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Cuban Spy Sentenced to Life in Prison - 2001-12-13

In Miami, Florida, the convicted leader of a Cuban spy ring has been sentenced to life in prison. He was the head of Havana's so-called "Wasp Network" that passed secrets to the communist-led island from south Florida for much of the 1990s. Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced 36-year-old Gerardo Hernandez to life in prison.

Addressing the court before hearing his sentence, Hernandez denied any wrongdoing and labeled his trial a "propaganda show." He said pressure from Miami's politically-potent Cuban exile community had led to his prosecution.

In June, Hernandez and four other defendants were convicted of operating as foreign agents and conspiring to penetrate U.S. military bases. Hernandez was also found guilty of involvement in the 1996 Cuban shootdown of two unarmed planes operated by Cuban exiles over the Florida Straits. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Hernandez passed along the exiles' flight plans to the Cuban Government days before the shootdown occurred.

Defense lawyers for the spies maintained their clients' primary mission was to monitor what they termed exile extremists who had violated Cuban airspace in the past and backed terrorist campaigns on the island.

Four other convicted spies are still awaiting sentencing. Five others received lesser sentences in return for cooperating with federal authorities. Four others were indicted for espionage but have not been apprehended. They are believed to be in Cuba.