By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Three months before 50-year-old Douglas Groat was arrested for selling government secrets to two foreign governments, he was in Toledo, playing with his grandchildren.
When Mr. Groat’s son, Shawn, was at work at a glass shop in Perrysburg, the older man watched the two girls, aged 2 and 4, to save his son money on baby-sitting.
It is not the typical image of a turncoat spy, one who the CIA says tried to extort $500,000 from the agency in exchange for his silence and, unsatisfied, leaked information to representatives of two foreign powers.
But that is the image Shawn Groat, 26, of West Toledo, is trying to project of his father, who is in jail facing the death penalty.
“He wouldn’t have done something like this, not to his family,” Shawn Groat said yesterday. “He worked too hard to do that.”
He last spoke to his father about three weeks ago and has been unable to reach him since his arrest Thursday. But he said he knows enough about the case to know his father’s problem with the CIA is less blackmail than frustration about getting retirement money he thinks he is owed.
Shawn Groat offered his version of what he says led to his father’s arrest:
Douglas Groat spent most of his adult life working for the government. He worked for police departments and federal agencies before, one day in 1980, he announced to his family that they were moving to Washington. Shawn was told his dad worked for the U.S. Department of State.
At the CIA, Douglas Groat was a code cracker. His job was to steal and decipher the codes foreign governments use to communicate with one another. He was paid about $70,000 a year.
All was well until 1992, when Special Agent Groat went on a mission – Shawn said he would not say where or with what purpose – and something went wrong. The mission was “compromised,” Shawn Groat said.
After returning from the failed mission, the elder Groat and several others on the mission were asked to take a polygraph test to determine what caused the failure. Mr. Groat refused.
“He knew they’d read it however they wanted,” Shawn Groat said.
He said the other agents failed the test.
Then, because of the polygraph incident, Mr. Groat was put on administrative leave. He continued to receive his full salary but did not report to work.
Then Mr. Groat took a series of jobs, including working for a trucking service in Virginia. He split up with his wife and decided to buy a motor home and roam the country.
For a couple of years, he stayed distant from his family, calling only every few months.
In 1996, he was eligible to receive a pension. When he walked into his office to fill out paperwork, he was fired and told he was being investigated for treason. “The government was just looking for reasons to fire him,” Shawn Groat said.
By this time, he had re-entered his family’s life and began talking regularly to family members while still traveling around the country. He continued to demand his retirement money, to which he claimed he was entitled.
“He was just living off what he had in the bank, and he needed that money,” Shawn Groat said.
He called the CIA offices to plead his case – without success.
Wanting to spend time with his granddaughters, Douglas Groat spent nearly all of November and December, 1997, in Toledo at his son’s house, “just visiting.”
Three weeks ago, the two men talked on the phone. Douglas Groat asked mostly about the divorce Shawn is going through and mentioned he was in Georgia, taking a class on pipeline inspection. A new job could take him near Toledo and his grandchildren.
On Thursday, Douglas Groat went to his office, in one final attempt to collect his retirement. He was arrested.
Shawn learned of the arrest when FBI agents arrived at his home at 10:45 p.m. that night to question him.
Tomorrow night, he’ll leave for Washington to visit his father in jail if authorities allow it.
A CIA spokesman refused to comment on the account.
The son’s version of events is not confirmed by anyone else. But for now, Shawn Groat is more concerned about clearing his father’s name than anything else.
“To know my father, I can’t say what he’s capable of doing,” he said. “But I know he would not sell out the government he had devoted his life to.”