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Lawsuit urges Dept. of State to take action on teacher Marc Fogel’s case

Fogel set up by informant, school targeted as ‘foreign agent,’ lawsuit alleges
Malphine Fogel is reflected in a mirror in her home while discussing her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a news conference at her home in Butler on Thursday, June 20. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

BUTLER TWP — The aim of the lawsuit filed by the 95-year-old mother of American teacher and Russian detainee Marc Fogel against Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Department of State is straightforward: to keep her son from being forgotten by the U.S. government and to bring him home from the Russian prison where he has been detained for nearly three years.

Marc Fogel, a Butler native, has not yet been designated as wrongfully detained by the state department. The lawsuit seeks to challenge that.

“I seek to compel Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken to designate Marc Fogel as wrongfully detained as he did Brittney Griner,” Malphine Fogel said during the news conference held in her living room on Thursday, June 20. “I seek the press to investigate Marc’s case with the State Department and not stop until you get answers.”

The lawsuit urges Blinken to take action and review Fogel’s case under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act. The suit alleges the Department of State’s report to Congress has misstated facts, indicating a failure to review his case.

“That report is missing key facts; it’s misrepresenting the articles under which Marc was charged,” said Sasha Phillips, an attorney representing the Fogel family. “It misses the number of appeals that he has filed. It also misses the fact that none of those are currently pending. More importantly, it’s mentioned certain information without disclosing what that information is. It quotes from sources that are not listed in the report. It attributed to Marc things that he has not said or done.”

Neither Blinken nor President Joe Biden have publicly acknowledged Fogel.

“We’re going to keep doing what we can for Marc and Marc’s family,” Phillips said. “What we ask the state department, the Biden administration and the U.S. government is to do what (only) they can do.”

“Mrs. Fogel is 95 years old, and she has been fighting for her son’s return for almost three years,” said attorney Edward Phillips, whose firm, Babst Calland, represents Malphine Fogel. “Filing this lawsuit was a necessary next step in that fight.”

The 21-page complaint also calls into question Fogel’s case being treated differently than the case of basketball player Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia on similar charges, designated as wrongfully detained and released in a prisoner swap after a 10-month-long imprisonment. It also claims Fogel’s family has been treated differently by the Department of State.

Under the Levinson Act, family members of wrongfully detained U.S. nationals receive consistent communication and information via Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and congressional advocacy support. A number of nonprofit organizations also provide services such as financial advice or press communication, pro bono, or at a reduced rate to families of those who are wrongfully detained.

Without the designation, the Georgetown, Washington D.C. mural depicting U.S. nationals wrongfully detained abroad will not show Fogel’s face, Sasha Phillips noted.

“I have watched the family being turned away from the really important resources that should be available to them under the law and frankly under common decency,” she said.

Malphine Fogel said she has not been informed as to why her son has not been designated as wrongfully detained.

“Being wrongfully detained gives the American prisoner legally recognized status and prioritization by the United States,” she said. “It is the basis to call for the release of Marc where our family can be given community support and abroad, where the foreign country and the world are made aware of the American commitment to the prisoner.”

“We believe that is the right thing for the government to do, for us, for the Fogel family, for Marc,” Anne Fogel, Marc’s sister, said, joining the news conference over Zoom. “I hope that this consideration is seriously taken. It’s been three years now, and it’s time for him to come home.”

Fogel, who had taught in international schools around the world, was in his final year of teaching at the Anglo-American School of Moscow when he was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport on Aug. 14, 2021, for possessing less than an ounce of medical marijuana.

He was 60 at the time of his arrest and had undergone “three serious back surgeries,” his mother said, as well as knee surgeries, a rotator cuff surgery and a hip replacement.

According to the lawsuit, Fogel was tried in the same court as Griner. Fogel’s legal team in the U.S. believes a Russian citizen tried in a similar case to the Butler native’s would have received five years of probation. Fogel was instead sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“I’m glad (Brittney Griner) is home,” Malphine Fogel said. “But I want Marc to be too.”

International teacher set up, school targeted by Russian authorities, lawsuit claims

At the Anglo-American School of Moscow, Fogel taught history and political science. His students included the children of diplomats and ambassadors. Seventeen languages were spoken in his classroom, Malphine Fogel said.

