(CN) — An acclaimed molecular biologist from Mexico agreed Friday to defer bail and remain in pretrial detention on charges that he spied on a U.S. informant on behalf of the Russian government.
Accused of carrying out an espionage mission for Russia in Miami, researcher Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes will remain jailed for now.
The federal public defender’s office confirmed by phone that Cabrera, a Mexican citizen, agreed during a Friday hearing to stay in pretrial detention on a tentative basis. The office declined further comment.
Cabrera’s arraignment is scheduled for March 3.
One of the counts against him — illegally acting as an agent of a foreign government — carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. A second charge, conspiracy to commit a crime against the U.S. government, has a maximum five-year sentence.
Prosecutors claim Cabrera was sent by the Russian government to Miami to infiltrate a condo community where a confidential informant for the U.S. government lived. According to the arrest records, Russia may have targeted the informant because he or she had provided information to the U.S. about Russian intelligence operations.
Prosecutors say Cabrera’s assignment was to rent a condo unit near the informant’s residence. He was also supposed to record the informant’s vehicle license plate number, according to the court documents.
Last December, the scientist made arrangements to lease the unit through an associate, transferring $20,000 for rent and a down payment, the arrest records state.
Then, on Feb. 13, Cabrera and his wife flew into Miami. They went to the condo community in a rental car, tailed a vehicle into the property and snapped a photo of the informant’s license plate, prosecutors claim. Security staff questioned them and kicked them out.
Cabrera was detained on Feb. 16 upon trying to leave Miami International Airport for Mexico City. He was interviewed by the FBI, at which point he allegedly disclosed a history of extensive contact with a Russian individual who he believed to be working for a Russian intelligence agency.
He purportedly told the FBI that the Russian official approached him in mid-2019 while he was visiting a second wife, who was being denied the right to leave Russia. The official apparently had copies of Cabrera’s personal emails, according to Cabrera’s purported statements to the FBI.
The official dangled the possibility of allowing Cabrera’s second wife to leave Russia as an incentive to get him to go on the surveillance assignment, according to the arrest records.
The court documents do not specify whether Cabrera allegedly knew who the surveillance target was.
Cabrera is a Mexican-born researcher who studied molecular biology at Kazan State University in Russia before obtaining his doctorate in Germany, according to an online professional profile. He has contributed to dozens of scientific publications related to molecular biology, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory responses and immunology.
He won a SERVIER-International Society of Heart Research fellowship in 2016.
Cabrera was working in Singapore in the time leading up to his arrest, according to the court documents.