Russian Agents Plead Guilty, Set for Prisoner Swap
Ten members of a Russian spy ring pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents, and will be expelled immediately from the U.S. in a prisoner exchange with Russia.
“The Russian Federation agrees to release four individuals who are incarcerated in Russia for alleged contact with the United States,” U.S. District Judge Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan said in a hearing today, referring to an agreement between the two countries that was part of the resolution in the case.
Wood sentenced all 10 to time served and ordered they be deported. The U.S. won’t drop money-laundering charges against eight of the defendants until “the full terms of the intergovernmental agreement” between Russia and the U.S. are met, U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz said in court. That count carries a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
One by one, each of the accused agents admitted carrying money or coded messages, secretly communicating with Russian officials and instructing others on how to find information useful to Russia. Their objective was to infiltrate U.S. policy- making circles after constructing American aliases and identities in suburbs and cities along the East Coast.
The prosecution and investigation of the Russian “deep- cover” agents “sends a message to every other intelligence gathering agency that if you come over here to spy, you will be exposed and arrested,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. Bharara said the timing of the arrests wasn’t designed to obtain a “bargaining chip” to trade for Russian prisoners.
The pleas are part of an arrangement between the U.S. and Russia that includes the prisoner swap. Russia will release four people it holds in exchange for the 10 defendants, Wood said in the hearing. The four “are in custody in Russia for alleged contact with the United States,” according to the agreement.
Some of the prisoners to be released have worked for Russian military or intelligence agencies, prosecutors said.
Military researcher Igor Sutyagin, convicted by Russia of espionage in 2004, arrived in Vienna today, Ernst Chyorny, head of the Public Committee to Protect Scientists, said by telephone today from Moscow.
The defendants will be “immediately expelled from the United States,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Lawyers for each of the defendants said their clients met with Russian Federation officials after their arrest. Farbiarz said the visits were conducted under provisions of the Geneva Convention.
John Rodriguez, a lawyer for Vicky Pelaez, told Wood that his client had been told “she would be allowed upon her arrival to Russia to go to any country in the world, including Peru. She would be provided free housing by the Russian Federation and a monthly stipend of $2,000, which was for life, and offered visas to her children for the purposes of visiting her in the Russian Federation.”
Pelaez, a columnist for the Spanish language El Diario newspaper, is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Peru.
As a condition of the plea agreements, some of the defendants disclosed their real names publicly today for first time.
Richard and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, New Jersey told Wood they are really Vladimir Guryev and Lydia Guryev; Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Cambridge, Massachusetts said they are Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Prosecutors earlier disclosed that defendants Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills are Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva.
Juan Lazaro gave his name as Mikhail Vasenkov. Pelaez, his wife, operated in the U.S. under her true identity. Defendants Mikhail Semenko and Anna Chapman also lived without an alias.
Lazaro, who said he has a Ph.D. from the New School in New York, said, “from the 1990s to the present day in the Southern District of New York, I agreed to work as an agent of the Russian Federation.”
Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Palaez told Judge Wood, “on behalf of my husband, I agreed to travel to Peru to meet a person who was with the Russian Federation,” she said.
Farbiarz asked Wood to make more inquiries of what Pelaez had taken with her to Peru, Pelaez answered, “I took letters in invisible ink to this person.”
The case is U.S. v. Metsos, 10-cr-00598, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).