Former FBI Agent Richard W. Miller was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for espionage by a federal judge in Los Angeles, who also took a slap at the FBI for allowing an agent of “susceptible qualities” to hold a sensitive counterintelligence position.
Miller, 54, the only FBI agent ever convicted of espionage, was found guilty last October of passing secret documents to the Soviet Union in exchange for a promised $65,000 in gold and cash.
Miller, declared U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi, “betrayed a national trust.”
Takasugi criticized the FBI for assigning the agent to the FBI’s Soviet foreign counterintelligence squad in the agency’s Los Angeles office. In that capacity, Miller had access to classified documents.
“I truly wonder why the FBI allowed Mr. Miller to serve in this capacity knowing full well of his susceptible qualities,” Takasugi told the packed courtroom.
Miller, Takasugi said, “was out of control. He was fully out of control.”
The FBI’s special agent in charge of its Los Angeles office, Lawrence G. Lawler, took issue with the judge’s comments.
“We didn’t know of his susceptible qualities until the case came to us,” Lawler said in a telephone interview after sentencing.
“Perhaps,” Lawler said, “we were naive in assuming” that the FBI would never have to confront one of its agents on espionage allegations.
Lawler added: “It’s easy to say now his susceptibility had been shown to us, that we should have known. But, in fact, we didn’t at the time.”
Before he was sentenced, the bespectacled Miller, dressed in a dark gray suit and a tie with a bright red flower design, delivered a lengthy apology to the court, his relatives, the FBI and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from which he was excommunicated in 1984 for adultery.
Punctuated by emotional pauses, Miller said he wanted to publicly apologize “for all the pain and suffering and agony and torment that my actions have caused.
“I apologize to all my co-workers at the FBI for all the agony and grief this case has caused them. . . . Most of all, I apologize to my heavenly father. You can offend a lot of people, but you can’t offend God.”
After being sentenced, Miller was led away by assistant U.S. marshals, his wrists cuffed behind his back. He declined to talk to reporters.
Under the law, Miller could be freed in less than two years because he would become eligible for parole after serving one-third of the 20-year sentence. He already has credit for serving five years in federal prison as his case wound through the courts.
The lead government prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. Adam B. Schiff, made clear it was not the sentence he wanted.
Schiff told the court Monday that the bottom line of Miller’s actions represented “one of the most critical betrayals of the national trust we have seen in years.” Schiff had sought the maximum penalty for the four espionage counts and two bribery counts on which Miller was found guilty: two concurrent life terms plus 50 years.
In 1986, after Miller’s second trial and conviction, U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon imposed such a sentence, only to see it overturned.
After the court session, Schiff said a long prison term “was warranted, because (Miller) was an agent entrusted with guarding against espionage.” A long sentence, he said, would have sent a strong message to would-be government spies. Takasugi’s decision, he said, sent “a far more ambiguous message.”
One of Miller’s defense attorneys, Joel Levine, said: “I can’t really say the court was unjust. I think this judge tried to do what was fair.”
It took the government three trials, and more than six years, to convict Miller, who was portrayed by defense attorneys as a blundering, plodding agent who harbored a fantasy to become a sort of James Bond super-operative by infiltrating the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence service.
As it turned out, Miller ended up having a sexual affair and espionage misadventures with a Soviet spy, Svetlana Ogorodnikova, who, the prosecution charged, lured Miller into betraying his profession and country.
Miller’s first trial ended with a deadlocked jury in November, 1985. The following year, a federal court jury in Los Angeles convicted him, but that decision was overturned by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in April, 1989, on the grounds that jurors were allowed to hear too much testimony about Miller’s lie detector tests.
Ogorodnikova pleaded guilty to espionage and is in an East Coast prison where she is serving an 18-year sentence.
Miller had been allowed to remain free on $337,000 bail after his conviction. He has been living in the Downey home of his sister, Maryann Deem, who was in the courtroom Monday along with one of Miller’s eight children, his son, Tres.
Miller’s other defense attorney, Stanley Greenberg, said his client appeared relieved after the sentencing. He said Miller turned to him and declared: “That’s certainly a lot better than the last time.”