The proposed resolution could lead to a series of relatively quick guilty pleas, allowing the defendants to receive some kind of legal benefit and the government to avoid a series of protracted trials.Watch for some kind of plea deal where the alleged spies enter guilty pleas on some counts and face reduced sentences so as to avoid a protracted legal battle in court and the possible fallout on US-Russian foreign relations.
All 10 defendants who are in custody have been charged with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government, and eight were also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering. The eight could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Another defendant is at large.
Prosecutors have not accused the defendants of passing classified information to their Russian handlers. But a resolution would allow the United States government to avoid a long legal battle in which sensitive information about intelligence techniques could be exposed.
Such a deal would also eliminate the possibility that a high-profile case would serve as an irritant to relations between the United States and Russia. Although both countries have made clear they do not expect the charges to damage relations, the case has dominated worldwide news accounts in the past week, and indictments and potential trials could keep the case on the front pages for months to come.
Neither defense lawyers nor the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan would comment on any such talks, and the talks may end up going nowhere. But court documents made public last week by the government show that some defendants were freely discussing their ties to Russian intelligence and perhaps that will ease the way to negotiated pleas.
It looks like a deal may involve a spy swap.
Relatives said a researcher convicted in Russia of espionage has told them he'll be released. They claim Igor Sutyagin will be sent to Britain in a swap for Russians recently arrested for spying in the United States, which include two Montclair residents and a Seton Hall student.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had no comment.
Sutyagin's brother, Dmitry, spoke to reporters today. He said his brother was told of the arrangement by Russian officials who met him Tuesday at a prison.
Sutyagin said he was made to sign a confession. He maintains his innocence and does not want to leave Russia.