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South Dakota man indicted in espionage case will remain in custody, judge rules

John Murray Rowe Jr. was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on one count of violating U.S. espionage law for sending classified information on fighter jets to a FBI agent in disguise as a member of the Russian Federation.

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Deadwood, South Dakota.
Christopher Vondracek

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A South Dakota man who federal authorities say believed he was selling fighter jet secrets to an FBI agent disguised as a member of the Russian Federation has been ordered detained and transferred to Pennsylvania to await a hearing.

A pretrial services report endorsed releasing John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, of Lead, South Dakota, from federal custody.

However, U.S. District Court of South Dakota magistrate Daneta Wollmann on Monday, Dec. 27, issued an order keeping the retired defense contractor in custody.

On Tuesday, Dec. 21, a grand jury in the Eastern District Court for Pennsylvania indicted Rowe on one count of attempting to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, a violation of espionage protections under U.S. federal law.

Rowe's public defender had argued her client was not a flight risk, according to a court transcript, but Wollmann ordered the U.S. Marshal Service to transport Rowe to Philadelphia for "further proceedings."

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In a federal affidavit, Rowe is accused of meeting with an undercover FBI agent twice in a Deadwood hotel in 2020, as well as disseminating classified information detailing "electronic countermeasure systems used by U.S. military fighter jets" in an email to the FBI agent on May 8, 2020.

According to an affidavit, Rowe communicated with the agent more than 800 times by email between the March meeting in the Black Hills and November 2020.

Rowe had gained various security clearances with the Department of Defense during his work as a contractor between the early 1980s and 2018. He'd been terminated by a contractor in 2018 following violation of security protocols.

Newly unearthed information in the pretrial services report reveals that Rowe has lived at his condominium in downtown Lead, a former gold mining town up the road from Deadwood, for two years prior to contact with the FBI. He also had a clean criminal record, save for a speeding ticket in Jones County in 2018.

As earlier reported , Rowe first attracted the attention of federal authorities after a tip prompted by a social media post of Rowe's in which he boasted online about a previous entanglement with a foreign national regarding his classified work. An FBI employee first made in-person contact with Rowe in March 2020 in Lead, and later at a hotel in Deadwood.

According to a partial transcript of the conversation at the hotel, Rowe discussed exchanging classified information with the purported Russian agent and told the FBI undercover employee, "I've always been interested, especially the last couple years" of seeing Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Later, Rowe told the agent in one email he wanted to work for "the other team," according to court documents filed in South Dakota.

A hearing in Pennsylvania has not yet been scheduled.

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