The Lead

Keystone State lawmakers on Capitol Hill join bipartisan effort to free Pa. man held in Russia

By: - June 28, 2023 11:17 am
The U.S. Capitol Building on June 1, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The U.S. Capitol Building on June 1, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

A bipartisan cadre from Pennsylvania’s U.S. House delegation has introduced legislation aimed at freeing a Pennsylvania man from a Russian prison.

As it’s currently written,the Marc Fogel Act would amend the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, and require the State Department to be more transparent about how it designates Americans held prisoner overseas as being “wrongfully detained.” 

Democratic U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, of the Philadelphia-based 2nd District and Chris Deluzio, of the Allegheny County-based 17th District, have joined with Republicans Mike Kelly, of the Erie-based 16th District, and Guy Reschenthaler, who represents Allegheny County’s 14th District, on the bill.

Fogel is a teacher from Oakmont, an eastern suburb of Pittsburgh. He was detained in Russia in August 2021 for possession of a small amount of marijuana, which his doctor had prescribed for chronic back pain. Last year, he was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor in a Russian penal colony, but so far, the U.S. Department of State has not designated Fogel as wrongfully detained. 

Deluzio wants to see this changed, and when the House voted earlier this month on resolutions to call for the immediate release of Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich who are both being detained in Russia, he called for Vogel to be added as well, since Deluzio argues, he meets the criteria.

“It is far past time for the U.S. State Department to designate Marc Fogel as wrongfully detained in Russia, and this bill will help bring daylight into the process that the Department uses for cases like his and other Americans imprisoned overseas,” Deluzio said in a statement.

“Mr. Fogel and his loved ones in Pennsylvania’s 17th District deserve to know that their government hears them and is using every tool available to bring him home safely. We can strengthen that trust by designating detainment status accurately and by bringing more transparency into the process,” he added.

Reschenthaler said in a statement that Fogel meets six of the 11 criteria the Levinson Act established for someone to be designated as wrongfully detained, and expressed frustration that the State Department has not done so thus far, and, he says, has not explained why. 

“Since last year, I have urged the State Department to classify him as wrongfully detained and prioritize securing his release,” Reschenthaler said. “The Department has failed to do either and refused to explain its inaction – effectively stonewalling my efforts to bring him home. The Marc Fogel Act will provide transparency into the State Department’s wrongful detainment determination process and help ensure that Americans imprisoned overseas are not forgotten.”

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly