By Jill Dougherty
An American imprisoned in Cuba, along with his wife in the United States, is suing the U.S. government and the group for which he worked, citing what they call an "abject failure to advise, train and protect him."
Alan Gross, 63, has been held in a Cuban prison since December 2009. He was arrested for bringing in banned communications equipment as part of a State Department program to spread democracy and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Grosses claim that both the U.S. government and the contractor, Development Alternatives Inc., based in Bethesda, Maryland, "failed to disclose adequately to Mr. Gross, both before and after he began traveling to Cuba, the material risks that he faced due to his participation in the project."
The suit also charges that the State Department and DAI failed to provide him with education and training that were necessary to minimize the risk of harm to him, and should have delayed the project "until the risks subsided."
Instead, the couple allege, the company wanted to complete the project quickly "under part of a broader and very lucrative contract with the U.S. government."
"Both DAI and the U. S. government ignored Mr. Gross' repeated security concerns," the suit charges, "so that DAI could continue to generate significant revenue and the government could continue to use Mr. Gross as a pawn in its overall Cuba policy initiatives."
Gross, his lawyers and family say, is battling chronic arthritis pain and "what appears to be a cancerous tumor beneath his shoulder blade. His business and career have been destroyed, and his family has been deprived of their primary wage earner."
In September, the Cuban government disputed reports that Alan Gross' health is failing.
A spokesman for DAI said the group is disappointed that the lawsuit was filed, calling Gross "a colleague and friend whom we respect."
"As much as we would like to address the numerous disagreements we have with the content of the complaint, the fact is that doing so will not advance the cause of bringing Alan home, which remains our highest priority," said Steven O'Connor, director of communications for DAI, in a statement e-mailed to CNN. "We are confident that we will have a chance to tell DAI's side of this story in due course."