Novi man detained in Russia on spying charges allowed to speak with US officials

U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman met in Moscow on Wednesday with a Michigan man who has been detained on espionage charges as the American government seeks answers about his arrest.

Paul Whelan, 48, was supposed to be in Russia to celebrate a fellow marine's wedding over the holidays when he disappeared, his brother, David Whelan, said Tuesday. He arrived Dec. 22 and was scheduled to stay through Sunday. 

Paul was head of global security of an auto supplier based in Auburn Hills. His position allowed him access to all parts of the world.

Novi man in Russia for wedding at time of spying arrest, family says

"Paul agreed to help because Paul had already been to Russia a number of times. Knew where the sites were and how to get around town," David Whelan said. "He would visit physical plants for his company - plants either operated by the company or subsidiaries - and check the physical security. Broken windows, ability of people to get access to the building, that sort of thing."

But at some point over the weekend, he dropped out of communication with his family and David knew something was wrong.

"It was Monday morning that I did a Google search and found the Russian ministry had announced it had arrested for being a potential spy," he said.

Russian Federal Security Service said Whelan was caught "during an espionage operation," but gave no specific information about why he was detained. 

Novi man arrested in Russia on charges of spying

David says the accusation doesn't add up.

"I just can't imagine him getting sideways with the law in Russia or doing anything anywhere close to breaking the espionage act."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier Wednesday, while in Brazil, that the U.S. hoped to gain access soon to the former Marine and that "if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return."

Whelan was a Marine before his position as a civilian. He fought in Iraq in 2004 and 2006 but in 2008, he was convicted of several larceny charges and was given a 'bad conduct' discharge from the military.

"All of us have things in our past that maybe detract from our better selves and that's perhaps why I didn't know about it," David said.

There is some concern this could be response to the US arresting a woman who has since admitted she was a secret agent for the Kremlin.  A case Vladimir Putin calls "fabricated"

If convicted of the charge of espionage, Whelan could spend up to 20 years in prison.