Bail hearings for nine people charged in a Russian spy case were scheduled Thursday as a U.S. prosecutor said the evidence against them was growing stronger by the day.
Meantime, a suspect in Cyprus fails to show up for a hearing.
Police are stepping up efforts to find that 11th person who was arrested in Cyprus Monday but disappeared after a Cypriot judge freed him on $32,500 bail. The man, who had gone by the name Christopher Metsos, failed to show up Wednesday for a required meeting with police in connection with charges that he supplied money to the spy ring.
The bail hearings come amid reports that another of the accused spies, Cynthia Murphy, allegedly tried to use her work as an MBA student at Columbia University to recruit ivy league students to also work as spies.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz had a relatively easy time this week as he cited evidence steadily growing stronger in convincing a magistrate judge that the other person, Anna Chapman, should be held without bail.
Chapman, a striking 28-year-old redhead who was branded a femme fatale in media reports and whose photos were splashed across tabloids' front pages, faces a potential penalty of five years in prison if convicted.
Most of the others are charged with crimes that carry penalties of up to 25 years.
Mikhail Semenko, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, all of Arlington, Va., are set to appear Wednesday before Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. At the detention hearing, Buchanan will decide whether they are to remain in custody until future proceedings.
They have been charged with being foreign agents. Officials said they expect the three will eventually be transferred to New York, where the charges were filed.
Farbiarz made it clear that he believed his arguments to keep Chapman jailed before trial applied to the other defendants as well. Although charges were outlined against the defendants in two documents, the prosecutor said he expected them to be combined into one document outlining a conspiracy that stretched back to the 1990s.
"The evidence against the conspirators ... is truly, truly overwhelming," he told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis. "There is evidence, video and audio surveillance, of meetings between Russian government officials and some of the co-conspiratores that are sitting at this table."
He said the defendants face "extraordinary evidence, and it is the kind of evidence that any defendant looking at it has got to look at it and say, 'I'm going to be convicted here.'"
Farbiarz said he was seeking detention without bail for all the New York defendants, saying the investigation was steadily gaining evidence as search warrants are executed across the country.
Chapman's lawyer, though, has said the case against her is weak. Her mother, Irina Kushchenko, who lives in western Moscow, said she was wrongly accused of trying to help Russian intelligence collect U.S. policymaking information.
"Of course I believe that she's innocent," Kushchenko said Wednesday.