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Cuban prisoner settles lawsuit against Bethesda company

WASHINGTON — An American imprisoned in Cuba settled a lawsuit Thursday against the company he was working for when arrested, a lawsuit that claimed he wasn’t properly warned about or prepared for the risks of working in the communist nation.

Alan Gross and his wife filed the lawsuit in November against the U.S. government and Bethesda-based Development Alternatives Inc., a contractor for the government’s U.S. Agency for International Development. The $60 million lawsuit claimed Gross should have been provided with better information and training for his work setting up internet access points in Cuba.

Lawyers for DAI and the U.S. government had previously asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. One of the lawyers’ arguments was that federal law barred the lawsuit because it was based on an injury suffered in a foreign country.

Gross, 64, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 on his fifth trip to work with Cuba’s Jewish community set up internet access points.

Gross was working for DAI under a contract with USAID, which does work to promote peaceful democratic change on the island. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine the communist government, and court documents show Gross took steps to avoid detection and believed he was engaged in “very risky business.”

A Cuban court subsequently convicted Gross of crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Lawyers filed a notice of the settlement Thursday in federal court in Washington. The settlement amount was not disclosed, and the agreement only covers Development Alternatives Inc., also known as DAI, not the government.

DAI’s chief executive officer said in a statement that settling the lawsuit, in which neither party admits fault, allows the company to work together with Gross’ family to bring him home.

Gross’ wife Judy, who has traveled to Cuba on several occasions to see her husband, said in the same statement that the family is “very pleased that DAI has committed to help address the injuries sustained by our family.”

“We want Alan back home, safe and sound,” she said.

Diplomatic efforts to win Gross’ release have so far failed, and the case has been a sticking point in improving ties between the two countries, which have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1961. The Cuban government has linked Gross’ case to that of five Cubans convicted of in 2001 of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida as well as exile groups and politicians.

Cuban officials have suggested they would be willing to free Gross in exchange for the men. Four of the men remain in prison in the United States. One man who completed his sentence but was serving probation in the U.S. was recently allowed to return to Cuba permanently.