to steal U.S. Secrets. What they did was come to do is infiltrate anti-Castro groups in and around the Miami area and feed that information back. One of the things that makes that murkier one of them allegedly supplied information about the freedom flights where they were dropping leaflets over Cuba and two of those little Cessnas were shot down and people were killed. And he's convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in that case. He's lost on appeal. The idea of phones for freedom versus, you know, conspiracy to commit murder is a bit of an uneven thing. Also the five to one."

The U.S. doesn't have much leverage in this case, according to Miller. He said, "This case is one of those ones where the politics also intervene and that is if you are in Miami and you see the anti-Castro Cuban community there and the political sway they have, it's going to be very hard to get government officials or elected officials behind this."