A Russian man whom the U.S. government said posed as banker in New York City, but was in fact a Russian spy, pleaded not guilty in federal court on Wednesday.
Evgeny Buryakov, 39, was arrested late last month in the Bronx. He’s accused of seeking information regarding the New York Stock Exchange and U.S. sanctions against Russia. Buryakov allegedly recruited women attending an unidentified university in New York City as well as a unidentified man who worked for a financial consulting firm, between March 2012 and September 2014.
Feds also charged Igor Sporyshev, a Russian trade representative and Victor Podobnyy, an attaché at Russia’s mission to the U.N. Both men had diplomatic immunity, and have left the U.S.
The spy ring unraveled, according to a complaint filed by the FBI, when the two Russian diplomats called Buryakov from the New York office of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Services, using an open line. The FBI had bugged the office, according to the complaint. Previously, Buryakov and the men would speak briefly on the phone, and met in public places.
The complaint revealed some of the Russian spy services honeypot techniques. When it comes to recruiting women “you either need to f*** them or use other levers to influence them to execute my requests,” Sporyshev told Buryakov according to the complaint.
On Wednesday Buryakov walked into Judge Richard Berman’s courtroom without handcuffs, wearing blue inmate clothes. He appeared calm, and did not rely on a stand-by Russian interpreter. He briefly answered the judge that he understood English.
Buryakov’s lawyer, Benjamin Naftalis, waived the reading of the two-count indictment against his client. He is charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and with acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Skotko said the government plans to begin releasing unclassified discovery information to the defense on a “rolling basis” over the next two weeks, and said she also has classified evidence as well. Defense attorneys asked the court to have the government translate Russian-language documents into English.
Buryakov, who was indicted on Monday and denied bail, is due back in court on March 26. His lawyer declined to answer questions from reporters after the hearing, as did representatives from the Russian consulate who sat on visitors benches in the courtroom.
“I don’t think the Russians ever stopped spying on the U.S.,” said former CIA officer Bob Baer, a Middle East expert and author of two New York Times bestselling books, “Sleeping with the Devil” and “See No Evil” about his time with the agency. “I dealt with them at the height of Perestroika and they never trusted us.”
“They do make mistakes,” Baer said of the agents’ sloppy communications that apparently got them caught, but he said the ring could very well have been revealed by defectors or metadata discovered by the NSA.
Baer said the real-life story reinforces American and Hollywood’s obsession with spies-next-door, seen in television shows like “The Americans.”
“The idea that people among us are living mysterious lives and doing something other than selling shoes, stocks, is fascinating,” Baer said.