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Records Show Miller’s Career Was A 20-Year Roller Coaster Ride

September 20, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Richard W. Miller hung on to his FBI career through a 20-year roller coaster ride of suspensions for incompetence and commendations when he shaped up, according to records introduced in his espionage trial.

Miller’s lawyers, in a complicated tactical move, tried to show jurors Thursday that Miller was acting in character when he made a last desperate bid to save his job with a bizarre plan to infiltrate the Soviet spy network.

The prosecution, which discounts this explanation, says Miller’s financial and professional woes drove him to become a Soviet spy, negotiating to sell documents for $65,000 in cash and gold.

The defense exhumed stacks of Miller’s personnel records Thursday and won the judge’s permission to explore his slovenly work habits.

″Your performance is not considered to be at an acceptable level of competence at this point,″ said one 1981 letter to Miller from his supervisor.

That document and others were identified for jurors by Patrick Mullaney, assistant special agent in charge of administrative matters in the Los Angeles FBI office.

Under questioning by defense attorney Stanley Greenberg, Mullaney recited reports showing that from 1969 on Miller was repeatedly censured, placed on probation and suspended for being overweight, disorganized and habitually late in turning in reports.

Mullaney identified 115 pages of reports on Miller’s weight problem alone.

″The time is past for Miller to be made aware the bureau is serious about its weight requirements and his continued disregard will not be tolerated,″ his supervisor wrote in 1978.

Asked what that meant, Mullaney said, ″Mr. Miller was being told he was in deep trouble.″

But the records also showed that each time Miller was censured and threatened with dismissal, his wor improved dramatically and he would receive commendations.

″Special Agent Miller’s attitude has improved and he has shown he is more aggressively handling his cases,″ said one supervisor’s 1981 report.

But the documents showed he would slide back into poor work habits after each advancement.

The defense has noted Miller was suspended and threatened with dismissal shortly before he became sexually involved with Svetlana Ogorodnikov, a Soviet spy. The defense team claims Miller was just following his established pattern of attempting to dramatically salvage his career as he had done before.

Miller, 48, the only FBI agent ever charged with spying, was assigned to counterespionage work in Los Angeles before he was fired and arrested last October. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Mrs. Ogorodnikov and her husband, Nikolay, pleaded guilty in the midst of their earlier espionage trial and are serving prison sentences.

Greenberg noted in questioning that Miller received one of his worst evaluations just before he was assigned to the foreign counterintelligence squad in Los Angeles.

The government, which earlier concurred that Miller was inept and a failure, said it would rebut defense testimony with evidence that Miller could be a conscientious agent when he was properly motivated.

In the odd twist, prosecutors appeared willing to defend Miller’s positive traits, while the defense depicted him as a disorganized slob.

U.S. District Judge David Kenyon, who halted testimony for half a day to decide the legal issue, rejected government protests that Miller’s character was irrelevant to the case.

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