Spy Suspects Admit Using Fake Names: Prosecutors

By KATHLEEN MILLER
|  Friday, Jul 2, 2010  |  Updated 7:06 PM EDT
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Alleged Russian Spies in Detention Court

The three people accused of being in a Russian spy ring were made their first appearance in a Virginia courtroom Friday.
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Two more suspects in an alleged Russian spy ring have admitted they are Russian citizens living in the U.S. under false identities, prosecutors said.

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.

Zottoli and Mills, along with a third defendant, Mikhail Semenko, remained jailed after waiving their right Friday to a detention hearing during brief appearances in federal court.

They are among 11 people arrested this week. Six other defendants had already appeared in court in the Northeast, and one was granted bail.

In Friday's court filing, prosecutors said Zottoli and Mills had $100,000 in cash and phony passports and other identity documents stashed in safe deposit boxes. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason B. Smith also wrote that Mills asked a family friend who has been caring for their two children since their arrest to take them to Russia to Mills' sister and parents.

Semenko, who was in the U.S. on a work visa, is not alleged to have used a false identity. But prosecutors said the FBI has searched his home and a second apartment that he recently leased and found computer equipment "of the type capable of being used for ... clandestine communications."

Semenko's visa has now been revoked, Smith said, and an immigration detainer has been filed for him at the Alexandria jail.

Zottoli, Mills and Semenko were charged with being foreign agents, while Zottoli and Mills are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In their filing, prosecutors said Zottoli and Mills gave information to authorities after being told about their Miranda rights to have a lawyer and to remain silent under interrogation.

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.

Neighbors and co-workers of the three Virginia suspects expressed surprise earlier this week that they were accused of being foreign agents. Zottoli and Mills were described as leading a normal household that reverberated with the sounds of children, while an employer said Semenko was smart but clumsy.

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 said 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 said, 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.

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