Tobin in home sweet home Connecticut

Associated Press

RIDGEFIELD -- John Tobin snipped a symbolic yellow ribbon outside Town Hall on Monday, marking the Fulbright scholar's return to his home town after serving a prison sentence in Russia for drug charges.

Tobin, who says he was framed by Russian authorities after refusing an invitation to become a spy, was greeted by dozens of townspeople who blanketed the square outside Town Hall.

"I thought about you all while I was over there," Tobin said. "I'm really proud of this town. I love this town very much.

"I don't have the words to express how grateful I am for all of your love, prayers and support," he said.

Tobin was paroled on Aug. 3 and returned to the United States on Aug. 8. He spent last few days with family members in upstate New York.

Dozens of yellow ribbons tied to trees and lamp posts have symbolized the town's support for Tobin. Few in the crowd Monday said they actually knew Tobin, but many said he had become the town's adopted son.

"My family has been watching this story pretty intensely and we certainly feel the connection," said Deb Bush. The window of her Main Street store was practically covered with a red, white and blue sign welcoming Tobin home.

"Our prayers were answered, too, along with his family's," said Sylvia Arena.

Clara Kalocsai said she didn't know Tobin, but had a personal connection nonetheless: She emigrated from Hungary 30 years ago.

"I came from a Russian-occupied country; I know how they are," she said. "I think he must have had a horrible time. I've been here 30 years but I don't forget."

Tobin was conducting political science research in Russia when he was arrested in January in the provincial town of Voronezh. Police said they found a small amount of marijuana on him as he left a nightclub.

He was convicted in April of obtaining, possessing and distributing marijuana and sentenced to 37 months in prison.

The case took on political overtones when the Russian Federal Security Service claimed Tobin was a spy in training, citing his Russian studies at the elite Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.

No espionage charges were filed, however, and Tobin said he was framed on the drug charges because he refused to work for Russian intelligence.

A higher court overturned the distribution conviction and reduced the sentence to one year. A court later approved his parole at a prison hearing after Tobin served half his sentence.

Shortly after Tobin arrived at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday, he said he was excited to be back home.

"It's great to be back in the land of the free," the 24-year-old Tobin told a news conference. "I never felt alone (in jail). I could feel the blessings and good will of the people back here supporting me."