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“I think the U.S. government had its end game lined up when it started this process,” said attorney Peter Krupp, who represented Donald Heathfield, one of the U.S. defendants.

“The Justice Department and perhaps the State Department moved mountains that couldn’t be moved by local officials to orchestrate a meeting between my client in Boston on Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend,” said Krupp.

Daniel Lopez, who represented defendant Mikhail Semenko in the case, says he has handled over 1,000 criminal cases “and I’ve never seen one move this quickly.”

On Monday, four days after becoming Semenko’s court-appointed lawyer in Alexandria, Va., Lopez got a phone call from a federal prosecutor telling him that “it would be in your client’s best interests to agree to come to New York as fast as you can because either he is ‘on the bus’ when it’s leaving or he is not.”

“I said ‘Do we have a plea agreement in this case?’ And he said ‘yes,’” Lopez recalled. But Lopez had no idea yet that his client was to become part of a spy swap.

All 10 defendants were assembled in New York from various jails to enter guilty pleas, complete the swap arrangements and be deported.

Once Russian diplomats talked to defendants or their lawyers to lay out what was going on, it became clear from their side as well that the operatives were merely pawns in a chess game controlled by Washington and Moscow.

Lopez said two Russian diplomats approached him Thursday as his client waited to plead.

“I said, ‘What is going to happen to my client’s belongings?’” and one diplomat replied, “It’s not important.”

“I said, ‘Well, what is important is for my client to know when he is going to leave.’ One of them said, ‘He’s leaving today … as soon as this is over, we’re going to the airport, straight to Europe and from there to Russia.’”

“I was amazed,” said Lopez.

Robert Krakow, attorney for Mikhail Anatonoljevich Vasenkov, said he was surprised to learn Russian officials had met his client without his knowledge. “I was not happy about it,” he said. “But the last thing I want to do is have my needs as a lawyer intrude upon events that are unfolding.”

Prosecutors sent Krakow a plea deal letter close to what was eventually agreed upon. When he first told his client, Vasenkov rejected the idea of going to Russia.

“He said, ‘No, I’m not going. What am I going to do in Russia?’” the lawyer recalled. Vasenkov, 66, went by the name Juan Lazaro, falsely claimed he was South American and lived in a Yonkers, N.Y., home paid for by Russian intelligence.

“It became clear that the choices were limited,” Krakow went on, and his client agreed to go — promised support for himself and his family in their new life. John Rodriguez, lawyer for Vasenkov’s wife Vicky Pelaez, said the couple had 24 hours to accept the “all-or-nothing” deal to go to Moscow or face years behind bars in the U.S.

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