It was last Nov. 18 when Anne Henderson-Pollard knocked on her next-door neighbor's door. Her husband, Jonathan Jay Pollard, was in trouble, she blurted out.
The neighbor, Christine Esfandiari, recalled yesterday that Henderson-Pollard said she must immediately burn a suitcase filled with classified documents that her husband had given her.
Trembling, she handed Esfandiari her wedding album for safekeeping and asked her to retrieve the suitcase from beneath a staircase in their Dupont Circle apartment building. Take it to the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, Henderson-Pollard implored. She would be waiting there.
Esfandiari's husband got the suitcase, but the couple did not take it to the Four Seasons. Instead, the next day Esfandiari called the Naval Investigative Service, where Pollard worked as a civilian counterintelligence analyst.
"I told them, 'I have some classified information that may be of help to you,' " Esfandiari said. "I was so petrified at that point."
Within an hour, Navy and FBI agents showed up at their apartment and immediately took custody of the suitcase.
A short time before Henderson-Pollard appeared at Esfandiari's apartment on Nov. 18, the FBI and Navy officials, who sources said had been alerted by Pollard's co-workers, had confronted Pollard at work. Pollard had interrupted the interview to telephone his wife, tipping her to get rid of the suitcase by invoking a prearranged password: "Take the 'cactus' to friends."
On Nov. 21, Pollard was arrested outside the Israeli Embassy after he and his wife unsuccessfully sought political asylum.
The reams of classified U.S. documents found inside the suitcase became evidence in the government's case against the Pollards.
On Wednesday, Pollard pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver U.S. secrets to Israel, and his wife pleaded guilty to two lesser charges related to her possession of the documents found in the suitcase. Pollard faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Henderson-Pollard could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
The Pollard case provoked a political uproar here and has affected the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Even now, as Esfandiari walks by the Pollards' former apartment each day she is baffled about what her "good friends" did, and by the clandestine double life they led next door to her. She said she wishes they still lived there and "that none of it happened, because we would still be good friends."
"No matter what we ever needed, they would have helped us," she said. "They left us their car while they were gone because we don't have a car."
Esfandiari said that she and her husband felt guilty at first about having turned in their friends.
"It was very hard because we cared so much about them," said Esfandiari, the daughter of a career Navy officer. "But in good conscience we couldn't let something like that go."
Esfandiari said the only suspicions she and husband had grew out of the Pollards' grand life style.
"They were always talking about their high bills," Esfandiari said. She said they regularly ate at expensive restaurants -- particularly Mr. K's, a posh downtown Chinese restaurant. They talked of buying a $600,000 Georgetown house.
She was amazed and a little envious when the Pollards took two overseas trips within a year, stayed at first-class hotels and dined at the fanciest restaurants. On a trip to Paris, they bought what Esfandiari described as a "breathtakingly beautiful" and very expensive sapphire and diamond ring for Henderson-Pollard.
"I felt so self-conscious with my little chip diamond," she said.
Pollard told her he had a "rich uncle" in Paris who paid for the European trips. "Jay Pollard said all he had to do was send the credit card receipts and his uncle would pay for it."
But according to federal prosecutors, the European trips were not paid for by a "rich uncle," but instead were financed by Israeli agents directing the Pollard spying operation.
On a trip to Paris in the summer of 1984, in which Pollard met with Israeli officials directing the operation, an Israeli Air Force colonel who allegedly was Pollard's first contact also bought the ring as a gift for Pollard's wife, prosecutors said. The colonel told Pollard to stay only at first-class hotels.
At the end of each overseas trip, the second of which included a stay in Israel, the Israelis gave Pollard $10,000, prosecutors said. In addition, prosecutors said, Pollard was paid more than $45,000 for delivering suitcases full of classified U.S. defense secrets twice a month for more than a year.
"When I thought of them going to all those places overseas , and buying that ring, I was so excited and happy for them," Esfandiari said. "To find out it was all because of spying.
"I couldn't believe that was our Anne and Jay. I was mad. I was hurt. I felt deceived and betrayed."