Third Espionage Trial Begins for Former FBI Agent
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Richard W. Miller turned to espionage out of frustration with his life and career and his infatuation with a Soviet spy, a prosecutor alleged Wednesday as the former FBI agent’s third trial began.
″His brand of espionage was a crime of dollars and cents. It was a crime of lust. It was a crime of dissatisfaction. For him, it was even a crime of boredom,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Schiff said in opening statement.
Most of all, the prosecutor added, it was crime of ″pure selfishness and self-interest.″
Miller’s defense attorney, Joel Levine, denied the agent had traded secrets for sex and money, and contended he actually started his relationship with a Soviet spy to infiltrate the KGB so he could score points with the FBI.
Miller was ″trying to resurrect his career and, to coin a phrase, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat,″ Levine said in his opening statement.
Miller, wearing a tan suit over his large frame, took notes during opening statements. Two of Miller’s sons sat among the spectators behind him in the courtroom.
The court session Wednesday marked the beginning of the third trial for Miller, the first FBI agent ever accused and convicted of espionage.
His first trial ended in a hung jury and the second resulted in a conviction later overturned by an appeals court because of trial errors.
The latest trial is being held without a jury before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Takasugi, who took over for Judge David Kenyon. After presiding over the first two trials, Kenyon disqualified himself from further action.
The defense had requested Takasugi decide the case to avoid another hung jury that could prompt yet another trial.
Miller, arrested in 1984, was imprisoned for five years before being granted bail in October 1989 by the appellate court. He was released from prison in November 1989 after posting $337,000 bail.
As in the previous trials, attorneys on both sides portrayed Miller as an overweight bumbler of an FBI agent, so absent-minded he once left his keys in front door of an FBI field office when he left for the night.
Once again, the prosecution sought to link Miller’s problems at work to his relationship with Soviet spy Svetlana Ogorodnikov, whom he met in 1984.
Schiff said that in 1984 Miller’s career was down in the dumps: he was spending 40 hours a week listening to wiretaps and had been given a two-week suspension for failing to meet an FBI weight standard.
Miller’s marriage was crumbling, and his financial problems were so bad he was taking out cash advances on his credit card and holding an outside job selling advertising for shopping carts to make ends meet.
″Richard W. Miller was ready for a private rebellion,″ said Schiff. ″The evidence will show that Richard W. Miller did not start his FBI career intending to be a spy, but a spy he became.″
For Miller, Ms. Ogorodinkov offered a solution to all his problems, the prosecutor said.
The two began a sexual relationship, and Miller accepted $65,000 in cash and gold for giving her an FBI document outlining U.S. intelligence goals, Schiff said.
″Miller was infatuated with Svetlana Ogorodnikova. He enjoyed spending time with her, enjoyed sex with her,″ said Schiff. ″...He then saw her as a terrific opportunity to make a quick buck and a very big buck.″
The prosecutor said that when Miller discovered the FBI was on his trail, he admitted several times to passing the document to her, and at one point even referred to ″documents in the plural.″
The validity of the admissions are central to Miller’s defense. Takasugi denied a defense pretrial request to exclude the statements from the trial.
His attorneys contend Miller tried to tell the truth, but that FBI agents, with the preconceived notion he was lying, grilled him until he told them what they wanted to hear.
The defense also pointed to religious admonitions Miller got from his boss, Richard Bretzing, a bishop in the Mormon church. Those admonitions, and other conversations, pressured Miller into an admission, Levine said.
″Mr. Miller became very emotional from (those) admonitions, and, in fact, cried on both occasions,″ said Levine.
Levine noted the FBI had tried in 1982 to use Ms. Ogordnidov to get into the KGB with no success, and details of the investigation were in a file Miller had reviewed.
The defense attorney acknowledged Miller was ″a bad agent in many respects,″ but Levine contended it was Miller’s shortcomings that prompted him to try to infiltrate the KGB without authorization.