A private school teacher jailed for 14 years in Russia after being caught with medical marijuana has blasted Joe Biden’s attempts to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan – but not him.
Marc Fogel, 61, penned a furious letter home to Pittsburgh from his hellish penal colony, writing: ‘Teachers are at least as important as bballers.’
He spoke as his wife Jane and his two nieces attempted to turn up the heat on Biden to push for his release. Fogel was arrested in August 2021 and convicted in January.
‘There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,’ said Fogel’s wife, Jane, to the Washington Post on Wednesday.
And Fogel’s daughter Ellen Keelan told CBS Pittsburgh: ‘I want people to understand this is a death sentence for my uncle. He is 61, he already has these health issues, and we’re talking about a maximum-security prison in Russia. We’re distracted, we’re beside ourselves. We did not see this coming. The only explanation is that this is political.’
Fogel had 17 grams of prescription marijuana hidden in a contact lens case to treat pain following a knee replacement and other injuries.
But the drug is totally forbidden in Russia.
The family of Marc Fogel, pictured earlier this year, have pleaded for US officials to make the same efforts to free him from a Russian jail as they are being afforded to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan
Fogel knew that, his son Ethan said, but believed he could get away with smuggling – only to find himself apprehended and jailed.
He was apprehended as he traveled to work at the $34,000-a-year Anglo-American School of Moscow, in exactly the same part of Sheremetyevo International Airport where Brittney Griner was pulled aside for a similar crime five months later.
Fogel planned to retire at the end of that academic year.
Her worries come after the White House confirmed it was working on a possible prisoner swap to free Griner and American Paul Whelan, who was accused of being a spy in Russia and has been given a 16-year sentence.
Whelan complained of not being treated the same way Griner was, and President Biden eventually gave his sister a call after she took to TV to speak out about it.
Marc Fogel, left, with wife Jane, center left, son Sam, 22, center right, and son Ethan, 24, right. Jane has spoken out for the first time in a bid to bring attention to her husband’s plight
Surveillance footage from the airport shows inspectors with sniffer dogs identifying particular items of interest among Fogel’s luggage in the same baggage area where Griner was detained
Marc Fogel was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in August 2021 (pictured above) after he was found with 17 grams of medicinal marijuana hidden in his suitcase, according to officials
Unlike Whelan and Griner, Fogel is not classified as ‘wrongly detained’ by the US.
His family hopes to achieve that designation, as it would escalate diplomatic attempts to free him.
But they say that so far they’ve only been able to speak with mid-level diplomats who, while well-meaning, are unable to turbocharge the case the way Fogel’s family would like.
‘It’s terrifying,’ Jane continued. ‘I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.’
Like Fogel, Griner was arrested after being caught with a cannabis vape. She’s admitted her crime, with the hearing ongoing to decide on her sentence.
Jane, 60, says she feels like a ‘widow’ since her husband’s imprisonment, and lamented she wants the US government to ‘work for us, too.’
Fogel, 60, has been languishing in the Russian prison system for the last 11 months after he was caught smuggling medically prescribed marijuana into Russia in August 2021.
In June, Fogel was handed a stunning 14-year sentence by a Russian judge, who accused him of trying to bring marijuana into the country to sell to his students.
Fogel was accused of using his diplomatic status as a former member of the US Embassy in Moscow to potentially run a ‘drug smuggling route’ into Russia’s capital.
Another video showed investigators rummaging through his belongings in his office at the elite $34,000-a-year school premises in Moscow.
Documents and personal items, including a baseball hat, were later recovered from his office.
The Russians also claim Fogel’s wife Jane sought to remove evidence from their home before it was reached by police.
Footage allegedly shows her disposing of evidence.
‘She took a bundle out of the house and threw it in the trash, and later took it outside the residential complex,’ said a RIA Novosti report citing local law enforcement.
Fogel and his wife were protected under diplomatic status until May 2021, the Russian Interior Ministry added.
Jane has since returned to Pittsburgh.
The couple have two sons, Sam, 22, and Ethan, 24, who had both attended the Anglo-American School in Moscow.
The prestigious academy traditionally serves the children of expats, including diplomats, in Moscow as well as enrolling those from wealthy Russian families.
Fogel has been teaching internationally since the mid 1990’s, providing education in International Baccalaureate history courses for children of diplomats in faraway places like Venezuela and Oman.
Fogel has two sons, Sam, 22, and Ethan, 24, who had both attended the Anglo-American School in Moscow
A smiling Marc Fogel pictured holding his match day ticket in front of Luzhniki stadium before a World Cup match in 2018
Fogel had been prescribed the marijuana after several surgeries and years of pain, and the teacher expressed unwillingness to use opioids to deal with his pains.
Fogel, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is currently in the limelight due to WNBA star Brittney Griner landing in Russian prison after she tried to bring a small amount of marijuana into the country.
Griner’s plight has grabbed headlines and warranted attention from the White House, but Fogel and his family feel he may get left behind as the US negotiates a prisoner swap to get Griner out of Russia.
Griner has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing, though his wife has had personal phone calls with President Joe Biden about Griner’s case.
Russia is looking to see arms trafficker Viktor Bout – portrayed by Nicholas Cage in the movie Lord of War – who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US, returned home.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Russia, 27 July 2022. Hope for Griner’s release has grown since the White House confirmed it is negotiating a possible prisoner swap
Paul Whelan, a former US marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020. Whelan is to be included in a prisoner swap deal with WNBA star Griner
Whelan stands at his trial in 2018 and displays messages on a piece of paper, including calling the Russian trial a ‘sham’ and calling for action from the US President
News of the possible swap reached Marc in Russia, and he said it ‘hurt’ to be seemingly left out of discussions.
Fogel was prescribed medical marijuana in 2021 and decided to return to Russia to teach for one more year before retiring.
He tried to bring 14 vape cartridges of medical marijuana into his suitcase, stuffing some in his shoes.
He also placed some cannabis flower into a contact lens case before being apprehended at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
His wife says she caught up with him in the security line and could tell something was wrong from the way he was breathing: ‘Jane, I’m really in trouble,’ he said at the time.
Bringing marijuana into a country with strict laws for bidding it was a big risk, and Marc’s son, Ethan, says there’s a simple explanation for why he tried it: ‘he thought he could get away with it.’
Marc kept a diary when he was first imprisoned, writing about the rollercoaster of emotions he experienced when unsure of what his punishment would be.
He wrote about his confusion over being constantly transferred between detention centers, a ‘guardian angel’ who provided him with food and creating his own games out of gruel bowls and apricots.
Fogel theorized the Russian authorities were trying to ‘break him’ by forcing him to be miserable, and he admitted ‘I feel it in my bones, my soul, it teems throughout my body.’
He also said his ‘crying has carved new lines,’ and spoke of a ‘lack of empathy from these heartless bastards,’ referring to the Russians imprisoning him.