- Associated Press - Friday, July 2, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Two more suspects in a purported spy ring have admitted they are Russian citizens living in the U.S. under false identities, prosecutors said Friday, as officials in Cyprus said another defendant in the bust might have fled the island after being set free on bail.

The defendants known as Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills told authorities after their arrest that their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva, prosecutors said in a court filing Friday. The pair were arrested in Arlington, Va., where they have been living as a married couple with two young children.

Prosecutors say the couple had $100,000 in cash and phony passports and other identity documents stashed in safe deposit boxes. They were scheduled to appear in federal court in Virginia Friday along with a third defendant, Mikhail Semenko. They were among 11 arrested this week.

Prosecutors revealed the information in a letter to the judge arguing for all three defendants to remain in jail.

In the letter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason B. Smith also said Ms. Mills asked a family friend who has been caring for their two children since their arrest to take them to Russia to Ms. Mills’ sister and parents.

Mr. 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.”

Also Friday in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Justice Minister Loucas Louca it was unlikely that Christopher Metsos, 54, would be apprehended on the Mediterranean island because he believes that he is no longer there. Metsos is wanted in the United States on charges that he supplied money to the spy ring.

Mr. Metsos disappeared on Wednesday after a Cypriot court freed him on bail, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it had no reason to believe Mr. Metsos was in Russia.

“Oh, no, come on. Where did you get this?” ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said. “I do not have such information. You’re knocking on the wrong door. He has not contacted the Foreign Ministry.”

In Virginia, Mr. Zottoli, Ms. Mills and Mr. Semenko were charged with being foreign agents.

They were set to appear before Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where the judge will decide whether they are to remain in custody until future proceedings. Six other defendants have already appeared in court in the Northeast, and one was granted bail.

According to court documents, Mr. Zottoli claims to be a U.S. citizen, born in Yonkers, N.Y., and is married to Ms. 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.

According to the charging documents, an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian agent met with Mr. Semenko last Saturday in Washington, blocks from the White House. The agent gave Mr. Semenko a folded newspaper wrapped around an envelope containing $5,000 and directed him to drop it in an Arlington park. The documents say there is video of Mr. Semenko making the delivery as instructed.

Regarding Mr. 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, Mr. Zottoli and Ms. Mills traveled to Wurtsboro, N.Y., where Mr. 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 says, 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.

Mr. 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,” Ms. Toropchina said.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Menelaos Hadjicostis and Christopher Torchia in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Khristina Narizhnaya in Moscow.

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