Family of Oakmont man detained in Russia demands answers, pleads for his freedom

PITTSBURGH — It’s been almost a year since Marc Fogel was on his way to teach his 10th year at the Anglo American School in Moscow. The Oakmont man was detained after arriving at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

The 61-year-old was in possession of about 17 grams of medical marijuana, prescribed to treat chronic pain from a spinal condition.

The Russian government charged Fogel with drug smuggling and drug possession and sentenced him to 14 years in a maximum security prison.

Fogel’s sister Anne says she’s only been able to communicate with her brother through letters.

“It’s been brutal on the entire family,” she said. “Of course it’s censored, and we aren’t terribly comfortable writing about significant things. So I think he’s really in the dark, which is heartbreaking.”

Attorney Sasha Phillips, who is assisting Fogel family in the case, told Channel 11 this is a sentence typically reserved for high-volume drug traffickers and murderers.

Anne Fogel fears her brother won’t survive behind bars.

“He has been sent to a work camp, and I don’t know that he is able to do manual labor. I don’t know if these camps are meant to be survived, either,” said Fogel. “We were advised by the state department to keep a low profile over the past year, which we did, thinking that the Russians really wouldn’t be interested in Marc as a political pawn. But the sentencing shows that that’s not accurate.”

Earlier in the week, CNN reported that the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, asking for the release of basketball player Brittany Griner and former corporate security executive Paul Whelan.

The exchange would be for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

“We strongly believe that Marc Fogel should absolutely be included in any exchange plans along with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. We want to see them back home in the United States,” said Attorney Phillips. “But we also want to see Marc come home and be reunited with his family as well.”

Fogel’s family has created a change.org petition in an attempt to get him included in the deal. They hope that with enough signatures, they’ll gain the attention of Biden.

“He needs to be designated ‘wrongly detained,’ and then hopefully he will be considered part of the swap that’s taking place right now. I just hope we aren’t too late,” said Fogel. “If everybody in Pittsburgh can yell really loudly that this isn’t fair, … then maybe we can make an impact.”

Philips says that the Russian counsel who represents Fogel in Moscow filed an appeal and are prepared to argue it. However, they are pursuing diplomatic outlets and relying on the U.S. government to bring Fogel home via an exchange or any other way possible.

To sign the petition, visit the change.org campaign here.

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