New York town slack-jawed over Russia spies' arrests

29th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

On a quiet street where a ball game might pass for excitement, residents of this town north of New York City were stunned Monday their neighbors had been arrested as spies for Russia.

A man known as Juan Lazaro and his wife, who went by as Vicki Pelaez, were among 10 "deep-cover" suspects arrested after US authorities dramatically broke up a mission secretly monitored by the FBI for more than a decade.

A charge sheet unveiled by the Justice Department read like the synopsis of a spy thriller. Suspects allegedly dealt in encrypted messages, false identities, buried money and hidden video cameras in hotel rooms.

The couple who lived at 17 Clifton Avenue in Yonkers had been there for more than 20 years, the department said.

Lazaro, purportedly a Peruvian born in Uruguay, and Pelaez, purportedly a Peruvian who became a US citizen, never called any attention on their block.

There was "absolutely nothing odd in the behavior. Regular nice neighbors. 'Hi how ya doing?' Nothing drawing any attention to themselves at all -- besides their two loud dogs that barked all night. That was the only thing that was like, annoying," said Jonathan Kroll, 39, a school administrator.

"It's really strange. Just hard to believe that you think everyone's kind of doing their own regular stuff in their homes, just like I am, and there's a lot of weird stuff going on."

Lazaro "told neighbors, he didn't tell me, he told neighbors he was a professor of economics," Kroll added, noting that the couple's children were not with them during the arrests.

Now he is among neighbors stopping to stare at the alleged spy couple's house: a small two-story home with red brick on the bottom story, a pinkish facade above and a chimney up the front of the house.

Big green bushes dot the yard.

Inside, as far back as 2003, US authorities were monitoring "oral communications" at the Yonkers house, allegedly radio transmission back to Moscow, according to the charge sheet.

When authorities swooped, neighbor Kroll said he "walked over there to see what was going on and I saw just a bunch of guys in FBI jackets and then they spent the good part of the night, I mean all night, they were just taking boxes of evidence I guess out of the house and putting it in the truck."

© 2010 AFP

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