June 29, 2010 -- On the downtown New York club scene where she was a regular, friends of accused Russian spy Anna Chapman say they thought she was either a billionaire or hooker and describe an overly flirtatious femme fatale who frequented the most exclusive bars and restaurants dressed in platform heels, designer duds and looks to kill.
The 28-year-old redhead bombshell who stands charged with covertly communicating with Russian intelligence in the largest spy ring bust in the U.S. since the fall of communism bragged to acquaintances about her career in finance and real estate, they told ABC News.
"I had heard that she was a multi-millionaire or even a billionaire," a Ford model who met Chapman on numerous occasions at New York's hottest clubs like Juliet and Greenhouse said. "The rumors were she came from tremendous wealth."
Her Facebook profile shows pictures of Chapman around New York City, including one titled "clubbing" at the trendy Thompson Hotel. She is accused of passing information every Wednesday to Russian agents from locations such as coffee shops and book stores across the city.
Chapman was a Facebook friend of well-known economist and NYU Stern Business School professor Nouriel Roubini. Roubini, dubbed "Dr. Doom," has been credited with predicting the global economic meltdown and is well-known on the New York club circuit.
Chapman and Roubini were Facebook friends until this morning, when the former Director of the Office of Policy Development and Review at the U.S. Treasury Department removed her from his friend's list.
Roubini, who is also the former senior economist for international affairs with the White House Council of Economic Advisors, told ABC News that Chapman had "befriended" him on Facebook.
"I may have met her socially on one or two occasions in a large party (not at my place) and never had a one to one conversation or meeting with her," Roubini said. He added that he has no association with Chapman nor would ever want to have one.
According to the criminal complaint revealed in court yesterday, some of the accused Russian spies arrested this week were directed by Russian intelligence to gain information from U.S. foreign policy officials to "try and outline their views and most important Obama's goals which he expects to achieve during summit in July and how does this team plan to do it."
The FBI said some of the people the accused spies met with include a former legislative counsel for U.S. Congress, a former high ranking U.S. government national security official, a person working on bunker busting nuclear warheads, and a New York financier who is prominent in politics and a major fundraiser for an un-named political party.
Anna Chapman Accused in Russian Spy Ring
Chapman was always "very, very well dressed. The best dressed, the most elegant in the group," the model told ABC News.
And like her beauty, her behavior towards men, did not go unnoticed.
"She was acting kind of scandalous," said a woman who met Chapman at a club in May. "She was playing around, it was a joke, unbuttoning a guy's shirt. Not vulgar, but very flirtatious. Even a little bit inappropriate."
The Ford model described Chapman as "sweet" but "always quite flirtatious" and said she appeared to be dating an older gentleman when he last saw her at the Juliet club in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking district last month.
"When I saw them together, I thought she's too good for him," he said.
All of Chapman's friends reached by ABC News asked not to be publicly named out of fear of possible retaliation by Russian interests.
A local realtor who met Chapman outside her downtown Manhattan apartment a week and a half ago said he first approached her because of her stunning looks, but then was drawn to the business acumen she emphasized.
"She said she had started a company – some crazy search engine that basically stole all the leads in real estate." He said. "She had data technology that combined every single real estate database that you could think of into one. She had a way to get people's information. She was in the business of selling leads."
Still, he said, something was suspicious when Chapman brought him to a business meeting with her team on the terrace of her apartment.
"They were all a joke, the people who were working with her," he said. "Something didn't add up right, but I just wanted to see if she could deliver. She knew nothing about the market."
Arthur Welt, a 36-year-old Russian journalist living in Moscow who first met Chapman in 2008 at a start-up conference, said the idea that Chapman is a spy is "nonsense."
"She was very professional in the real estate market," Welt said. "Startup founders don't have time, especially not for espionage."
One trait many friends in New York noticed of Chapman, however, was her "sweet" demeanor, which has left them all reeling in shock as Chapman remains jailed without bond.
"She was one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met," an acquaintance said. "Everything about her was so sincere, so sweet, no tricks up her sleeve. I don't think she had a bad bone in her body, and if she did then somebody was putting them up to it."
Russian Spy Ring
Another friend who had been close with Chapman since meeting her on a ferry nine months ago, said their shared social group can't get over what Chapman stands accused of.
"Never have I ever thought there was something like this happening with her, that's just crazy to me," said the friend, a former party promoter who said Chapman frequented his events. "I'm getting a million texts and emails from everyone. We're just shocked."
Chapman's attorney Robert Baum said, "The government's case is very thin against Ms. Chapman. There is no allegation that she ever met face to face with any governmentt official. No allegation despite constant surveillange that she ever delivered anything to anyone or received any money."
Eleven accused spies have been arrested this week in the bust, the result of a multi-year investigation, the Department of Justice said.
Four couples living in the U.S. under assumed false identities - Richard and Cynthia Murphy of New Jersey, Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Boston, Massachusetts, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills of Arlington, Virginia, and Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez of Yonkers, New York - are charged as charged with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of Russia and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Chapman and another defendant, Mikhail Semenko, were also arrested Sunday for allegedly aiding in the same suspected Russian spy ring.
The 11th suspect, Christopher Metsos, has been arrested at an airport in Cyprus while trying to flee to Budapest, HUngary, law enforcment said. According to the complaint, Metsos purports to be a Canadian citizen and regularly traveled to U.S. locations to meet with the other defendants, including numerous meetings in New York City in places such as coffee shops and book stores.
They were allegedly secretly working as covert Russian spies on long-term, "deep-cover" assignments to obtain information on nuclear weapons, part of an alleged clandestine network that used a series of cold war tactics such as encrypted Morse code messages, brush passes and invisible writing to send intelligence back to the Russian government.
11 Arrested in Russian Spy Ring
The accused allegedly received their directions from the Russian military intelligence division known as the "SVR." The complaint alleges that members of the group sought to establish ties with congressional aides and scientists who worked on nuclear weapons development.
The FBI has referred to the operatives as "The Illegals" who were sent to the U.S. undercover after extensive training to assume false identities.
In one message that was decrypted by the FBI the message allegedly sent to Chapman and Semenko said, "You were sent to USA for long term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house ect… -all these serve one goal: fulfil your main mission, i.e to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US to send intel [intelligence reports] to C. [center]"
The criminal complaint in this case alleges contacts with officials operating out of the Russian mission at the United Nations and the Russian embassy in Washington, DC.
The complaint charging Chapman alleges that on 10 occasions between Jan. 2010 and June 2010, Chapman was observed on FBI surveillance communicating covertly via a private internet wireless network with a Russian government official including a coffee shop at 47th and 8th Ave and other locations around New York City. On Saturday, the day before she was arrested, the FBI used an undercover FBI agent, posing as a Russian Consulate employee to approach Chapman to set up a meeting with her to discuss problems she was having with her computer.
One of the other defendants, Semenko, was allegedly observed by FBI agents on June 5 meeting a Russian government official at a restaurant in Washington DC, who had arrived at the meeting in a car with Russian diplomatic plates.