Two more of the alleged Russian agents arrested this week have revealed their true identities to federal authorities, U.S. officials said in papers filed with a federal judge in Virginia today.
An Arlington, Virginia couple described by neighbors as friendly and social had called themselves Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, two graduates of a University of Washington business program who were thought to be Canadian and American. In fact, prosecutors said in papers today, the two have acknowledged they are Russians named Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva. Pereverzeva disclosed that her parents, brother, and sister all still live in Russia.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors said that the Yonkers man who called himself Juan Lazaro had also admitted he was Russian, and would sooner betray his own son than the Russian intelligence service.
Authorities say the Arlington couple, along with a third man, Mikhail Semenko, had been under surveillance since at least 2004, and have been seen collecting cash and special computer equipment that allowed them to exchange coded messages with the Russian intelligence service.
The disclosures are the latest snippets that federal prosecutros have been releasing as they attempt to prevent judges from releasing the accused agents on bail. Details about the couple, who called themselves Zottoli and Mills, came in advance of a bail hearing in Alexandria today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan. As they did with defendants in New York and Boston, federal prosecutors laid out just a sliver of what they called "overwhelming" evidence that the 10 people arrested June 27 were agents of the Russian government living under assumed identities in the U.S.
The group has been charged with serving as agents of a foreign government who failed to register with the U.S. Department of Justice, not the more serious crime of espionage. They have all proclaimed their innocence and lawyers for the arrested individuals have said they have seen nothing to indicate that the accused group tapped into sensitive government secrets.
Still, details released by prosecutors over the past several days paint a curious picture of individuals who were social, outgoing, and friendly in public, but were secretly transmitting coded messages, traveling under fake names, arranging clandestine meetings, collecting stashes of cash, and hiding their Russian roots and true identities.
It was "at its core, a systematic deception – of neighbors, friends, colleagues, people from whom information is being gathered, and family members," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the July 2 letter to the court.