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Russian spy spills details; 1 flees custody

July 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prosecutors allege the suspected Russian spies were so deep undercover, that their own children had no inkling of their real identities.According to authorities, within hours of his capture, Russian spy suspect Juan Lazaro admitted that his name was an alias. However, he wouldn't reveal his real identity - not "even for his son," court papers say.

Another defendant, who goes by the name Christopher Metsos, was caught in Cyprus and released on $32,500 bail. Cyprus authorities believe that Metsos fled the island. Police have combed the island for the 54-year-old, but he hasn't been seen since he was freed on bail Wednesday. Authorities say Metsos supplied money to the spy ring.

Lazaro's admission was revealed Thursday by prosecutors arguing against bail for him, his wife and another accused couple and their children. The U.S. government says these defendants and seven others were part of a Russian spy ring on long-term assignment to infiltrate American cities to relay information back to their home country.

Their cover was so deep, "there is no inkling at all that their children who they live with have any idea their parents are Russian agents," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis.

Farbiarz also said that if released on bail, the defendants will be shuffled out of the country by a sophisticated network of U.S.-based Russian agents. He even accused Russian government officials of eagerly assisting the entire spy ring conspiracy.

The judge ruled that two defendants, Cynthia and Richard Murphy, should remain in custody because there was no other way to guarantee they would not flee since it's unclear who they really are. But he set bail of $250,000 for Lazaro's wife, prominent Spanish-language journalist Vicky Pelaez, a U.S. citizen born in Peru, saying she did not appear to be trained as a spy. Also, the judge required electronic monitoring and home detention for Pelaez.

This ruling was made after Farbiarz said the evidence against the spies was mounting and described the case as "extraordinarily strong."

Farbiarz presented new evidence such as large sums of cash and cellular phones tucked away in safe-deposit boxes, which he described as "tools of the trade."

He said the spy ring consisted of people who for decades had worked to Americanize themselves while engaging in secret global travel with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink, encrypted radio transmissions and techniques so sophisticated that prosecutors chose not to describe them in court papers.

The prosecutors' claims were countered by lawyers for several defendants who said their clients were harmless and should be released on bail.

Latest Developments:

  • Court documents report that Juan Lazaro made a lengthy statement about the spy operation shortly after his Sunday arrest. Among other things, prosecutors said, he admitted that Juan Lazaro wasn't his real name, that he wasn't born in Uruguay, as he had long claimed, that his home in Yonkers had been paid for by Russian intelligence and that his wife had passed letters to the "Service" on his behalf.
  • Not due in court Thursday was Russian beauty Anna Chapman, the alleged spy whose heavy presence on the Internet and New York party scene has made her a tabloid sensation. She was previously ordered held without bail. Her lawyer said the case against her is weak, and her mother said she's innocent. But Chapman's former husband said her father was a high-ranking KGB officer and he wasn't shocked to learn about his ex-wife's secret life, a British newspaper reported Friday.
  • A magistrate judge in Alexandria, Va., postponed a Thursday hearing for three other people accused of being foreign agents and rescheduled it for Friday.
  • Three Virginia defendants known as Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko appeared briefly Friday in federal court in Alexandria. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan set a preliminary hearing for Wednesday for all three defendants. Prosecutors said Zottoli and Mills have admitted they are Russian citizens living in the U.S. under false identities. They said their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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