By Maria Glod and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010; A02
Two Arlington County residents charged with being part of a Russian spy ring admitted to authorities that they have been using false names and are Russian citizens, federal prosecutors said.
Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, who had been living in a Pentagon City high-rise with their two young children, told agents after their arrest that their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva, according to court documents. A search this week of one safe-deposit box used by the couple turned up $80,000 in cash -- all in new $100 bills -- tucked into eight envelopes. Authorities found $20,000 and passports under the fake names in a second safe-deposit box, according to the documents.
The revelations came Friday as Zottoli, who had said he was born in New York, Mills and a third accused spy arrested in Arlington, Mikhail Semenko, briefly appeared in federal court in Alexandria, where they waived their rights to a detention hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan set a Wednesday preliminary hearing for all of them.
The three defendants are among 11 people charged in what the Justice Department says was a ring of deep-cover spies sent to infiltrate U.S. policymaking and academic circles.
Ten were arrested in raids in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Police in Cyprus arrested an 11th suspect. Most had assumed false identities in the United States, prosecutors said, but Semenko used his real name. Officials have said that eight of the accused spies, including Zottoli and Mills, were "paired off" by Russian intelligence and pretended to be married but were not.
Authorities said the defendants tried to glean intelligence by making connections to think tanks and government officials. Those charged were ordered by their Russian handlers not to seek classified data, some federal officials have said.
The government filing, which argued that the Arlington residents should be detained until trial, also revealed the contents of a decrypted message sent in 2009 from the Russian intelligence service to a New Jersey couple charged in the case.
"The only goal and task of our Service and of all of us is security of our country. . . . Only for reaching this goal you were dispatched to US, settled down there, gained legal status and were expected to start striking up usefull acquaintances, broadening circle of your well placed connections, gaining information and eventually recruiting sources," the message read.
Semenko, who is fluent in Russian, English, Mandarin and Spanish, worked at an Arlington travel agency helping Chinese and Hispanic travelers. Co-workers said he liked to attend embassy events and participated in language clubs.
Neighbors in Seattle, where Zottoli and Mills lived before moving to Virginia in October 2009, knew them as doting parents who often went for walks with their oldest son. They said Zottoli worked for an investment firm and that Mills was a stay-at-home mom.
According to the new government filing, the couple has been making arrangements with a family friend to care for their two toddlers. Mills has asked a friend to contact her family members in Russia to take custody of the children -- and take them to Russia, the court papers said.
Federal agents have been building a case for years, using surveillance and undercover agents who made contact with the defendants.
On June 26, Semenko met an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian government agent, according to court records. At a street corner in the District, the undercover agent gave Semenko a folded newspaper with $5,000 concealed in an envelope in its pages and directions to drop it off at an Arlington park. Video surveillance taken the next morning shows Semenko leaving the paper at the "drop site," underneath a park bridge, the records said.