A married couple accused by U.S. officials of spying for Russia appeared in a New York court Thursday and were ordered to be held in jail until their trial begins. A third defendant was ordered released on bail, while a fourth defendant requested a delay in his bail hearing.
Two couples, Richard Murphy and Cynthia Murphy, Vicky Pelaez and Juan Lazaro, were brought before federal magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis for a hearing to determine if they should be released on bail.
Judge Ellis ruled that the Murphys should remain in prison until their trial and that Pelaez should be released under what he called strict bail conditions - $250,000 bond, a security ankle bracelet and home incarceration. At the beginning of the session, Lazaro asked for a postponement of his own bail hearing and the judge agreed.
All four of the defendants - in addition to seven others - have been accused by the U.S. of spying for Russia. The charges include conspiracy, money laundering and failing to register with the U.S. government as foreign agents. U.S. officials say the defendants were placed in the United States for a long-term program to gather information.
In his presentation to the judge, U.S. prosecutor Michael Farbiarz said the evidence against the defendants is extremely strong - he used the word devastating several times - and argued that the heart of the offense is secret global travel, and about deception and lies.
Attorneys for the Murphys and Pelaez maintained that there is little risk that their clients would flee. The lawyer representing Pelaez said the charges against her are, in his words, a tempest in a teapot - that is, they amount to very little. He said the Peruvian-born journalist had not used a false name, had traveled on her own passport and has her reputation to defend.
Judge Ellis, in allowing Pelaez to be freed on bail, said she does not appear to be a trained agent. However, in refusing bail for the Murphys, the judge said he did not know the true identity of the couple, adding that the government evidence against them is strong and indicates that they are trained agents of a foreign government, using false identities.
The prosecutor indicated that the government will appeal the judge's decision to release Pelaez on bail.