By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; A02
A federal judge released a member of an alleged Russian spy ring on bail Thursday but ordered two others detained until trial after prosecutors said the Russian government would probably help them escape if they were freed.
In court papers and at a hearing in Manhattan, prosecutors said Russian officials in the United States have aided the network of people who the government says have been living like ordinary Americans while secretly reporting to Moscow. If released, the accused spies "could call upon the assistance of a sophisticated, resources-rich foreign intelligence service'' to flee the United States, the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office argued in a court filing.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis issued his rulings after prosecutors said one defendant, known as Juan Lazaro, had confessed to helping the Russian intelligence service and said his devotion superseded even family ties.
"Although he loved his son, he would not violate his loyalty to the 'Service' even for his son,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz quoted Lazaro as telling the government after being arrested Sunday.
Eleven people are charged in what the Justice Department says was a ring of longtime, deep-cover spies sent to infiltrate U.S. policy-making and academic circles. The judge said Lazaro's wife, Vicky Pelaez, of Yonkers, N.Y., could be freed on $250,000 bail and placed under house arrest. He denied bail to Richard and Cynthia Murphy, who were arrested in New Jersey. Prosecutors say the couples were "paired off" by Russian intelligence and were not married.
Hearings scheduled for six other defendants Thursday, including Lazaro and three arrested in Arlington County, were postponed. Another defendant this week was ordered detained until trial; the final defendant has disappeared after being arrested in Cyprus and released on bail.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy did not return telephone calls late Thursday afternoon.
In arguing that the Russian government would help the defendants flee the U.S. courts, prosecutors could inflame the delicate diplomacy surrounding the case. Officials in the United States and Russia have sought to contain the fallout from the arrests at a time of improving relations between the countries.
The court documents suggested that the accused spies could simply walk into the Russian consulate or the Russian Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan and gain sanctuary. "The defendants here would hardly need to flee the United States to ensure they are outside the reach of the criminal justice system," it said.
In their filing, prosecutors said the evidence against the defendants is overwhelming and reveals new information gleaned since they were arrested. They said Lazaro, after waiving his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, admitted that his name was fake and that Pelaez has delivered letters to Russian intelligence on his behalf. Prosecutors have said most of the defendants assumed false identities in the United States.
In federal court in Alexandria, a detention hearing for the defendants known as Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko was postponed until Friday. Wearing dark green prison jumpsuits, the three appeared in a packed courtroom.
Staff reporter Maria Glod contributed to this report.