Retired Army colonel in Florida convicted of spying for Soviet Union, faces life in prison
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – A retired Army man was found guilty Tuesday of selling Cold War military secrets to Moscow over two decades, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be convicted of espionage.
George Trofimoff, 74, could get up to life in prison.
The retired colonel in the Army Reserves oversaw an intelligence center in Germany from the 1960s to 1990s. He was working as a grocery store bagger last year when he was arrested in an FBI sting trying to collect money he thought was coming from the Russians.
Trofimoff stood erect and showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. He shrugged slightly at his wife, who wept.
Sentencing was set for Sept. 27.
”What this case should do is send a message to those we entrust our nation’s secrets to that if you sell those secrets, if you spy against the United States, we’ll pull out all the stops to catch you, to bring you to justice and to convict you,” federal prosecutor Laura Ingersoll said.
Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez said he will appeal.
From 1968 to 1994, Trofimoff was the civilian chief of an Army interrogation center in Nuremberg, Germany, where refugees and defectors from the Soviet bloc were questioned. The center also housed volumes of secret documents detailing what the United States knew about its Soviet adversaries and other Warsaw Pact nations.
Prosecutors said Trofimoff collected $300,000 for photographing U.S. intelligence documents and giving them to the KGB through a go-between, boyhood friend Igor Vladimirovich Susemihl, a Russian Orthodox priest.
Among the information prosecutors said Trofimoff smuggled to the Soviets were CIA documents and details of what the United States knew about Soviet military preparedness.
A former KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, testified that Trofimoff was one of the Soviet Union’s top spies during the 1970s, so valuable that his code name was at the top of a list of KGB sources given to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. He said Trofimoff was even brought to a resort for Soviet military officials as a reward.
Trofimoff, born in Germany to Russian emigres, wept on the stand as he described growing up hating communists because some of his family members were unable to escape the Bolshevik Revolution and were killed.
He insisted that he never was a spy, but pretended to be one because he needed money. But jurors laughed at Trofimoff when he testified it was a coincidence that he was able to name several Soviet spies when shown them by an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian diplomat.
Jury foreman Mark King said only one vote was needed: Jurors agreed Trofimoff was guilty after viewing a videotape of him describing his spying activities. Deliberations took just two hours.
”Just to think someone would do that stuff,” King said following the verdict. ”He claimed to be an American, that he served the country for the past 46 years … To think someone like that would betray the country.”
Trofimoff became a U.S. citizen in 1951, joined the Army in 1953 and was honorably discharged three years later. He was hired as a civilian in Army intelligence in 1959.
Trofimoff was recruited to spy by Susemihl, a high-ranking priest for the Moscow-controlled branch of the Russian Orthodox church, investigators said. Susemihl was arrested and freed in 1994; he died five years later.
Trofimoff, who married five times, concealed his activities for years from U.S. authorities and his wives. Investigators say he smuggled documents out of the Nuremberg center to his home, where he photographed them at night in his basement.
The case against Trofimoff emerged out of the tiny scraps of paper smuggled out the Soviet Union by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who for more than a decade scribbled notes from the secret police’s most closely held files.
When Mitrokhin defected to Great Britain in 1992, British, American and German investigators began piecing together the information to look for spies. They focused on Trofimoff using details of a valuable Soviet spy known as ”Markiz,” ”Konsul” and ”Antey” who worked in the same Army unit as Trofimoff and who was recruited by a Russian priest.
As authorities closed in, Trofimoff was captured on videotape in 1999 putting his hand to his heart and telling an undercover agent posing as a Russian agent: ”I’m not American in here.”
Trofimoff was living in a military retirement community in Melbourne on a $71,000 annual Army pension when he was arrested.
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