With parents accused of spying for Russia, what happens to their children?
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The men and women arrested on suspicion of operating a Russian espionage ring in the United States face long prison terms if they are convicted. But the future for their children -- seven American-born offspring born to four couples, most of them allegedly Russian citizens -- lacks even that degree of definition.
What will become of the grade school sisters in Montclair, N.J., one of whom was at a friend's birthday party Sunday as FBI agents hauled away her parents?
Or the 1- and 3-year-old siblings in Arlington, whom agents briefly left with county officials after their parents were apprehended? Or the brothers in Cambridge, Mass., whom neighbors saw last week helping their parents move into a new home?
Now the brothers' parents, known as Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, are in federal custody, and the children -- one an adult, the other a teenager, according to neighbors -- are home alone. "I'm waiting for an important call. Please don't call back," one brother, Tim Heathfield, said Wednesday before hanging up.
Justice Department officials, citing privacy laws, declined to comment on what steps they have taken to care for the children of the espionage suspects. But Dean Boyd, a Justice spokesman, said children of defendants in federal cases are generally placed in the care of state child protection agencies. "We recognize the importance of proper care for the children in this case," he said.
Each of the four purportedly married couples charged -- the indictment documents say some were paired off by Russian intelligence authorities -- has children, and law enforcement officials said the defendants have all suggested friends as guardians for their kids. Child protective service agencies in Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts will decide whether those friends will take custody of the children while the case winds through the legal system, officials said.
The defendants, who authorities say are Russian operatives sent to the United States as long-term plants, have no relatives in this country.
In two cases, it's possible that older children of the suspects might wind up caring for younger children, officials said. Two couples who are charged -- Heathfield and Foley, and Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro of Yonkers, N.Y. -- have one adult child each.
Federal officials often notify child protective services in advance of arrests, and FBI victim-witness coordinators help ensure that children of defendants are cared for. In this case, a law enforcement official said, "people were well aware of the children and planned for it."
The FBI broke up the alleged spy network, arresting 10 suspects in Arlington, Montclair, Yonkers, Manhattan and Cambridge. An 11th suspect captured in Cyprus went missing Wednesday, a day after being released on bail.
Investigators said the suspects ensconced themselves in the American mainstream, masking their mission: to gather information on topics such as nuclear weapons and U.S. relations with Iran. Their children helped them establish a patina of normalcy.
Waldo Mariscal, 38, the son of Pelaez and stepson of Lazaro, described his mother's arrest as "ridiculous" and "political persecution." "We have nothing to do with this," Mariscal told El Diario, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York. "My mother barely speaks English. She's going to speak Russian?"