OAKMONT, Pa. (KDKA) — Support is growing for Marc Fogel, a teacher from Oakmont who was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison.
"I'm sure he'll be proud and grateful. I hope he knows, of course, we would do this for him. Family is the most important bond that there is," said Ellen Keelan, Fogel's niece.
Keelan and her family are trying to stay strong as they push for Fogel to be freed from Russian detainment. Thousands of people have been showing support for him.
Now, members of Congress representing Pennsylvania have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
"I put the letter together. We had not only bipartisan but bicameral support from the Pennsylvania delegation. And hopefully, that shows that Pennsylvania, both Senate and House, stand united to get Fogel back," said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14).
Reschenthaler and 10 other lawmakers are asking the State Department to immediately classify Fogel as wrongfully detained and to include him in any potential exchange that might include WNBA player Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.
"I'm glad that someone is in our corner, especially for Marc," Keelan said. "We care about him deeply, we love him. This was an unfair, unjust punishment for the crime."
Fogel was detained at a Moscow airport in August 2021 for having 17 grams of medical marijuana, which he used to treat chronic back pain. In June, he was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor in a Russian prison.
Fogel, a Butler native who resides in Oakmont, taught history classes to children of U.S. Diplomats in Russia and other countries.
"We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation," the White House said in a statement Friday. "Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time. We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizen Under "The Levinson Act," the Secretary of State reviews cases of U.S. nationals detained abroad by state actors to determine if they are "wrongful." The review looks at the totality of the circumstances and assesses the facts of the case against various criteria."
Keelan hopes all the recent efforts to get her uncle home are working.
"The Biden administration is obviously fully aware. It's more just to continue applying pressure and sort of show our support in that way, that there's a lot of people who care about Marc and want him home," Keelan said.
"We will push this and make sure they are taking notice of Fogel's case," said Rep. Reschenthaler.
KDKA-TV reached out to the State Department for comment on Friday and has not heard back.
More than 12,500 people have signed a petition in support of freeing Fogel. Family members created an Instagram account, @freemarcfogel, with more ways to help.
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