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The family of a man detained in Russia is pleading with the highest ranks of the United States government to include a beloved Pennsylvania schoolteacher in their deal with the Kremlin to allow their detainee to return safely to the US.

“Sentenced to 14 years in Russian prison colony, life sentence at best, death sentence at worst”

– Attorney assisting Fogel’s family

Mark Fogel, 60, is facing an “extreme” 14-year sentence by prosecutors for being caught in Russia with medical marijuana that he was using to treat a serious back injury. When news broke that the U.S. government was working on a deal to bring home Americans detained in Russia, their families and representatives hoped Fogel would be on that list — and were devastated to learn otherwise.

“[It] It was heartbreaking to hear that it wasn’t included,” Fogel’s sister Ann Fogel-Barchenal told Fox News Digital on Friday.

After keeping quiet to avoid the risk of disrupting Fogel’s case, his sisters and relatives are speaking out.

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“Our strategy was to play low-key and quietly through his punishment, because that’s what we thought was the right thing to do. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we’d be yelling and screaming all over the place,” Fogel-Burchenal said, when reached by phone.

Fearing the worst, they have changed their plans to navigate the unimaginable.

“We’re going to scream as loud as we can and keep going until he comes home,” she added. We will not let it rest.”

Americans in Russia

Left to right: Mark Fogel, Brittany Griner, Paul Whelan

Left to right: Mark Fogel, Brittany Griner, Paul Whelan
(Photo provided/Getty Images)

Fogel had worked as a school teacher in Moscow for nearly ten years when he was stopped at the airport upon returning to Russia. He was in possession of medical marijuana at the time, which his doctor recommended he take for “severe chronic pain” caused by spinal injuries and resulting surgeries.

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Accordingly The Washington PostWhen he was taken into custody in August 2021, he was in possession of approximately half an ounce of medically prescribed marijuana. In June this year, he was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison after pleading guilty to “massive drug trafficking”. to reports.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner is led into a courtroom for a hearing Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Khimki, outside Moscow, Russia.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner is led into a courtroom for a hearing Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Khimki, outside Moscow, Russia.
(Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP)

Then, this week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken revealed that the US had offered to make a deal with Russia in exchange for two Americans, WNBA athlete Brittany Griner – who was detained at a Russian airport on drug-related charges – and Michigan. Security executive Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges his family completely denies.

But Fogel was not included in the deal.

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An attorney assisting Fogel’s family in its case told Fox News Digital in an email that Fogel “cooperated fully with the investigation and prosecution; presented substantial evidence of prior medical treatment, debilitating health conditions and his doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.”

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, charged with espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands in a defendant's cage as he awaits his verdict in Moscow, June 15, 2020.

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, charged with espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands in a defendant’s cage as he awaits his verdict in Moscow, June 15, 2020.
(Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

His representatives shared dozens of reference letters and proof that he had no criminal record.

“However, Mark’s hefty 14-year sentence, which is usually reserved for drug traffickers and murderers at large even in Russian courts, made it abundantly clear that Mark could not get justice in Russia,” the lawyer wrote.

The family has asked the US State Department to classify Fogel as “wrongfully detained.” The designation, the lawyer said,which would commit additional US government resources to his release and would place the US government under the jurisdiction of the Special Envoy for Hostage Matters.”

“Mark’s state of health warrants a request for his humanitarian release: given Mark’s age and state of health, a sentence of 14 years in a Russian prison colony is, at best, life imprisonment, and at worst, death,” the lawyer added. “We strongly believe that the mark should be included in any exchange deal being negotiated between the US and Russia.”

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A State Department spokesman said he was limited on what he could discuss due to privacy concerns, but said consular officials were working in a number of ways to help Fogel, whom he did not identify by name. The State Department is insisting that Russia allow access to U.S. citizens detained there and urging the Russian government to ensure appropriate treatment and adequate medical care for detained U.S. citizens, the spokesman said.

‘Critical to Dire’

Fogel’s niece Ellen Keelan told Fox News Digital that neither she nor her family had spoken directly to Fogel in “almost a year” and instead limited it to pre-screened and roughly translated letters, which ultimately “didn’t even sound like him.” It is not known what he actually receives and what stage his messages go through, she said.

“My understanding is that he’s fine … I don’t know if that’s the right word,” Keelan said. But “no one was called. No one heard him or saw his face.”

She added: “It’s just a black box in communication. Every time we think we’re going to get an answer, we’re sent another way.”

In just a few weeks he will be detained in Russia for a year.

“A 14-year sentence is being forced to do hard labor – it’s not like we’re going to see him when he’s 75. He’s not going to survive this. We’re fighting for his life.”

Mark Fogel in this undated photo provided by his family.

Mark Fogel in this undated photo provided by his family.
(Photo courtesy of Ellen Keelan and Lisa Hyland)

She said the situation had gone from “critical to critical”.

“We are pleading with the Biden administration that he has been wrongfully detained,” she added. “Remember this is a real person – a husband and father and a wonderful teacher – and we can’t let his story end.”

Fogel’s family has begun A Change.org petition And now trying to be as active as possible on social media. Keelan credited Griner’s case with “raising awareness” of Fogel’s story.

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His sister, Lisa Hyland, said she was encouraged to hear that Griner “asked everyone who was wrongfully detained to be brought home.”

“It’s now above the State Department,” she said. “It’s President Biden, Secretary Blinken, Jill Biden, even — she’s a teacher. They have to do what they can. Otherwise, we’re not going to see them again.”