A private school teacher from the United States who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in Russia after being found in possession of medical marijuana said he feels “hurt” about President Joe Biden’s attempts to liberate basketball players Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner but not him.
To relieve pain brought on by a knee replacement and other injuries, Marc Fogel had 17 grams of medical marijuana concealed inside a contact lens box.
However, marijuana is strictly prohibited in Russia and is subject to heavy fines.
Marc Fogel, 61, wrote a furious letter to his hometown of Pittsburgh from his penal colony in Russia stating:
‘Teachers are at least as important as bballers.’
Fogel spoke as his wife Jane and his two nieces attempted to turn up the pressure on Biden to push for his release from Russian custody after he was arrested in August 2021 and convicted in January 2022.
The White House on Wednesday 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.
‘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, July 27.
Fogel’s niece 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 distraught, we’re beside ourselves. We did not see this coming. The only explanation is that this is political.’
Fogel knew that it was illegal but believed he could get away with smuggling only to find himself apprehended and jailed.
He was arrested after 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 according to his wife.
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.
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.
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.