Thursday, February 29, 2024

2 spy suspects admit using fake names


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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors say two more suspects in an alleged Russian spy ring have admitted they are Russian citizens living in the U.S. under false identities.
In a court filing Friday, prosecutors said the defendants known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills told authorities after their arrest that their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva.
The pair were arrested in Arlington, Va., where they have been living as a married couple with two young children.
Prosecutors also say the couple had $100,000 in cash and phony passports and other identity documents stashed in safe deposit boxes.
They were appearing in federal court in Virginia Friday along with a third suspect, Mikhail Semenko.
They are among 11 suspects arrested in the spy ring this week.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Three suspects accused of planting themselves in suburbia near the nation’s capital to spy for Russia awaited court appearances Friday, as officials in Cyprus said another defendant in the bust might have fled the island after being set free on bail.
Justice Minister Loucas Louca said Friday in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, it was unlikely that Christopher Metsos, 54, would be apprehended on the Mediterranean island because he believes that he is no longer there. Metsos is wanted in the United States on charges that he supplied money to the spy ring.
He disappeared on Wednesday after a Cypriot court freed him on bail, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it had no reason to believe Metsos was in Russia.
“Oh, no, come on. Where did you get this?” ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said. “I do not have such information. You’re knocking on the wrong door. He has not contacted the Foreign Ministry.”
Three other suspects in the bust, Mikhail Semenko, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, were arrested at their Arlington, Va., homes this week and charged with being foreign agents.
They were set to appear Friday before Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where the judge will decide whether they are to remain in custody until future proceedings. Six other defendants have already appeared in court in the Northeast, and one was granted bail.
The hearing had been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed at the request of attorneys for Zottoli and Mills. The attorneys would not say why they asked for the delay.
According to court documents, Zottoli claims to be a U.S. citizen, born in Yonkers, N.Y., and is married to Mills, a purported Canadian citizen. The FBI said the two lived together over the years in a number of locations, including Seattle, before moving to Virginia last year.
According to the charging documents, an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian agent met with Semenko last Saturday in Washington, blocks from the White House. The agent gave Semenko a folded newspaper wrapped around an envelope containing $5,000 and directed him to drop it in an Arlington park. The documents say there is video of Semenko making the delivery as instructed.
Regarding Zottoli, authorities detailed several exchanges with other alleged coconspirators, in which he is accused of receiving thousands of dollars, laptops used to communicate with Russian officials and other items.
In June 2006, Zottoli and Mills traveled to Wurtsboro, N.Y., where Zottoli dug up a package of money that had been buried there two years earlier by another conspirator, the FBI said.
During a search of the couple’s Seattle apartment, the FBI says, agents found a radio that can be used for receiving short-wave radio transmissions and spiral notebooks, which contained random columns of numbers. Authorities believe the two used the codes to decipher messages that came through the radio.
Semenko studied international relations at Amur State University from 2000 to 2005, former classmate Galina Toropchina said.
“He was a very good boy, unfortunately not all students are like him,” Toropchina said.
A magistrate judge in New York decided Thursday that two other defendants, Cynthia and Richard Murphy, should remain in custody because there was no other way to guarantee they would not flee since it was unclear who they were.
But he set bail of $250,000 for prominent Spanish-language journalist Vicky Pelaez, a U.S. citizen born in Peru, saying she did not appear to be trained as a spy. The judge required electronic monitoring and home detention and said she would not be freed before Tuesday, giving prosecutors time to appeal.
Lawyers for Juan Lazaro, Pelaez’s husband, asked to postpone his bail hearing just hours after prosecutors revealed in a letter to the judge that Lazaro had made incriminating statements.
A judge in a federal court Thursday in Boston gave Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, of Cambridge, Mass., until July 16 to prepare for a bail hearing.
Not due in court Thursday was 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.
Eight of the suspects are accused by prosecutors of being foreign-born, husband-and-wife teams who were supposed to be Americanizing themselves and gradually developing ties to policymaking circles in the U.S.
Most were living under assumed identities, according to the FBI. Their true names and citizenship remain unknown, but several are suspected of being Russians by birth.
In Cyprus, Louca told The Associated Press that the suspect was arrested as he tried to board a flight to Budapest, Hungary, with his girlfriend. The woman was allowed to board the flight since there was no Interpol notice regarding her, Louca said.
Investigators have Metsos’ laptop computer in their possession but have not checked its contents, he said.


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