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exclusive – A member of the US Congress and a group of elected, bipartisan and bicameral officials have pleaded with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to include Mark Fogel of Pennsylvania — who is being held in Russia — in a potential deal to repatriate Americans held there, Fox News has learned.
U.S. Representative Jay Richenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican, sent a letter to Blinken on Wednesday requesting that Vogel, a longtime teacher, be included in the government’s potential deal with Russia for a Marine Corps exchange. Veteran Paul Whelan and NBA athlete Britney Grenier, both of whom are also detained there, because of the Russian criminals being held in the United States, at least 10 other members of the Pennsylvania delegation, including Senator Pat Tomey, signed the letter.
“Mr. Fogel has taught history courses in schools attended by children of American diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and for the past ten years in Russia,” Reichenthaler wrote in the letter obtained by Fox News Digital. Upon returning to Russia in August 2021 to continue his decade-long position at an Anglo-American school in Moscow, Mr. Fogel was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport with just over half an ounce of medical marijuana, which was prescribed in We.
A US State Department spokesperson told Fox New Digital that “as a general matter, we do not comment on communications with Congress.”
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“We stand united – both parties and both houses of Congress – in the desire to get this Pennsylvania back,” Reichenthaler told Fox News Digital on Thursday.
Fogel, 60, is serving what lawyers describe as an “exorbitant” 14-year prison term for being caught in Russia using medical marijuana he used to treat a severe back injury. When news broke that the US government was working on a deal to repatriate Americans detained in Russia, his family and representatives hoped Fogel would be on that list — and were devastated to learn otherwise.
“[It] It was so painful, I heard it wasn’t included, Vogel’s sister, Ann Vogel-Porchenal, told Fox News Digital on Friday.
Britney Greiner’s wife received a call from President Joe Biden, but Mr. Fogel’s family struggled even to receive a response from the State Department.
Fogel was arrested in August 2021. In June of this year, he was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison after being convicted of “large-scale drug smuggling,” officials and reports said.
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Blinken revealed last week that the United States had offered to cut a deal with Russia in exchange for two Americans, WNBA athlete Britney Greiner — who was also detained at a Russian airport on drug charges — and Michigan security executive Paul Whelan, who serves. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage, which his family rejected outright.
But Fogel was not included in the deal.
An attorney assisting the Vogel family in his case told Fox News Digital in an email that Vogel “fully cooperated with the investigation and prosecution; providing strong evidence of previous medical treatment, debilitating health conditions, and his doctor’s recommendation of medical marijuana.”
His representatives shared dozens of reference letters and evidence showing his lack of any criminal record.
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“However, the verdict of 14-year-old Mark, which is usually reserved for large-scale drug traffickers and murderers even in Russian courts, made it very clear that Mark could not get justice in Russia,” the lawyer wrote.
“Given Mark’s age and state of health, a 14-year sentence in a Russian prison colony is, at best, a life sentence, and at worst, a death sentence,” the lawyer continued. “We strongly believe that Mark should be involved in any exchange deal negotiated by the United States and Russia,” he added.
The family requested from the United States Ministry of Foreign Affairs To classify Vogel as “unjustly detained”. The lawyer said that the appointment “Additional US government resources will be allocated to secure his release and move to the jurisdiction of the US Government’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.”
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Reichenthaler told Fox News Digital by phone Thursday that he was “surprised that the administration was not interested in Mr. Fogel.”
“You see their priorities on display when they jump into action for a celebrity, famous athlete. But when you have a Marine at Mr. Whelan, and you have Mark Fogel, a teacher from what they consider an upper country, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, those two are put on the back burner. “. “I will commend the administration for including… Whelan in this prisoner exchange deal now. However, Mr. Vogel should always have been included.”
Reschenthaler wrote in his letter that while Griner’s wife received a phone call from President Biden himself, “Mr. Fogel’s family struggled even to receive a response from the State Department.”
“Although he may not have the reputation of a famous WNBA athlete, we believe it is imperative that the Biden administration work to safely return Mr. Vogel to his family home,” Reschenthaler wrote in his letter. “As members of Congress representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we strongly urge the State Department to immediately designate Mr. Fogel as unjustly detained and to ensure that he participates in any negotiations to repatriate American prisoners in Russia.”
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Vogel’s sister, Ann Fogel-Purchenal, told Fox News Digital Thursday that she and her family are “delighted that the Pennsylvania statesman is coming forward for fellow Pennsylvanian Mark Vogel.”
“People are coming together for someone who has had a huge positive impact on the world,” she added.
His other sister, Lisa Hyland, said she was “encouraged, but won’t really be able to say hope until the appointment is official.”