Last Living Watergate Burglar and Longtime Operative Eugenio Martinez Dies at 98

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Sean Neumann
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Johnny Louis/FilmMagic Eugenio Martinez

Eugenio Martinez, the last living burglar involved in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon has died. He was 98.

Martinez, who was one of four men in the failed break-in, died Saturday at his daughter's home in Minneola, Florida, according to The Miami Herald and The New York Times.

His death was announced by the Brigade 2506, an anti-Communist veterans group of Cuban exiles, the Times reported. Martinez is survived by a son and several daughters as well as four grandchildren, according to the Herald.

Born in western Cuba in 1922, Martinez was later exiled from the country because of his opposition to then-Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After Batista was overthrown, Martinez briefly returned to Cuba but was exiled again in 1959 for his criticism of Fidel Castro, then the country's leader.

Backed by the CIA, Martinez and the Brigade 2506 group led an infamously failed 1961 invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and he was later said to have covertly traveled back to Cubs "hundreds of times" for CIA missions throughout his life, according to the Times.

The Herald described him as "a prolific asset" for the CIA and a granddaughter told the paper he took part in 365 missions.

But it was Martinez's involvement in the 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex that came to define his public persona.

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Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police/AP/Shutterstock Eugenio Martinez

Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Eugenio Martinez

He and three other operatives were recruited by White House consultant E. Howard Hunt, a former U.S. intelligence officer and fellow Bay of Pigs veteran, to break into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in June 1972.

The operation was blown when a security guard at the building noticed the men and called the police, triggering a cycle of investigations and coverups. Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment over the scandal.

Martinez served 15 months for his role in the break-in and later said he believed he was recruited to aid the burglary in order to find evidence of links between Castro and the Democratic presidential candidate Sen. George McGovern.

"If an operation were presented to me in the same way as then, I would accept again," he told Spanish newspaper El Mundo in 2009.

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In a 1974 Vanity Fair piece about his life and role in Watergate, Martinez revealed he had been divorced earlier in the day before the bungled burglary.

"I had just gotten my divorce that day and had gone from the court to the airport and from the airport to the Watergate," he wrote. "The environment in each one of us was different, but the whole thing was bad; there was tension in those people."

Martinez, who had become a citizen after leaving Cuba, according to the Herald, worked as a car salesman in Miami Beach once he was released from prison. He was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, having been twice denied by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Martinez also remained active in his community, even into his advanced age, his granddaughter told the Herald.

"We could have 20 interruptions while we were eating and he would have a smile on his face," she said. "Whoever would call him, he would answer their questions. That's why when you Google him you see so many pictures of him."

Other than Nixon, Martinez was the only person involved in Watergate to receive a pardon.

He told El Mundo he kept one keepsake from the failed operation. It was a gold clover with a Spanish inscription carved into it: "Good luck. Richard Nixon."