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The suspects in a Russian spy ring lived all-American lives

Accused Russian spy Anna Chapman became an instant Web sensation following the release of photos posted on the Russian social-networking Web site "Odnoklassniki," or Classmates.

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Indeed, the alleged agents lived in the suburbs, went to parties and rooted for American sports teams. Eight men and women, authorities say, were "paired off" by Russian intelligence as married couples, and at least three of those four couples had children in the United States.

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Two of those arrested in Arlington, a couple known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, took their young son on walks each evening in Seattle, where they lived until last year, neighbors said. Zottoli worked for an investment firm; Mills was a stay-at-home mom. The family lived in a neat and carefully decorated fifth-floor apartment.

"How would you ever think somebody next door would be involved in something like this?" said John Morrison, a neighbor. "You wouldn't think a spy would care about what color curtains or about making things look nice."

Mikhail Semenko, the third Arlington resident, helped neighbors at his apartment complex dig out after last winter's massive snowstorms. On his Facebook page, he lists a New Jersey Devils hockey player as one of his "likes."

"He's warm, not calculating," said Slava Shirokov, a co-owner of the Virginia travel agency where Semenko worked. "It's straight from a movie."

(In a strange twist of Washington's spy history, the strip mall that houses the travel agency has a Hollywood connection to Hanssen, the FBI agent who spied for Russia: A film crew working on "Breach," a movie about Hanssen, set up shop in the parking lot several years ago, the mall manager said.)

Hidden clues

But beneath the carefully constructed exteriors, there were indications of what authorities say was the suspects' real purpose in the United States: to infiltrate academic, policymaking and government-connected circles. Semenko, for example, often attended events sponsored by embassies and nongovernmental organizations.

Donald Howard Heathfield, an international business consultant who lived with his "wife," Tracey Lee Ann Foley, and their two teenage sons in Cambridge, Mass., sought membership in more than 30 professional, academic and business associations -- including one linked to the Department of Homeland Security, according to his page on LinkedIn.

More direct hints emerge in court documents. When agents covertly searched Foley's bank safety deposit box in 2001, they found a series of photographic negatives of her. The name of the company that produced the negatives had been excised on all but one. Authorities identified the producer of the final negative as TACMA, a Soviet film company, court documents said.

The Murphys, the New Jersey couple, argued to their Russian handlers that they should own their Montclair home, according to encrypted communications intercepted by federal investigators. The handlers responded that the director of Russian foreign intelligence "had personally determined that the center would own the Montclair house but would permit the NJ conspirators to live in it," court documents say.

The Murphys pushed. "From our perspective, purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here," they said. "It was a convenient way to solve the housing issue plus to 'do as the Romans do' in a society that values home ownership."

Back on the Murphys' leafy street, neighbors on Tuesday expressed bewilderment at the charges. They said Richard, who worked at home, was often seen walking his daughters to the bus stop in the morning.

"The tragedy is what's going to happen with these kids," said neighbor Alan Sokolow.

Rucker reported from New Jersey. Staff writers Paul Schwartzman, Maria Glod, Jason Horowitz and Kevin Sieff and staff researchers Julie Tate and Meg Smith contributed to this report.


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