This story is based on a translation of an article written by FI2W’s Annie Correal that appeared in El Diario on July 6.
YONKERS, NY–While most people celebrated a summer weekend at the beach and watched fireworks, the family of Vicky Peláez, a journalist accused of working as a secret agent for the Russian government, prepared for her possible return home. They were under the impression that Peláez could go free on bail and house arrest on Tuesday.
Peláez was arrested by the FBI, along with her husband Juan Lázaro, on Sunday June 27, as part of an operation that revealed the alleged existence of a network of Russian agents living under false identities across the country. All in all, eleven people were arrested by the authorities.
Peláez and Lázaro are charged with failing to register as agents of a foreign government and for money laundering. Last Thursday, prosecutors said that upon his arrest, Lázaro admitted that his name was false and declared his loyalty to Russia.
The same day, U.S. District Judge Ronald Ellis set Peláez’s bail at $250,000, with a $10,000 cash bond.
But on Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced their intention to appeal Ellis’ decision, and on Wednesday, instead of a bail hearing, Judge Kimba Wood signed the U.S. Attorney’s request for a stay, leaving Peláez in custody at least until her next hearing, scheduled for Friday.
On Sunday July 4, the couple’s oldest son, Waldo Mariscal, 38, said the family would probably have enough to pay the $10,000 cash bond, but will need to raise funds from the public in order to pay lawyers’ fees. “Anyone who wants to contribute to the fund … We are not rich people, we are middle class people,” Marshall told reporters stationed outside the family home.
Mariscal went shopping and returned to the house at 17 Clifton Avenue at 5:30 pm loaded with grocery bags. While he seemed angry with reporters, he said he was doing all right. Mariscal criticized the coverage of the case in El Diario. He maintains the innocence of his mother and stepfather and has said that his stepfather’s statements were made under pressure.
The couple’s younger son, Juan Lázaro Jr., 17, was staying with a family friend.
On a quiet Sunday in Yonkers, Peláez’s home presented a relatively normal suburban scene: a two story brick house surrounded by trees with the curtains drawn. The couple’s two cars were parked outside, and their dogs, two Schnauzers, barked in the yard.
In Peláez’s car, a black VW Bug, there was an artificial red rose and a card with a prayer. In Lázaro’s car, a 1991 Mitsubishi Montero, the same prayer card hung from the mirror. A piece of cake had been left on a plate between the seats. In the trunk there was an umbrella and a map of Westchester.
Despite appearances, a neighbor who was walking her dog said that normalcy had vanished from her suburb, which is predominantly Jewish. “It’s been crazy around here,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “This was unexpected. It’s been difficult for this neighborhood in every sense,” she said. She would not say if she knew Peláez.
“This is a peaceful area, nobody knows anybody. I feel like a regular American,” noted another neighbor, Vitali Alaverdian, a retired doctor originally from Russia. Asked about the allegations, he said, “I can’t even think about it. It may be true, maybe not. If true, it is a shock,” he said, and then left to work in his garden.
Rumors are afoot that American and Russian authorities are considering a “spy swap,” in which the 10 defendants in the case would return to Russia. But the New York Times reports that according to Peláez’s lawyer she doesn’t want to go.
Ms. Pelaez’s lawyer, John M. Rodriguez, said the Russian official who called him asked “whether my client was interested in going to Russia.” Ms. Pelaez, a veteran columnist for El Diario La Prensa, a newspaper in New York, was the only one of the 11 suspects who was not a trained agent. Mr. Rodriguez recalled telling the official that he did not “think she would be interested.”
This afternoon, Thursday July 8, all the defendants are scheduled to appear at an indictment hearing at 2:45 PM.