Pros­e­cu­tors say one ac­cused Rus­sian spy con­fessed

De­fense lawyers de­pict clients as in­no­cent par­ents

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ben­jamin Weiser and Michael Wil­son

They have been de­scribed as Rus­sian se­cret agents liv­ing in the shad­ows of the sub­urbs, but they looked no more sin­is­ter than bored Thurs­day par­ents in U.S. District Court in Man­hat­tan, slumped, arms crossed, as if en­dur­ing an­other long PTA meet­ing.

Hus­bands and wives shared the de­fense ta­ble, two moth­ers and two fa­thers, as the sen­sa­tional charges were fleshed out and the more mun­dane sides of their lives were ex­plored. They were de­scribed as con­ceal­ing their mis­sions from their clos­est ob­servers.

“There is no inkling at all,” said As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Michael Far­biarz, “that their chil­dren, who they live with, have any idea they are Rus­sian agents.”

In the end, the judge de­cided that the charges of de­cep­tion mostly won out over par­ent­hood, deny­ing bail to two de­fen­dants. An­other might be al­lowed to serve a kind of house ar­rest next week.

The fourth, who was granted bail, is the one the govern­ment con­cedes lived un­der her own name: Vicky Pe­laez, a colum­nist for El Diario La Prensa, a news­pa­per in New York, with the judge say­ing she didn’t ap­pear to have trained as a spy. Her hus­band, Juan Jose Lazaro Sr., post­poned his request for bail.

But Lazaro made a long and dam­ag­ing state­ment af­ter his ar­rest, pros­e­cu­tors re­vealed, in which he ad­mit­ted that his loy­alty was to the “Ser­vice,” a ref­er­ence to the Rus­sian SVR, the suc­ces­sor agency to the KGB, the Soviet spy agency.

Of the sec­ond cou­ple, Richard and Cyn­thia Mur­phy of Mont­clair, N.J., the judge said he wasn’t con­fi­dent that they wouldn’t flee if re­leased.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said they had searched a safe-de­posit box be­long­ing to the Mur­phys this week and found eight un­marked en­velopes each stuffed with $10,000.

“In or­der to have con­fi­dence in some­body’s ap­pear­ance, you have to know who the per­son is,” U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Ron­ald El­lis said in deny­ing them bail. “The court came to the con­clu­sion that it just doesn’t know who these in­di­vid­u­als are.”

In the back row of the heav­ily guarded court­room ap­peared to be relatives and sup­port­ers of the de­fen­dants. And lawyers for three of the sus­pects ar­gued that their clients were rooted in their com­mu­ni­ties, had jobs and had no in­cen­tive to flee.

But Far­biarz used that claim against them. The fam­ily sit­u­a­tions and pro­fes­sional and com­mu­nity con­nec­tions — typ­i­cally con­sid­er­a­tions in bail hear­ings — weren’t rel­e­vant, he said, be­cause they were fraud­u­lent and “rid­dled with de­cep­tion.”

The de­ci­sion to deny bail for most of the de­fen­dants came as po­lice on the Mediter­ranean is­land nation of Cyprus searched air­ports, ports and mari­nas for an­other sus­pect, a man who had been go­ing by the name Robert Christo­pher Met­sos. A judge there freed him on $32,500 bail but he failed to show up Wed­nes­day for a meet­ing with po­lice. He was charged by U.S. au­thor­i­ties with sup­ply­ing funds to the other mem­bers of the ring.

Cypriot au­thor­i­ties also ex­am­ined sur­veil­lance video from cross­ing points on the di­vided is­land, fear­ing he might have slipped into the break­away Turk­ish north, a diplo­matic no-man’s-land that’s rec­og­nized only by Turkey and has no ex­tra­di­tion treaties.

El­lis said the dis­ap­pear­ance of Met­sos didn’t af­fect his rul­ing.

“I don’t know what they do in Cyprus,” the judge said.

At the New York hear­ing, pros­e­cu­tors said that Lazaro, af­ter waiv­ing his Mi­randa rights, had ad­mit­ted his al­le­giance to the “Ser­vice.”

Among other things, pros­e­cu­tors said, he con­fessed that Juan Lazaro wasn’t his real name, that he wasn’t born in Uruguay and wasn’t a cit­i­zen of Peru, as he had long claimed, that his home in Yonkers, N.Y., had been paid for by Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence and that his wife, Pe­laez, had passed letters to the “Ser­vice” on his be­half.

He also told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that even though he loved his son, “he would not vi­o­late his loy­alty to the ‘Ser­vice’ even for his son,” three as­sis­tant U.S. attorneys wrote in a court memo. They added that Lazaro, who in­ves­ti­ga­tors claim spent at least part of his child­hood in Siberia, also wouldn’t re­veal his true name.

In Bos­ton, an­other hus­band-and-wife team — two of the de­fen­dants in the case against 11 sus­pected “il­le­gals,” or Rus­sian agents — ap­peared for a hear­ing that was quickly post­poned two weeks. But their iden­ti­ties were an is­sue, too.

When asked by a mag­is­trate judge there how they would like to be ad­dressed, a lawyer for one stuck to what pros­e­cu­tors said was an alias, Don­ald Heathfield. His wife, known as Tracey Lee Ann Fo­ley, how­ever, pre­ferred a new name, “De­fen­dant No. 5.”

Heathfield claimed to be a Cana­dian, but he was us­ing a birth cer­tifi­cate of a de­ceased Cana­dian in­fant, fed­eral agents said in a court fil­ing. His wife pur­ported to be from Canada, too, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors said a fam­ily safe de­posit box held pho­to­graphs taken of her when she was in her 20s that had been de­vel­oped by a Soviet film com­pany.

As they en­tered the court Thurs­day in hand­cuffs and leg shack­les, the cou­ple smiled at their sons, a teenager and a col­lege stu­dent. The boys waved to their par­ents.

Heathfield’s at­tor­ney told the judge that the case against his client was “ex­tremely thin.”

“It es­sen­tially sug­gests that they suc­cess­fully in­fil­trated neigh­bor­hoods, cock­tail par­ties and the PTA,” at­tor­ney Peter Krupp said.

Dana verkouteren

Spying sus­pects Pa­tri­cia Mills, left, Michael Zottoli, and Mikhail Se­menko briefly ap­peared in fed­eral court Thurs­day in Alexan­dria, Va. They are to re­turn to the court to­day for a bail hear­ing. Only one of their eight fel­low de­fen­dants, Vicky Pe­laez, had a request to be freed on bail granted Thurs­day.

Robert Christo­pher Met­sos van­ished in Cyprus af­ter post­ing bail.

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