Family of Marc Fogel finds Washington ‘sympathetic’
Butler native Marc Fogel’s family has been fighting for his release from a Russian prison for three years.
His mother, Malphine, and sister, Anne, spent May 15 through 18 in Washington, D.C., telling Marc’s story to members of Congress.
“I think we had a very fruitful meeting with everybody,” Malphine said. “They just were very interested and sympathetic, and we ran our tails off, but everyone was very, very welcoming.”
Fogel, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate, had been living and working as a teacher in Russia since 2012. He was detained on a return trip in August 2021 for carrying about one-half ounce of medical marijuana, prescribed for chronic pain.
He was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Anne said the trip may sponsor legislation in Marc’s name.
“We’re hoping that new legislation in Marc’s name will put a time limit on the State Department in determining wrongful detention status and will also require an explanation of how they came to their conclusion,” Anne said.
Malphine said they talked to U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th, representing the county.
Malphine said Fetterman seemed surprised at Marc’s plight, and that Kelly has been very kind to the family.
Matt Knoedler, a spokesman for Kelly, said the meeting was “productive.”
“We will continue to push the Biden administration for Marc Fogel’s safe return to the United States and demand they include Mr. Fogel in any future negotiations with the Russian government,” Knoedler said.
Kelly has repeatedly called on the State Department to recognize Fogel as wrongfully detained, including introducing a resolution for transparency in their investigation.
“But as far as the Congress, all the members of Congress said they were going to get in touch with the State Department because it’s their duty, and they felt the sentence way outdoes the crime,” Malphine said. “And, you know, they were all sympathetic about that.”
The trip to the nation’s capital was organized with the assistance of lobbyist Vicki Iseman, Malphine said.
Iseman, also an alumni of IUP, got in contact with the family via university President Michael Driscoll.
“She flew up from Florida, and she arranged all these meetings, and she knew her way around Washington, so we were able to go and get around pretty well,” Malphine said. “The next day we met with probably 25 congressman.”
In addition to sharing Marc’s story with the representatives, Malphine said Iseman encouraged them to recognize Marc’s birthday this summer.
“Marc has a birthday on the 28th of July, so she was trying to convince them to wish him a ‘happy birthday’ on the Senate floor,” Malphine said. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but they all wrote the date down — so it might happen.”
Another visit, this time a rally, is planned for July 15, according to Malphine.
“It’s going to be in front of the White House,” Malphine said. “We’re working on getting a bus to go down.”
She said Anne has acquired a permit for the demonstration and that it was being organized by Debra Zarnick, wife of one of Marc’s best friends, Tom Zarnick.
“We’re hoping to fill a bus, I don’t know if we will,” Malphine said. “Congress is in session that week, that’s why we picked that date, so that’s coming up.”
While they wait, Anne reiterated the visit’s value.
“The trip to D.C. went well,” she said. “We felt heard, but we know that our next steps are the same as the last. We will be regulars in D.C. petitioning our representatives until Marc is designated or out of Russia.”