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A Miami attorney and his client, the duped wife in a sham marriage to a Cuban spy, are believed to be the first creditors to use provisions of recent anti-terrorism legislation successfully to attach the property of a foreign government to collect a judgment under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. “We made a little bit of history,” asserted attorney Scott W. Leeds of Miami’s Leeds, Colby & Paris following a recent sheriff’s auction in Key West, Fla., of a rickety Cuban-owned biplane. The opportunity to treat a sovereign government like a common debtor is just the most recent twist in a unique litigation that unfolded as a combination of spy novel and soap opera in Martinez v. Republic of Cuba, No. 99-18208 (Miami-Dade Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.). Leeds applied the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to sue the government of Cuba for sexual battery and win a $27 million judgment for Ana Margarita Martinez, 41. Leeds successfully argued that the Cuban government is liable to the claim of sexual battery because its agent, Juan Pablo Roque, a man Martinez believed was a Cuban defector, courted and married her as part of a spy plot to infiltrate the group Brothers to the Rescue. The anti-Castro organization, based in South Florida, is comprised of volunteer pilots who conduct regular air searches of the open ocean between Florida and Cuba, looking for people making the perilous crossing in rafts and small boats. Roque, a former Cuban air force pilot, met Martinez in a church and married her in 1995 as part of his assumed identity, Leeds said. About $90 million in Cuban assets are frozen in the United States, but the State Department has never allowed the money to be used to pay claims, preferring to keep it as a bargaining chip, Leeds said. He lacked any avenue for collecting the $27 million judgment, until November when the Antonov-2 landed in Key West with a defecting family after a harrowing, wave-top flight from Cuba. “When the plane landed in Key West, I came up with the idea to attach the aircraft,” Leeds said. What followed has been the collision of mundane debt-collection procedures with the protections granted sovereign governments. Only recent provisions of anti-terrorism legislation tilted matters in favor of Leeds and his client. Leeds filed a writ of attachment, the first step in seizing assets to satisfy a judgment, but took the extra step of obtaining a court order specifying the aircraft as exempt from the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. He filed papers with the Monroe County sheriff’s department in Key West to have the plane auctioned, much as someone would in a mortgage foreclosure. A CALL FROM STATE The process was knocked off track by a phone call from the State Department warning that attaching the aircraft was forbidden by the Trading with the Enemy Act, Leeds said. After a review of newly passed anti-terrorism legislation allowing “victims of terrorism” to attach the property of foreign governments “sponsoring terrorism,” the State Department withdrew its objection, he said. The auction was a symbolic victory but did nothing to help pay the judgment. The bidding was lackluster, in part because the plane has no chance of meeting Federal Aviation Administration standards for airworthiness and in part because of a $16,000 lien filed by Monroe County to cover storage and security costs. When the highest bid offered was a mere $6,500, Leeds purchased the plane on behalf of Martinez for $7,000, which is credited against the $27 million judgment. He is challenging the validity of the lien and, once that is cleared up, Martinez will either sell the airplane or donate it to a museum, Leeds said. “This was never a serious attempt to satisfy the judgment,” he said. “[B]ut Ana was thrilled she could make a statement, so to speak.”

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