WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Norfolk, Va., Monday sentenced a Navy veteran who grew up in Buffalo to 30 years in prison for trying to spill state secrets to someone he thought was a Russian agent named Vladimir – but who really worked for the FBI.
District Judge Robert G. Doumar sentenced Robert Patrick Hoffman II, 40, to the exact sentence prosecutors had sought. Hoffman, who spent 20 years in the Navy, retired from the Navy in November 2011 as a petty officer first class who gathered and analyzed electronic intelligence.
“Hoffman attempted to spy on behalf of the Russian Federation and betrayed the trust this country placed in him.
“He was willing to place American lives at risk for personal gain,” said Dana J. Boente, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Today’s sentence should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise our nation’s most sensitive classified information.”
According to a profile that appeared in Sunday’s Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, the FBI got suspicious about Hoffman after a 2011 trip he took to Belarus, a close ally of Russia, to meet women he had previously met while deployed in Bahrain.
Returning to the U.S., Hoffman – whose license plate reads “GR8 LEI” – claimed he had met the president of Belarus on a trip that he described as his “man-cation,” the Virginia newspaper reported.
Knowing that Hoffman had retired from the Navy after returning from Belarus, and knowing the reason for the trip, the FBI asked one of its female agents to respond to an ad Hoffman had placed on Craigslist.
Going by the name of “Tracey Tea,” the agent sparked a five-month courtship that resulted in dozens of emails and a couple of dates, the Virginian-Pilot said.
Hoffman told the agent about his Navy work, prompting the FBI to send another agent – who went by the pseudonym “Olga” – to his home with a low-cut turquoise blouse, a Soviet medal and a letter from a supposed “friend” in Moscow.
That encounter prompted Hoffman to begin email correspondence with “Vladimir,” the supposed Russian agent who really worked for the FBI. Hoffman, who was unemployed, indicated he was “willing to develop a mutual trust” with Vladimir and sought job assistance or financial help in return.
And then with Vladimir’s encouragement, Hoffman on three separate occasions in the fall of 2012 left thumb drives for the supposed Russian agents in the hollow of a tree at an agreed-upon location in Virginia Beach.
Along with answering questions posed by the supposed Russian agents, Hoffman included on the last thumb drive “national defense information classified at the levels of secret and top secret/sensitive compartmented,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Agents arrested Hoffman on Dec. 6, 2012, and a jury convicted him of one count of espionage after deliberating the case for about 90 minutes last August.
Prosecutors could have sought the death penalty, but instead they asked for a 30-year sentence, which is what the judge granted. Defense attorneys had suggested a 15-year sentence.
Hoffman lived in Virginia Beach at the time of his arrest, but a search of his available addresses shows that he kept an address on Ridgewood Road in South Buffalo from February of 1996 through October of 2010, a period in which he was stationed in Pensacola, Fla.; Honolulu; and the Norfolk area.