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My son is a Russian hostage, mother of US Marine vet says

Trevor Reed (GoFundMe/Released)

Paula Reed warns that Americans traveling to Russia or who are already there should be wary.

Russians are “collecting Americans,” especially those with military backgrounds, in a bid to extract concessions from the U.S. government, the mother says.

Her warnings are born of recent experience. Russians have collected and imprisoned her son, Trevor Reed, a U.S. Marine veteran studying abroad, Paula Reed said.

“Since we know he was just kept as a bargaining chip, we’re hoping our government will intervene,” Paula Reed said.

Trevor Reed, who was was born in Fort Worth and had his 29th birthday on July 5 while incarcerated in Russia, was initially arrested by two Russian police officers after drinking too much vodka at a party.

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Reed said he has no recollection of what happened during and after his arrest for allegedly assaulting the police officers in mid-August 2019, a week before he was to return to Texas, according to his mother.

“He’s not a big drinker,” Paula Reed said.

Trevor Reed has been jailed in Moscow since his arrest, his family says. The investigation and trial, marred by inconsistent statements from Moscow police and the involvement of the FSB, the Russian equivalent of the CIA, has been discredited by U.S. officials.

Trevor Reed’s mother and sister have referred to the Russian judicial process that sentenced Reed as a “Kangaroo court.”

“We were naive,” Paula Reed said. “We thought the judge was on our side. We thought the truth would matter.”

By the end of the trial, Reed had been sentenced to more than nine years in prison. The judge, who purportedly laughed while admonishing police to keep their changing stories straight, reappeared in the court unable to look at Reed’s father as he read the veteran’s sentence aloud, the mother said.

Reed is jailed inside a small locked room with five other men, awaiting the results of his appeal, his mother said. He is allowed outside of that room for one hour a day to exercise, Paula Reed said.

The longer his appeals last, the longer Reed will be housed in Moscow. Once his appeals have concluded, he will likely be transferred to a Russian work camp, his mother said. Her son is safer in Moscow, according to Paula Reed.

The Moscow jail is mostly populated by people who have disagreed with the wishes of a government official, and the criminal element is scant, Paula Reed said.

Regarding travel to Russia, the U.S. Department of State issued its own warning on Aug. 6 that was even more stern than Paula Reed’s.

“U.S. citizens, including former and current U.S. government and military personnel, who are visiting or residing in Russia have been arbitrarily interrogated or detained by Russian officials and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion,” the State Department’s advisory said.

“For this reason, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has advised all U.S. government and Department of Defense personnel to consider carefully travel to Russia. Russian officials may unreasonably delay U.S. consular assistance to detained U.S. citizens.”

Hostage

Trevor Reed was sentenced in a Russian court following a trial in which the prosecution’s case and the evidence presented against him were so preposterous that they provoked laughter in the courtroom, a statement from U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan says.

“This conviction, and a sentence of nine years, for an alleged crime that so obviously did not occur, is ridiculous,” Sullivan’s statement said. “I cannot even say ‘miscarriage of justice’ because clearly ‘justice’ was not even considered. This was theater of the absurd.”

Prior to his arrest, Reed shared a car with his Russian girlfriend, Alina Tsibulnik, and some of her colleagues early on Aug. 16, 2019, but became nauseated and got out of the car near a busy street.

People in the car called the police, worried that Reed would walk into traffic or cause an accident. The police arrived and told his girlfriend they would take Reed to the police station. Tsibulnik and the people she was riding with followed the police car to the station. Once there, the police told Tsibulnik to come back around 9 a.m. to pick Reed up.

By the time Tsibulnik returned to the jail, FSB officers were interrogating Reed, the family said.

“They didn’t ask him anything about being intoxicated or what happened in the police car, they only asked him about his military record,” said Taylor Reed, Reed’s sister, when speaking about the FSB.

According to the Russian police, Reed grabbed the arm of the officer driving the police vehicle and caused it to swerve and enter the oncoming lanes and they feared it would roll over.

Video footage of the route taken that was gathered by Tsibulnik shows that the police car never swerved, the family said.

After Reed’s arrest, Tsibulnik was approached by Moscow police officers who were seeking a bribe, but she declined to participate, the family said. Reed’s mother and sister also maintain that evidence Reed ripped an officer’s shirt was fabricated.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a resolution earlier in August calling for Reed’s immediate release. Senate Resolution 667 states that Reed’s legal team was denied access to police video footage that had the potential to prove his innocence.

According to the resolution, the Constitutional Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Second Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction stated that police violated Russian law when revoking Reed’s bail.

The resolution also says Reed’s defense counsel presented 59 minutes of traffic camera video that showed the police car did not change direction or leave its lane, swerve, stop or slow down during the times in question.

And, while also calling for the release of Paul Whelan, another U.S. Marine veteran jailed in Russia and all political prisoners incarcerated in that country, the resolution also charged that Golovinsky District Court Judge Dmitry Arnout dismissed all defense evidence, witnesses, and government experts and included information from the investigator’s case files that was not discussed or read into the court files during the trial.

Whelan, 50, who received a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Marines in 2008, was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison on espionage charges, according to reporting from the New York Times.

The resolution pointed out that no person had previously been sentenced to more than eight years in prison for a crime in the category of which Reed was accused.

The U.S. Embassy condemned Reed’s conviction, a U.S. Department of State official said in a statement. The State Department has received reports that his transfer to a labor camp could occur any day. Our Embassy in Moscow last spoke with Trevor Reed on Aug. 14, and we continue to press for his fair and humane treatment, and regular contact with U.S. Consular officials.

“Trevor’s health and welfare are of grave concern,” the statement said. “We remain in contact with the Reed family.”

Concerning Whelan, the State Department officials said he was transferred from Lefortovo Prison to a prison in Mordovia and that the U.S. government had serious concerns with the failure of Russian authorities to provide Paul with a fair trial and access to appropriate medical care.

“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict U.S. citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Secretary Pompeo said on June 15. “We have serious concerns that Mr. Whelan was deprived of the fair trial guarantees that Russia is required to provide him in accordance with its international human rights obligations.”

Boy Scout

One of Reed’s last letters said his main goal at the trial was to make sure that everyone in America knew that he was not guilty and that he would never hurt a police officer, his mother said.

“We grew up in a community that was mostly made up of police officers and firefighters and sheriffs,” Paula Reed said.

Trevor Reed’s father, Joey Reed, a retired fire department chief, now works full-time in Russia trying to obtain his son’s release. Once Reed’s release from prison is secured, Joey Reed has told his family he will have to return to work to replenish the retirement fund that has been drained by their ordeal.

Trevor Reed is an eighth-generation Texan who grew up in Tehachapi, California, and graduated from high school there. Reed, who is also an Eagle Scout, has always been a habitually good kid, his mother and sister said.

“He used to put himself in time-out,” his sister, Taylor Reed, said.

A Texas Rangers baseball team fan, Trevor Reed returned to Texas after graduating from high school, and began going to college, according to family. Reed joined the U.S. Marine Corps and received an honorable discharge at the end of his service, the family said.

In 2017, Reed began working toward a degree in International Studies at the University of North Texas, his family said. Reed chose Russian as a foreign language to fulfill a degree requirement and because it was his girlfriend’s native language, the family said.

The idea that her son is being used as a bargaining chip for a possible prisoner swap is a foreign notion to Paula Reed, but she said she is coming to grips with it.

“If they have to trade someone to get him home, if they have to trade five people to get him home, I don’t care. I just want him home,” Paula Reed said.

One of the prison inmates the Russian government might want returned is Viktor Bout, who was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for arms dealing in 2012, according to one of Reed’s supporters.

Bout was extradited to Manhattan after a two-year-long court battle and charged with four counts of conspiracy in connection with arms dealing. It is said that Bout was also the partial blueprint actor Nicolas Cage used to portray the character of Yuri Orlov, a fictitious arms dealer in the 2005 movie “Lord of War.”

Another Russian national, convicted of drug smuggling, may also be a potential trade target, the family says.

A GoFundMe page has been established to offset expenses related to Reed’s legal battle. As of Friday, nearly $25,000 of the fund’s $75,000 goal had been raised.

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© 2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram