EXCLUSIVE: What was supposed to be a summer of language lessons and spending time with his long-term love turned into the stuff of nightmares for former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, whose jaunt to Moscow last year ended with a nine-year jail sentence for a crime he vows he did not commit.
Last August, the now 29-year-old Texas native was arrested amid a night out in the Russian capital and later charged with “assaulting and endangering the lives of the two police officers.” After 11 months behind bars, Reed was sentenced in July to nine years in Vodnik prison, in what his family and a number of U.S. lawmakers and diplomats called a politically motivated farce.
“The leading belief we have is that my son wasn’t targeted, but once they found out he had been a Marine, the problem snowballed,” his father Joey Reed, a former firefighter in Texas and California who has spent most of the past year in Moscow working on his son’s case, told Fox News. “Perhaps they thought they could shake him down for so money, and then (Russian intelligence) became involved.”
The saga began in the late 2019 summer, when the police were called to a party Trevor Reed was attending with his girlfriend Alina Tsybulnik, and an intoxicated or potentially drugged Reed was apprehended. But rather than being taken to a medical facility, which is the standard Russia protocol, the young American was whisked away to a police station.
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All seemed fine until the following morning authorities learned of Trevor Reed’s military background, his father said. This is said to have piqued the attention of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, who then conducted its own interrogation.
“Trevor said that they never asked anything about what happened to him that night; all they wanted to know was about his military record – where he was assigned, what he did. Shortly after that, he was miraculously charged with endangering the lives of police officers on the way to the station,” his father said. “That charge was never mentioned to him previously, nor was it mentioned to Alina, who followed them to the station.”
It was at that point, Joey Reed conjectured, that they all became “worried something was going to happen.”
The younger Reed was officially accused of “intentionally endangering the lives of the police officers who brought him to the jail.” His father also claimed that at the station, Tsybulnik was given the opportunity to bribe an officer for her boyfriend’s release, which she did not do. The exchange was denied by the officer in court.
According to his father and his legal defense team, there were mountains of evidence to disprove such an allegation – but all was conveniently tossed to the wayside as prosecutors maintained that Trevor Reed went on a violent, alcohol-fueled rampage.
“We had videos that showed no dangerous action (took place) in the police car. There was a camera in the car, not just a dash camera but an actual camera that shows the interior of the van,” Joey Reed underscored. “The police testified that the cameras were working that day, but the investigator told us we couldn’t have those. Remember, if my son did anything like they said he did, why would they not have used the videos from inside the car?”
He claimed his son’s defense attorneys elongated the process and waited for the videos to be automatically erased from the database, which happens at the 30-day mark.
And that is hardly the only inconsistency, family members insist. According to court testimonies, one officer claimed to have had a small bruise on his abdomen under his body armor, where the then-28-year-old allegedly elbowed him a couple of times.
“I have body armor, and I know you are not going to get bruised by somebody elbowing you a couple of times,” Joey Reed rebuffed. “Second of all, the officer never showed the bruise to anyone, never missed work, and there was no proof it was there. So my son got a nine-year sentence for that, and that is not normal even in Russia.”
For Reed’s family members, the past 14 months have been fraught with frustration, helplessness, and anxiety – made all the worse by their inability to effectively communicate with him.
“When I first got to Moscow, the investigator kept denying my visits with him and kept telling Alina (an attorney herself) and Trevor’s attorneys that if he signed certain papers, they would let me see him. Of course, he said he would not sign anything,” Joey Reed explained. “The general practice here is that you get to see your loved one for two hours, two times a month. For a long time, I wasn’t allowed to do that.”
With the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, jails in Moscow have been shuttered, and trying to arrange phone calls in lieu of meetings has been an uphill battle.
“In the prisons here, a lot of things are done through bribery – people have cell phones, etc. because they can pay the guards,” Joey Reed said. “But we won’t engage in any of that; we know they (authorities) would throw the book at Trevor just for doing what everyone else is doing.”
An eighth-generation Texan born in Fort Worth, Trevor Reed spent most of his childhood trekking through the sprawling parks and trails nestled on the Tehachapi mountains of California. An experienced Eagle Scout, he graduated high school and returned to Texas with his family before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged in 2016, and in 2017 began a degree in International Studies at the University of North Texas.
He chose Russian as a foreign language for the mandatory language requirement of his program after meeting Tsybulnik – and figured there was no better place to become fluent than in Russia.
On the legal front, the push for his freedom has also been laden with letdowns and financial hardship for the family. The case is slated to be heard by the Appeals Court on Tuesday, and the family is preparing to file a suit in the European Court of Human Rights.
“We plan on taking this all the way to the Supreme Court. Trevor was, at first, awarded bail by a judge who actually listened to the defense – but then it was immediately appealed by the prosecutor and taken away,” Joey Reed recalled. “So we appealed that in the Supreme Court and won, but then it was sent back down to the lower courts and the bail was again denied on the same grounds.”
The U.S. government was initially hesitant to get too involved, given that the State Department can only step in regarding wrongful detainment or those deemed political in nature, but since red flags emerged that it wasn’t an ordinary criminal case, American diplomats and decisionmakers have taken a more vocal stance.
“After Trevor was convicted, he was sentenced to the longest prison term of anyone charged with that crime in the history of the last 20 years in Russia,” his father lamented. “And then Embassy knew this wasn’t just the regular railroad trial.”
John J. Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, visited Trevor Reed behind bars on September 24 and subsequently issued a statement expressing concern for the former Marine’s health and his treatment by the Russian judiciary.
“I am worried that Trevor is not getting appropriate medical access and treatment, and I continue to work to ensure that Trevor’s needs are met,” Sullivan stated at the time. “I also remain greatly troubled by the egregious inconsistencies and inadequacies of Trevor’s trial. Trevor was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Trevor’s case holds no legal merit. Trevor doesn’t belong in jail; he belongs back home in Texas.”
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Joey Reed concurred that his son’s health remains their primary woe.
“His health has been up and down, and he lost a lot of weight during the initial months when nobody could see him and he wasn’t able to navigate the prison system,” he noted. “Now that there is regular contact with the Embassy, and we are writing to him daily, his physical and emotional state has improved.”
U.S. representatives are also taking on the case. In August, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn submitted Senate Resolution 667 with bipartisan backing to the Committee on Foreign Relations, calling for Reed’s immediate release.
A second Congressional effort, House Resolution 1115, is also in the works to free Trevor Reed from his “unjust” predicament.
A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.
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For the Reed’s, life has been reduced to day by day, minute by minute task solely centered on projecting what they vow to be Trevor’s innocence.
“I have been a firefighter close to 40 years, and I am used to many different stressful situations, so I just focus on the task at hand. It is a lot tougher on my wife, sitting at home in Texas and feeling kind of helpless – not being able to have calls with her son, hearing all the information third or fourth hand,” Joey Reed added. “This is really horrible, and I would not wish this on any parent or anyone.”
Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, and Latin America investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay