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Md. company, U.S. ask judge to toss $60M lawsuit

WASHINGTON — A Maryland-based company and the U.S. government are asking a judge to dismiss a $60 million lawsuit filed by an American imprisoned in Cuba that accuses both of failing to adequately prepare him for work in that country.

Lawyers for Development Alternatives Inc. filed documents in federal court in Washington on Tuesday asking a judge to dismiss the case brought by Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the company, and his wife. The lawsuit, which was filed in November, claims Gross should have been provided with better information and training and that DAI and the government left him in the dark about the specific risks of performing the work he was doing in Cuba.

DAI argued in a response filed Tuesday that federal law bars the lawsuit. The company also said the lawsuit could undermine efforts to get Gross released by making the Cuban government less willing to free him.

“DAI is also deeply concerned that the development of the record in this case over the course of litigation could create significant risks to the U.S. Government’s national security, foreign policy, and human rights interests,” lawyers wrote.

The U.S. government, which had contracted with DAI for the work Gross was doing, also asked Tuesday that the case be dismissed. Lawyers wrote that the government cannot be sued in the United States for injuries a person suffered in a foreign country.

Gross, 63, was arrested in December 2009, while on his fifth trip to Cuba for DAI. When he was arrested he was working on a project to increase the availability of Internet access in the country, particularly to the island’s small Jewish community.

The project was being paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government organization that provides economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide. USAID has been criticized by Cuba for seeking to promote democratic change on the island, and Cuba says its programs are an attempt by Washington to undermine the Communist government. As a result of his work, Cuba sentenced Gross to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state.

As part of the documents DAI filed Tuesday, it submitted its contract with Gross and a later revision. The approximately $600,000 contract was signed in 2009, and a follow-up document contemplates eight trips to Cuba.

The contract and revision discuss three sites where Internet access was set up and the possibility of three more sites. It also describes Gross’ efforts to conceal the sites. The contract also mentions the sensitivity of Gross’ work in Cuba, which Gross also acknowledged in reports after visits, describing his activities as “very risky business in no uncertain terms.”

“Given the nature of the Cuban regime and the political sensitivity of the USAID program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to the island under USAID funding,” the contract says.