American held in Russian penal colony for months but still not labeled 'wrongfully detained,' family says


The family of detained American Marc Fogel have urged the Biden administration to finally reclassify the 60-year-old school teacher as “wrongfully detained” after he was allegedly moved to a Russian prison colony. 

“Despite regular communications with the State Department, and the U.S. Senator Bob Casey’s effort to push for the reclassification of Marc Fogel’s case as ‘wrongfully detained,’ which was joined by a bipartisan coalition of legislators, Marc is yet to be declared wrongfully detained,” Lisa Hyland, Fogel’s sister, told Fox News Digital. 

“Marc’s family received no explanations as to why,” Hyland continued. “There has been no movement from the administration. The family is deeply disappointed and frustrated by the Administration’s failure to designate Marc as wrongfully detained. We simply don’t understand it.”

Fogel, a Pennsylvania native, had worked in Moscow as a teacher for 10 years when he was arrested for possession of medical marijuana while going through an airport. A Russian court rejected his appeal and upheld his current 14-year sentence, which he is set to serve out in an unknown prison colony. 

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His family have tried to push for his status as “wrongfully detained,” while the State Department in August only filed for humanitarian release, citing his age and multiple debilitating health conditions. 

At the time, the family’s attorney, Sasha Phillips, criticized the State Department for not going far enough and leaving “all decision-making to the discretion of the Russian government.” 

Marc Fogel, right, with his family

Marc Fogel, right, with his family
(Photos courtesy Ellen Keelan and Lisa Hyland)

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., highlighted Fogel’s status and compared it to the greater attention that WNBA player Brittney Griner and retired marine Paul Whelan have gotten – relatively high-profile detainee cases, compared to Fogel. 

“I’m not asking for Marc Fogel to be prioritized above those two individuals,” Reschenthaler said during a call-in appearance on the KDKA morning show. “I just want him to be in this prisoner swap and elevated to wrongfully detained [status] so we can bring him home.” 

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Fogel and Griner remain in Russian custody on drug charges related to possession of marijuana – an offense that President Biden this week moved to decriminalize as he ordered marijuana reclassified and pardoned all minor federal offenders. 

Reschenthaler, who had served as a magisterial district judge from 2013 to 2015, highlighted the Levinson Act, which established official bodies and processes to formally release hostages, and the criteria that the act outlined for someone to qualify as “wrongfully detained.” 

From left to right: Marc Fogel, Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan

From left to right: Marc Fogel, Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan
(Photo provided/Getty Images)

“I could prosecute this case any day of the week and win,” Reschenthaler claimed. “Fogel only had a little over half an ounce of marijuana, yet he was sentenced to 14 years hard labor – by the way, he had a prescription for that, legal in Pennsylvania, so it wasn’t like he was trafficking drugs.”

Reschenthaler said such sentences were generally reserved for drug traffikers and noted that that alone “should get him the wrongfully detained status and make him eligible in the hostage negotiation.”

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Reschenthaler also claimed that Russian courts had denied Fogel due process. 

Hyland backed up this claim, asserting that Fogel had not gotten a proper chance in the Russian legal system, relaying his attorney’s report that Fogel was “completely crushed by the lack of justice.” 

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. 
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

“Marc’s deteriorating health and lack of proper medical care and attention remains our main concern,” Hyland said, adding the various concerns that a transfer to a prison colony can entail. 

“All transfers between Russian detention facilities and penal colonies are incredibly dangerous and difficult,” Hyland explained. “The travel is never quick, the journey often takes weeks and includes long, uncomfortable hours on the road.”

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“Transfer vehicles and temporary holding facilities are usually poorly supervised, with stronger and more experienced prisoners taking over the law enforcement roles,” she continued. “Marc’s Russian attorney created a disturbing ‘guidance’ for Marc, which is designed to caution him against offending his fellow inmates, but in reality underscores the horrors of the transfer.”

“As you would expect, we are all devastated. We are completely cut off from Marc and worried sick about his physical and mental health.”

Fox News’ Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report. 

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