In this courtroom sketch, Anna Chapman, left, Vicky Pelaez, second from left, the defendant known as "Richard Murphy", center, the defendant known as "Cynthia Murphy", second from right, and the defendant known as "Juan Lazaro" are seen in Manhattan federal court in New York, Monday, June 28, 2010. The Murphys, Lazaro, and Pelaez are among the 10 people the FBI arrested Monday for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence organ, the SVR, with the goal of penetrating U.S. government policymaking circles. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
In a scene right out of a Robert Ludlum novel, the FBI rounded up 11 alleged Russian spies who were living anonymous suburban lives while communicating with their foreign handlers. And in a detail right out of a spy thriller, one of the accused worked as journalist for a popular local newspaper.
Vicky Pelaez, a reporter/columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa was one of those arrested and charged with conspiracy "to act as foreign agents without being registered under the FARA law.” The 55-year-old Pelaez, reportedly a native of Peru, lived in Yonkers, NY with her husband, 65-year-old retired professor of political science Juan Lazaro.
The couple was arrested on Sunday and is being held for violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act or FARA, which regulates and monitors every citizen or U.S. resident, who receives financing from a foreign government for political or propaganda ends.
According to multiple bios and online news stories, Pelaez was born in Cusco, and worked as a journalist for the defunct daily La Prensa de Lima. Afterwards she worked for a television station, where she gained notoriety among local journalists.
On Dec 8, 1984, Pelaez, who worked for Frecuencia Latina, was kidnapped for a day and interviewed a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The interview wasn’t broadcast on television, but the following year it appeared in Marka, a newspaper with leftist leanings.
She moved to New York City after the incident, according to El Diario/ La Prensa. She has been working for El Diario, the largest and oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper in New York City, which serves 180,000 readers a day for over 20-years. Since 2000 Pelaez has written a weekly opinion article for the Spanish-language paper.
The focus of her column has been for the most part political. Pelaez’s columns were often critical of U.S. policy towards Israel, Cuba, and immigration. In one of her most recent columns, Pelaez called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill President Obama's "Katrina."
In a statement made to NBCNewYork.com, El Diario/La Prensa, said "We have no information about this situation beyond what has already been made public by federal authorities and therefore won’t be doing any interviews or making comments."
Family members told El Diario/La Prensa, that the couple was returning to their Yonkers home accompanied by their 17-year-old son, when two FBI vehicles intercepted their car. The couple was removed from their vehicle and promptly placed into custody.
The Pelaez’s older step-son Waldo Mariscal, told El Diario/La Prensa in Spanish, “After the arrest. FBI agents entered the home and removed boxes of documents, computers, and electric equipment.”
Mariscal goes on to describe a team of over 30 agents combing through every area of the home. The agents also questioned the sons about their finances, their parent’s political affiliations, travels abroad and if the home had any hidden storage areas or compartments.
According to the FBI's affidavit Peláez is accused of having received money from a representative of the Russian government on various occasions. The complaint also includes accusations of disseminating information to Russian agents in the form of notes written on invisible ink.
Mariscal was asked by Federal Investigators if his parents had any machinery used for spying. Mariscal responded, “My parents hardly know anything about computers. Sometimes they don’t know how to make their Yahoo account function."
The despondent step-son told NBCNewYork, "This looks like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, this stuff is from the 1960s. It looks preposterous."