Neighbors worry for Novi man accused of espionage in Russia

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jan 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-04 12:24:27-05

NOVI, Mich. (WXYZ) — He is an American citizen who has served his country as a United States Marine and communities in metro Detroit as a law enforcement officer. Now Paul Whelan, 48, is in custody in Russia under investigation for espionage.

His neighbors are shocked at the Portsmouth Apartments where he has been living off of Pontiac Trail in Novi.

“It is horrible. I can’t imagine what he is going through in prison right now,” said Jason Oliverio, a neighbor.

“That is our one goal, to get Paul back home,” said his brother David Whelan on CNN Tuesday morning.

David Whelan insists his brother is innocent of any allegations of espionage.

“He has a background in law enforcement. He was a Marine and he travels a lot. He is not the sort of person who would stumble into a strange environment of making poor choices that could cause him risks. Particularly, he would not make choices that would have gotten sideways of the Russian government and its Espionage Act,” said David.

Whelan’s family has ties to Manchester, near Ann Arbor. 7 Action News stopped at the home where we believe his parents live. An American flag and a Marines flag waved outside.

A person at the home said only quote, “We have no comment on the situation.”

The Chelsea City Manager says that Whelan used to work for Chelsea Police as a part time officer in the 1990s.

Most recently the Auburn Hills based auto parts supplier Borg Warner said he has been working for them as the director of global security.

So why was he in Russia?

His brother says a friend asked him to come to a wedding to help others unfamiliar with the country get around.

“He had a request from a friend and thought he could help because he had been to Russia, maybe help other Americans from the family who had not been to Russia navigate their way around, get on the metro that sort of thing,” said David Whelan.

So how did he come to be accused of espionage by the Russians?

The Russian government has not publicly released details of the allegations against him. Some political analysts point out Russia has a history of making false accusations to force other governments to give up actual spies in custody.