Intrigue over a $3.2 million payment (revised)


The federal government paid $3.2 million to a lawyer who helped secure the release of Alan Gross, an American development worker jailed in Cuba for five years.
The U.S. Agency for International Development gave the money to Gilbert LLP, a Washington, D.C. law firm, records show.
Scott Gilbert, a partner at the firm, was the chief lawyer for Gross, who had been setting up Wi-Fi hotspots in Cuba on behalf of a USAID contractor.

Scott Gilbert

Cuban authorities arrested Gross in December 2009, convicted him of crimes against the state and slapped him with a 15-year prison term.
The Gross family later sued both USAID and the contractor, Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, accusing them of failing to prepare Gross for a risky mission.
The Gross family and DAI settled their case in May 2013 without disclosing the terms.
Gross grew increasingly desperate behind bars and hinted he was on verge of killing himself.
A judge threw out the family’s lawsuit against USAID in 2014.
DAI sued USAID for reimbursement of costs linked to the case. The agency paid DAI $3.2 million in December 2014. The company was expected to give “much, if not all” of the money to Gross, the Washington Post reported.
Cuba freed Gross in December 2014. The U.S. government also made concessions, including the release of Cuban agent Gerardo Hernández.
The two countries re-established diplomatic ties in December 2014 after decades of hostility. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba to reopen the American embassy in 2015 and President Obama visited in 2016.

Photo credit: Gilbert LLP

USAID made the payment to Gilbert LLP from 2014 to 2015, records show.
Records identify the “award” as a “project-type intervention.” The award identifier is CUBA-LAC-15-DAI. LAC likely stands for USAID’s Bureau of Latin America and the Caribbean; 15 is probably the budget year and DAI is Development Alternatives Inc.
The award description is vague:

Strengthen the legal, regulatory, institutional, and information environment which protects and enables the growth in associational life and the development of independent and sustainable civil society organizations (CSOs).

A website for Gilbert’s law firm says it specializes in “insurance recovery and litigation, and strategic consulting.”
Gilbert is also founder of Reneo Consulting LLC., which helps companies explore business opportunities in Cuba. The firm’s website states:

Global investment in Cuba offers exciting new developments in many key industries, including agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and more.

In January 2017, Reneo Consulting announced that its subsidiary, Coabana Trading LLC, struck a deal with Cuba Export to import charcoal made from sicklebush, known as marabú in Cuba.
A Reneo press released stated:

This marks the first time in more than half a century that a Cuban-produced product will be exported from Cuba and sold in the United States.
“This is truly a momentous occasion,” said Scott Gilbert, Chairman of Reneo. “Marabu charcoal is widely viewed as the best artisanal charcoal in the world. Now US consumers will be able to purchase this product, as have Europeans and others for many years.”
“More importantly,” Gilbert emphasized, “this marks the beginning of a new era of trade between the United States and Cuba. This is a perfect example of a win-win for both our countries. The Marabu plant is an invasive weed that clogs otherwise fertile organic fields in Cuba – now it can be used to produce this fantastic artisanal charcoal, thereby clearing the fields and making them available for agricultural growth.”
“Marabu charcoal is cut and produced by private Cuban cooperatives, providing them with a growing market less than 100 miles away. This is but the first step in what should be a blossoming trade relationship involving many different products,” said Gilbert.
“Of course,” Gilbert added, “we still are severely limited in what we can do by the so-called embargo, the most severe trade and travel restrictions we have imposed on any country in the world. This demonstrably failed relic of the cold war should be consigned to the trash heap of history, where it belongs. For those who may disagree, I urge you to travel to Cuba, to interact with the Cuban people, to see what works and what does not, and then to make a considered judgment. In the meantime, we will do all that we can to expand our economic relations with the people of Cuba.”

Reneo said Fogo Charcoal would market marabú charcoal imports and sold through retailers.
Gilbert’s biography highlights his accomplishments as mediator and his expertise on Cuba matters:

…Scott worked with both the United States and Cuban governments to negotiate Alan Gross’ release from a Cuban prison and facilitate the first major change in United States policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years. Scott has been described by high-ranking State Department officials as “Perhaps the best ‘civilian’ expert on the Cuban government.” He is an internationally recognized innovator in the field of strategic alternative dispute resolution (ADR), where he has represented parties and also served as a mediator and arbitrator. At Reneo Consulting, Scott focuses on strategic analysis, crisis management, legal strategy and litigation management, legislative and lobbying services, and government-related consulting. Scott’s clients have included Fortune 500 corporations; small and medium-sized businesses, non-profit organizations; associations; government agencies; government officials and other individuals. Scott has been quoted in print and network media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fortune, the National Law Journal, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC.

Note: I initially reported that the amount of the payment was $6.4 million. I believe that was inaccurate and have corrected the amount to read $3.2 million.

Below is background on the Alan Gross case:

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