South Florida

In Cuba, he ran a prison. In Miami, he’s going to one.

The ex-officer of the State Security of Cuba, Saúl Santos Ferro, along with his wife.
The ex-officer of the State Security of Cuba, Saúl Santos Ferro, along with his wife. Cortesía

A former Cuban State Security officer, Saúl Santos Ferro, 74, was sentenced Friday to six months in prison, plus two on probation and a $12,000 fine by a judge in South Florida.

Santos Ferro was convicted of lying on his application for permanent U.S. residence and defrauding the Social Security Administration by obtaining benefits he was not entitled to receive.

The former lieutenant colonel in State Security, a Cuban government agency in charge of domestic security and repressing political opponents, pleaded guilty and admitted receiving Supplemental Security Income under false pretenses. SSI provides poor and disabled people with cash payments to cover basic necessities such as food, housing and clothing.

Santos and his wife started receiving SSI payments in September 2014. Court documents showed that the two made false statements in April 2015 to increase their payments. The court estimated that the couple received a total of $28,491.83 in SSI payments.

Several people denounced Santos Ferro’s presence in Miami and published photos of the former State Security and prison official on social networks. Represor ID, a group created by Miami lawyers Willie Allen, Santiago Alpizar, Luis Fernández and Ricardo Martínez Cid to unmask Cuban human rights violators living in the United States, reported the complaints to the FBI.

Allen described Santos Ferro’s conviction in an interview with Telemundo as “a victory for the Cuban community, especially those people who have supported Represor ID.

Santos Ferros was arrested Feb. 5, and prosecutors asked for up to 20 years in prison for lying to U.S. immigration officials. The charges against him included lying about his “membership, assistance and participation in military, paramilitary and police units.”

He denied ever working in a prison, jail or detention center in his immigration applications, and said he was retired.

But court documents showed he was a lieutenant colonel in prisons and jails in San Cristobal, a town in the western province of Pinar del Rio. He came to the United States in 2012 and the next year obtained permanent residence.

After his arrest, he posted a $100,000 bail and wore an ankle monitor.

Santos Ferro was not charged for his repressive activities in Cuba, but rather with lying to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and fraudulently obtaining benefits from federal programs designed to assist recent Cuban arrivals.

El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald reported in 2012 on Crescencio Marino Rivero, a Cuban who was living in Miami until six former Cuban political prisoners identified him as a former prison chief in Villa Clara province who had abused some prisoners and ordered guards to abuse others.

Rivero and his wife had also lied on their U.S. immigration documents and became permanent U.S. residents, but returned to the island after the published reports and before U.S. authorities could question them.

A federal jury in Miami convicted Eriberto Mederos in 2002 of lying to U.S. immigration officials about his participation in electroshocks to political prisoners when he worked in a psychiatric hospital in Havana. He died in prison before he could be sentenced.

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