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EXCLUSIVE – A U.S. congressman and a bipartisan, bicameral group of elected officials are pleading with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to include Pennsylvania native Marc Fogel — who is being detained in Russia — in a potential deal to bring back Americans being held there, Fox News has learned.
U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican, sent a letter to Blinken on Wednesday asking that Fogel, a longtime teacher, be included in the government’s potential deal with Russia to exchange Marine Corps. Veteran Paul Whelan and WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, both of whom have also been detained there, for Russian criminals being held in the U.S. At least 10 other members of the Pennsylvania delegation, including Sen. Pat Toomey, signed the letter.
“Mr. Fogel taught history courses at schools attended by children of U.S. diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and, for the last 10 years, in Russia,” Reschenthaler wrote in the letter, obtained by Fox News Digital. “Upon his return to Russia in August 2021 to continue his decade-long position at an Anglo-American school in Moscow, Mr. Fogel was detained in the Sheremetyevo Airport with slightly more than half an ounce of medical marijuana, which was prescribed in the U.S.”
A 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, both chambers of Congress – in wanting to get this Pennsylvania native back,” Reschenthaler told Fox News Digital on Thursday.
Fogel, 60, is serving what attorneys have called an “exorbitant” 14-year sentence for being caught in Russia with medical marijuana that he used to treat a severe back injury. When news broke that the U.S. government was working on a deal to bring home Americans detained in Russia, his family and representatives had hoped Fogel would be on that list – and were devastated to learn otherwise.
“[It] was heart-wrenching, hearing he wasn’t included,” Fogel’s sister, Anne Fogel-Burchenal, told Fox News Digital on Friday.
Brittney Griner’s wife received a call from President Joe Biden, but the family of Mr. Fogel has struggled to even receive a response from the State Department.
Fogel was detained in August 2021. In June of this year, he was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison after he was convicted of “large-scale drugs smuggling,” according to officials and reports.
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Blinken revealed last week that the U.S. had offered to make a deal with Russia in exchange for two Americans, WNBA athlete Brittney Griner – who was also detained at a Russian airport on drug-related charges – and Michigan security executive Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges that his family has completely rejected.
But Fogel was not included in the deal.
An attorney assisting Fogel’s family with his case told Fox News Digital in an email that Fogel “fully cooperated with the investigation and prosecution; submitted substantial proof of prior medical treatment, of debilitating health conditions, and of his doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.”
His representatives shared dozens of reference letters and evidence showing his lack of any criminal record.
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“However, Marc’s exorbitant 14-year sentence, which is usually reserved to large-scale drug smugglers and murderers even in Russian courts, made it abundantly clear that Marc cannot obtain justice in Russia,” the attorney wrote.
“Given Marc’s age and health condition, a 14-year sentence in a Russian prison colony is, at best, a life sentence and, at worst, a death sentence,” the attorney continued. “We strongly believe that Marc should be included in any exchange deal the U.S. and Russia are negotiating.”
The family has asked the U.S. State Department to classify Fogel as “wrongfully detained.” The designation, the attorney said, “would commit additional US government resources to securing his release and move to the jurisdiction of the US government’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.”
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Reschenthaler told Fox News Digital by phone on Thursday that he was “taken aback by the administration’s lack of interest in Mr. Fogel.”
“You see their priorities on display when they jump into action for a celebrity, a celebrity athlete. But when you have a Marine in Mr. Whelan, and you have Marc Fogel, a teacher from what they perceive as flyover country, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, those two are put on the backburner,” he said. “I will commend the administration for including … Whelan in this prisoner swap now. However, Mr. Fogle should always have been included.”
In his letter, Reschenthaler wrote that while Griner’s wife received a phone call from President Biden himself, “the family of Mr. Fogel has struggled to even receive a response from the State Department.”
“Although he may not carry the notoriety of a celebrity WNBA athlete, we believe it is essential the Biden Administration work to bring Mr. Fogel safely home to his family,” Reschenthaler wrote in his letter. “As members of Congress representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we strongly urge the State Department to immediately classify Mr. Fogel as wrongfully detained and ensure he is included in any negotiations to bring home American prisoners in Russia.”
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Fox News’ Ashley Papa contributed to this report.