Best of AP — Honorable Mention


Career US diplomat abruptly admits to spying for communist Cuba for decades

This image provided by the Justice Department and contained in the affidavit in support of a criminal complaint, shows Manuel Rocha during a meeting with a FBI undercover employee. On Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, Rocha, 73, told a judge he would admit to federal counts of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, charges that could land him behind bars for several years. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT VIA AP

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Good instincts and planning allowed Joshua Goodman and Jim Mustian to trounce the competition with the surprising news that a career U.S. diplomat will plead guilty to charges of working for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba. It brought an unexpectedly swift resolution to a case prosecutors called one of the most brazen betrayals in the history of the U.S. foreign service. Goodman, who broke the blockbuster story of Manuel Rocha’s arrest in December and teamed with Mustian on an ambitious investigation in February that showed the missed red flags that allowed Rocha’s deception, had a nagging hunch that Rocha would take a quick plea deal. Mustian told Goodman he was crazy, saying nobody accused of such a high-profile crime would plead out just two months after being arrested. Goodman was proved right in court Feb. 29 when the 73-year-old Rocha abruptly told the judge he had agreed to plead guilty to two federal counts of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, crimes that could put him behind bars for up to 20 years. Mustian was ready to take Goodman’s text-message dictation from court and helped pull together an urgent story that moved with the APNewsAlert. It trounced the competition, moving 45 minutes ahead of the hometown Miami Herald and ahead of other major news organizations that had similarly closely followed the case. The New York Times, Washington Post and BBC all prominently mentioned AP’s beat and The Wall Street Journal used AP’s story. 

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