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Local Cuba policy advocacy group fined $10,000 by U.S. government

TAMPA — The federal government has fined a local nonprofit that advocates for the lifting of the Cuban embargo $10,000 in civil penalties.

The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation of Tampa arranged two trips to Cuba — one in 2010 and one in 2011 — without being licensed to do so, according to the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Also known as OFAC, the agency is an arm of the federal Treasury Department which oversees the 55-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba.

OFAC said that during each trip the alliance engaged in business without proper authorization from the U.S. government. The founder and president of the alliance, Albert A. Fox, Jr., is a prominent Tampa activist who favors normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba.

"My client continues to believe he did nothing un-American, illegal, immoral, or unethical," said attorney Arthur Heitzer, who represented both the alliance and Fox.

During the 2010 trip, Fox attended meetings between U.S. oil leaders and their counterparts in Havana that he helped put together. It was the first time the nations discussed drilling and helped lead to a recently signed oil spill clean-up agreement between the United States and Cuba.

Then in 2011, he flew to Havana on the inaugural charter flight from Tampa International Airport. It was Fox who a year earlier helped put together meetings between airport officials and the Cuban government that helped bring those flights to Tampa.

In September, Fox told the Tampa Bay Times he recommended that the 2010 oil group use travel agency Flor Caribe. He said he did the same for a 15-person Tampa delegation on that 2011 flight, but that was the extent of his involvement.

During those trips to Cuba, Fox said he traveled on a humanitarian license issued by the U.S. government. He said he attended the 2010 oil meetings after he fulfilled the requirements of his license. He attended no meetings there in 2011, he told the Times in September.

Heitzer said the penalty was retaliation by those angry with the Alliance for working to change U.S. policy towards Cuba.

"This should be a warning that people who make a difference in U.S. policy will be harassed by those in the federal government who disagree," Fox said.

The maximum fine was $1.43 million, according to OFAC. The agency said it reduced that penalty to $10,000 because the alliance did minimal harm to the current objectives of the U.S. sanctions program regarding Cuba and because it is a small nonprofit agency.

"While we view any payment as being unjust," attorney Heitzer said, "this is a very small amount compared to the cost of the legal defense against the resources of the U.S. government."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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