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RETIRED Army officer convicted of spying for Soviets, faces life in prison

Updated:

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A retired Army Reserve officer was convicted Tuesday of smuggling military documents to the Soviet Union over 25 years, becoming one of the Cold War's most prolific master spies.

The jury deliberated just two hours before finding George Trofimoff, 74, guilty of a single federal espionage charge. He faces life in prison.

Trofimoff, a retired colonel, is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be arrested on spy charges. He was arrested a year ago trying to collect money he thought was coming from the Russians.

Trofimoff insisted that he never was a spy, but was forced to pretend to be one because of money problems. Some jurors laughed at his testimony Monday.

Trofimoff served as chief of the Army interrogation center in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1968 until 1994, when he was arrested by German authorities for spying. Charges were dropped when authorities could not prove spying occurred before the five-year statute of limitations expired.

The center regularly housed volumes of secret briefing documents that detailed what the United States knew and didn't know about its Soviet adversaries and other Warsaw Pact nations.

Among the information prosecutors said Trofimoff passed to the Soviets were details of what the United States knew about their military preparedness, which exposed potential American sources and gave the Soviets an opportunity to change how they prepared for war.

A former KGB general has described Trofimoff as one of the Soviet Union's top spies during the 1970s.

``George Trofimoff wasn't an accidental spy. He wasn't casual and he wasn't a sloppy spy,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Ingersoll told jurors Monday during closing arguments. ``In a very real sense he was the perfect spy.''

Trofimoff was recruited as a spy by Igor Susemihl, a high-ranking priest for the Moscow-controlled branch of the Russian Orthodox church. Susemihl also was arrested and freed in 1994; he died five years later.

Trofimoff, who married five times, concealed his activities for 25 years from U.S. authorities and his wives. He controlled access to the documents and carefully copied them at night in his basement.

Trofimoff's defense attorney said the retiree is a patriot who desperately needed money and who made up a rich tale of spying to collect cash from a man he thought was a Russian official.

Trofimoff testified that it was a ``coincidence'' that in his meeting with an undercover FBI agent he was able to provide the correct first names of several KGB agents whose pictures were shown.

``If he had asked me 'Did you give us the Brooklyn Bridge?' I would have told him 'yes,''' Trofimoff said Monday.

Trofimoff, a Melbourne resident who lived in an exclusive development for military retirees, was working as a grocery store bagger when he was indicted.
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