“Diplomats are very unlikely to take positions overseas if they cannot take their families with them and if they cannot educate their children,” Fogel’s sister, Anne, said during Thursday’s news conference. “(International teachers) provide an integral service to the U.S. State Department, and I also feel that the level of teaching my brother teaches at, he’s including perspectives of a myriad ... of countries. It feeds him, but it also feeds his students.

“The students are incredibly prepared for the world and also for potentially future diplomatic positions as well,” she said. “They grew up in that world, and because of teachers like my brother, they understand the complexities and nuances of world politics.”

The teacher was entering his 10th and final year at the international school when he was arrested.

The lawsuit claims Fogel’s arrest was based on the tip of an informant who is believed to be a former employee of the school. The informant, the lawsuit alleges, was a “close friend to a high-level officer within Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as confirmed by the informant’s social media posts” and was fired from the school “shortly before (Fogel’s) arrest.”

The lawsuit states the Russian government targeted the school “for political and economic reasons, including retaliation against U.S. sanctions imposed in 2016, removal of nonconforming educational institutions and the acquisition of the school’s property located in the heart of Moscow.”

In 2019, the Russian government “stripped AAS Moscow of its diplomatic status,” denying visas to 30 teachers at the school, the lawsuit states.

“Russia has detained Marc Fogel to influence United States government policy and to obtain political concessions from the United States by seeking to close AAS Moscow and provide leverage in future prisoner exchange negotiations,” the lawsuit reads.

“Upon information and belief, the United States government knew about the Russian government’s plan to remove AAS Moscow in advance of Marc Fogel’s arrest but failed to warn him of potential exploitation of the Russian government,” the lawsuit reads.

The Anglo-American School of Moscow was closed by Russian authorities in May 2023. In June 2023, the school was designated as a “foreign agent” under orders of the Ministry of Justice of Russia, according to a notice posted on the institution’s website.

Following Fogel’s arrest, the school was raided for drugs by police, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

“Marc Fogel’s arrest and conviction were part of the Russian government’s political efforts to shut down AAS Moscow,” the lawsuit states.

In prison

While he remains in prison, Fogel’s family has not had access to medical records they have requested, Sasha Phillips said. Slivers of information they have been able to gather, along with information from his treating physician in Pennsylvania “piece a pretty grim picture” about his health, she said.

“He’s getting some medication,” she said. “He does not know what that medication is. He is not explained anything from what we understand.”

A former student who was able to visit Fogel in prison reported that one of his legs had atrophied, Malphine Fogel said, likely due to a lack of physical therapy.

In phone calls with his mother, Fogel doesn’t complain or criticize his conditions, she said. He asks about family and local sports. He has told her about an English class he organizes for the fellow Russian-speaking prisoners, which got disbanded by authorities, his 6-by-6-foot garden where he plants root vegetables, and his occasional walks to a chapel on the grounds of the penal colony.

Due to chronic back pain, Fogel can’t sit for extended periods of time, his mother said. Daily walks provide a little relief.

Wool socks, ibuprofen and prison-approved books by Russian authors — “Anna Karenina,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “War and Peace” — have been some of the items the family has sent Fogel, carefully deliberating what he may need in his cell.

Malphine Fogel said her son has read the books time and time again. The packages tend to arrive to her son after a significant delay. He is still waiting to receive boxes of letters, she said.

“You never get used to it,” she said about her son’s absence.

“I’m calling every male Marc,” she said. “If my son-in-law is here I call him Marc.”

Fogel’s imprisonment has kept him from birthdays, holidays and the college graduations of his two sons, Sam, 23, and Ethan, 25.

“If the government would stand behind him, that would change the whole atmosphere for those boys,” Malphine Fogel said. “And particularly for his immediate family ... they need that reassurance.”

A sign reading “Mr. President, please bring my son home” stands outside Malphine Fogel's home ahead of a news conference Thursday, June 20, she held to discuss her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Malphine Fogel listens to friends and family members speak about her son, Marc, a Russian detainee, after virtually joining the news conference she held at her home in Butler to discuss her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, June 20. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Malphine Fogel, whose son, Marc, is a Russian detainee, answers questions from reporters during a news conference she held at her home in Butler to discuss her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, June 20. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Malphine Fogel tears up while talking about her son Marc, a Russian detainee, during a news conference at her home in Butler to discuss her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, June 20. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Malphine Fogel tears up while talking about her son Marc, a Russian detainee, during a news conference at her home in Butler to discuss her lawsuit against Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, June 20. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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