STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — A Stockton Springs woman whose father is believed to have been shot down over Cuba and tortured there decades ago is suing the island nation in an effort to enforce a $21 million wrongful death judgment she was awarded in 2009.
Sherry Sullivan’s attorney filed the civil suit against Cuba on April 18 in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Sullivan so far has not received any of the judgment — plus interest — that Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm found she was entitled to, according to the lawsuit.
“The Cuban defendant was, and is, responsible to pay compensatory damages to Plaintiff,” the suit states. “The Maine State Court entered the final judgement after satisfaction of all conditions … and after giving the Cuban defendant a full opportunity to participate in the proceedings.”
Attorney David Van Dyke of Lewiston wrote in the lawsuit that the Cuban government was not entitled to immunity from the civil action because the original judgment was “rendered as a result of acts of extrajudicial torture and extrajudicial killing of Geoffrey Francis Sullivan by the Cuban defendant.”
Geoffrey Sullivan’s plane is believed to have disappeared over Cuba in October 1963. His daughter originally filed the wrongful death suit against Cuba — along with former President Fidel Castro, President Raul Castro and the Cuban army — in May 2007.
While Hjelm dismissed those names without prejudice because it couldn’t be determined whether they ever were served the legal papers, the Swiss Embassy in Havana did serve a copy of the lawsuit to the Cuba Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008. Cuba never responded to the suit, which led Hjelm to issue the default judgment in August 2009.
He found that Sullivan had suffered through years of uncertainty not knowing what happened to her father and not knowing whether he was alive or dead. Hjelm also found that Cuba ignored her requests for information.
“This uncertainty has devastated Ms. Sullivan’s life,” he wrote then.
Geoffrey Sullivan, 29 when he disappeared, was an Air Force veteran with a commercial pilot’s license. While serving in the Army National Guard, he met Alexander Irwin Roake Jr., a New York newspaperman who was believed to be an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. Roake reportedly ran guns to Cuba.
Sullivan took off from Mexico in a twin-engine plane, accompanied by Roake, before he disappeared.
A month earlier, the men allegedly had taken part in a bombing run over Cuba in a refurbished B-25 bomber, an act that received widespread newspaper coverage. Both men were identified as having been involved.
While the official story was that their plane disappeared over Central America, Sullivan believes her father was held in a Cuban jail for at least a decade and later executed as a spy. She was 5 years old when her father disappeared and has spent decades investigating his fate.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has listed Geoffrey Sullivan as “missing in action.”
In Hjelm’s ruling, he cited reports of witnesses which seemed to place Sullivan in Cuba. Among the reports was one from an American imprisoned in Cuba who reported he had been detained in a cell next to Sullivan.
Hjelm found that Maine and federal law provided him with the authority to rule on the suit against a foreign government. He ordered that a prejudgment annual interest rate of 5.99 percent be added to the $21 million, along with a postjudgment interest rate of 6.40 percent for every year the Cuban government fails to pay the damages.
Damages have been paid to other litigants from Cuban assets frozen by the U.S. government shortly after the 1959 revolution. According to The Associated Press, at the end of 2005, approximately $270 million in Cuban assets were frozen in U.S. bank accounts.
Sullivan said in 2009 that her goal was never to obtain money.
“It was to find out what happened to my father,” she said.