Florida Retiree Was Super-Spy, U.S. Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the 14th floor of the federal courthouse here, a strange coda to the Cold War is playing out, its unwilling protagonist a Florida retiree who, until last year, was bagging groceries at a supermarket to help make ends meet.

Frail and nearly bald, 74-year-old George Trofimoff would seem much more at home on a sun-dappled shuffleboard court than sitting in the chair of an accused criminal. But according to U.S. officials, this mild-looking senior citizen was once a super-spy, the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military ever accused of passing secrets to the Russians.

Trofimoff, a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, served as civilian chief of Army operations at an interrogation center in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1969 to 1994. In that post, U.S. officials charge, he surreptitiously passed along more than 50,000 pages of classified documents to the KGB, including lists of U.S. intelligence objectives, assessments of Soviet and Warsaw Pact military capabilities and evaluations of the threat posed by Soviet chemical and biological weapons.

If the superpower rivalry could be compared to football, it was like clandestinely giving the Soviets the U.S. game plan and playbook for the Super Bowl, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Scanlon testified.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Walter E. Furr said Trofimoff was such a find for the Kremlin that when Yuri V. Andropov, KGB chairman from 1967 to 1982, drew up a list of the Soviet espionage agency's most treasured assets, Trofimoff was at the very top.

He also was rewarded with the Order of the Red Banner, a military decoration created by the Soviets to honor exceptional courage, self-denial and valor under fire, U.S. officials say.

"In my soul, I'm Russian," Trofimoff, the German-born offspring of Russian emigres, once proclaimed. "I'm not an American. I was never an American."

When he spoke those lines on Feb. 24, 1999, Trofimoff thought he was talking to a KGB operative. But the man was Dmitri Droujinski, an FBI undercover agent. Their meeting in a hotel room in Melbourne on Florida's Atlantic coast was secretly videotaped by the FBI and shown to a federal jury here last week.

Trofimoff's lawyer counters the spying charges by contending that his client simply invented tall tales of spycraft and derring-do to get what he thought was the KGB's money.

After moving to Florida in 1995 from Germany, Trofimoff fell deeply in debt and talked up nonexistent past services to the Russians in hopes of getting cash to pay off the second mortgage on his $235,000 Melbourne home, defense attorney Daniel Hernandez said.

The charges against Trofimoff are "nothing more than fantasy," Hernandez told the court in his opening statement. "The government will try to make this case into a major production to rival Steven Spielberg."

In truth, said Hernandez, Trofimoff, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is "an American patriot." Like in the biblical tale of David and Goliath, the lawyer predicted Trofimoff will prevail because "his slingshot is his innocence." If convicted, Trofimoff could be sentenced to life in prison.

In the six hours of secretly recorded videotape, Trofimoff told the FBI agent that he was recruited to help the Soviet cause by a close childhood friend who became a prelate in the Russian Orthodox Church based in Vienna.

Using cameras provided by the KGB, Trofimoff allegedly photographed thousands of pages of documents he took home from his workplace overnight. He would allegedly pass along the film to KGB contacts and sometimes to his friend the priest.

For these services, according to U.S. officials, Trofimoff pocketed more than $250,000.

In his videotaped meeting with the FBI undercover agent, Trofimoff says he copied enough documents for the Russians to fill a library and pointed out locations on maps where he met with KGB agents.

Why did he do it? "The money is nice," he answers on the video. "But foremost, I am doing this for the motherland."

In 1994, the Germans arrested Trofimoff on suspicion of espionage but were not able to build a case against him before their country's five-year statute of limitations kicked in. The United States, however, has no similar limit when the suspected crime is spying.

Droujinski began the sting operation against the retired officer in 1997, claiming Trofimoff was in danger because of a KGB operative's defection. Trofimoff resisted getting involved at first, saying he was a physical "wreck" suffering from Alzheimer's disease and high blood pressure, and barely able to walk.

"I've got my last few years," Trofimoff said in one taped telephone conversation from the home he shares with his wife, Jutta, in a Melbourne community for retired officers. "I don't want to end up in jail."

After more than a year and a half of such phone contacts with Droujinski, Trofimoff was enticed to meet the FBI agent at the Melbourne hotel. Their meeting was interrupted when Trofimoff had to leave for his part-time job as a bagger at a local Publix.

In his cross-examination of Droujinski, Trofimoff's lawyer accused the government of taking advantage of his client's money problems to try to get him to make compromising statements.

"The way you were seeking the truth was to offer financial assistance to a man who obviously needed financial assistance, correct?" Hernandez asked. He also contended that Trofimoff's admissions of spying, even if videotaped, are proof of nothing.

"Basically, he was telling you something that was unverifiable," the defense attorney said. "Talk is cheap when you say 'I hit a home run farther than Jose Canseco' but nobody was there to verify it."

Trofimoff was arrested June 14, 2000.

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