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Lawmakers send letter urging US to get Marc Fogel out of Russian prison

Marc Fogel's family fights for his release from Russian prison
Marc Fogel's family fights for his release from Russian prison 02:39

OAKMONT, Pa. (KDKA) - Several lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a bipartisan effort to bring home Marc Fogel, an Oakmont man who received a long prison sentence for possessing marijuana in Russia.

On Aug. 14, 2021, Fogel and his wife flew back to Russia for their 10th and final year of teaching in the country, but Fogel was detained at the airport in Moscow. His family said he was carrying 17 grams of cannabis for medical reasons to treat chronic back pain.

Last month, Fogel was convicted of drug smuggling and drug possession. He was given a 14-year sentence in a high-security penal colony in Russia. Fogel's niece Ellen Keelan called it "a death sentence" for her 61-year-old uncle. 

Lawmakers are now asking Blinken to include Fogel in any potential exchange that might include WNBA player Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

"Although he may not carry the notoriety of a celebrity WNBA athlete, we believe it is essential the Biden Administration work to bring Mr. Fogel safely home to his family," the letter from lawmakers read. "Brittney Griner's wife received a call from President Joe Biden, but the family of Mr. Fogel has struggled to even receive a response from the State Department."

The letter was signed by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, Brendan F. Boyle, Mike Doyle, Dwight Evans, Fred Keller, Mike Kelly, Conor Lamb, Dan Meuser, Glenn "GT" Thompson and Susan Wild. 

The letter said Fogel, a Butler native who lives in Oakmont, has taught history courses at schools attended by children of U.S. diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia and Russia. 

The lawmakers urged Blinken to classify Fogel as wrongfully detained and ensure he's included in any negotiations to bring home American prisoners in Russia. 

"This sentence is grossly disproportionate to sentences imposed by Russian courts in similar cases involving similar amounts of marijuana and even exceeds sentences imposed by Russian courts on major drug traffickers and murderers," said attorney Sasha Phillips. 

Fogel's family is trying to get as many signatures as possible on a petition. They also started a letter-writing campaign. Hundreds of Fogel's former students and colleagues are writing letters to Blinken, urging him to bring Fogel home.  

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