Ex-FBI Man Tells of Park Tryst in Westwood With Accused Spy
Former FBI agent Richard W. Miller testified Wednesday that he went to the beach in Malibu with accused Soviet spy Svetlana Ogorodnikova the day he first met her and had sex with her in his car at a Little League baseball park in Westwood a few days later.
Miller, the first FBI agent ever charged with espionage, described his initial contacts with Ogorodnikova in late May, 1984, after first admitting to a series of thefts and minor swindles involving his own relatives, as well as people he met in his job.
Repeatedly volunteering the opinion that he was “stupid,” Miller frequently responded to questions from Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce G. Merritt by saying he couldn’t remember events from the past. On every occasion, Merritt produced documents, or Miller’s own statements, to refresh his memory.
Miller is charged with passing secret FBI documents to Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolai, and faces his own trial later this summer as an alleged spy. He testified Wednesday in the couple’s trial under a grant of immunity that guarantees that his statements will not be used against him.
Merritt established that Miller was “unhappy” after being suspended twice and threatened with dismissal for being overweight.
“I’m a complainer,” Miller said, when asked if he had discussed his unhappiness with other agents. “I like to complain . . . I like to complain a lot. . . .”
Merritt attempted to show that Miller had serious financial problems at the time he allegedly conspired to sell FBI documents for a promised $65,000 in cash and gold.
Miller, who has eight children and earned about $50,000 as an FBI agent, said his financial problems were no more serious than those of anyone with a similar income and a large family to support.
Under the prosecutor’s relentless questioning, Miller denied any recollection of frequently borrowing money from other agents and said he could not remember an incident when he attempted to borrow $500 from an agent he had just met in San Diego.
“Didn’t he say he wouldn’t loan you $500, but he’d loan you $25?” Merritt asked.
“I don’t recall,” Miller said.
Turning to Miller’s relations with his family, the prosecutor asked the former agent if he remembered an agreement with an uncle who had invented a foot massage device and who had asked for Miller’s help in selling it.
“It was sort of a favor to him,” Miller said.
“And you didn’t give the money to Uncle Hank. You pocketed it, didn’t you?” Merritt demanded.
“Yes,” Miller said.
As the questioning continued, Miller admitted taking a $113 Social Security check from his wife’s grandmother, selling FBI information to an employee of a Riverside private investigator and cheating an FBI informant known as Mary out of $500.
“Being an elderly lady, she wasn’t able to see that well, so she did not detect the amount,” Miller explained.
In addition to his sexual involvement with Ogorodnikova, which continued until shortly before his arrest last Oct. 2, Miller also admitted a sexual relationship with a woman named Marta Williams, who visited the Los Angeles area last September and spent time with Miller while he was under investigation for his alleged espionage activities.
Typical of Miller’s difficulties on the witness stand Wednesday was a question by Merritt as to whether Miller had been “almost obsessed with the idea of making money.” After Miller’s denial, Merritt then played a tape recording of a conversation between Miller and Williams last Sept. 17.
“I’m almost obsessed with the idea of making money,” Miller said in the conversation, which was recorded by an FBI eavesdropping device planted in Miller’s car.
Miller claimed that he was first contacted by Ogorodnikova May 24, 1984, and that he was advised by his FBI supervisor immediately following his initial meeting to “proceed with caution” in his dealings with her. That testimony conflicts with FBI statements that Miller was told to have no contact at all with Ogorodnikova and to report any phone calls from her to him at FBI headquarters in Westwood.
The ex-agent said he allowed her to buy him lunch at their first meeting in violation of FBI policies, failed to inform his superiors that she was waiting for him in his car while he discussed how to handle her and did not report having sex with her at their second meeting in late May.
“Is this what you regarded at the time as proceeding with caution?” Merritt asked.
“No, I call that stupid,” Miller said, adding that he did not report having sex with Ogorodnikova because, “We make enough stupid mistakes in life without telling people about it.”
Miller’s testimony will continue today.