QueensLatino.com, News Report, Javier Castaño
Yesterday, his fledgling publication broke a story that is still being processed in Latino media circles nationwide. Vicky Pelaez, a well-known columnist for New York Spanish-language newspaper El Diario/La Prensa, was arrested yesterday and accused of spying for Russia.
Castaño’s new website was the first to connect the dots between the alleged Russian spy ring and the Peruvian-American columnist.
Castaño, a former editor at El Diario/La Prensa, tells New America Media how he uncovered the story: “I got a call from a Peruvian friend in the morning and he said ‘hey, did you hear they arrested Vicky Pelaez?’” says Castaño. “It took me two hours on the phone, but I confirmed the columnist had been arrested, and by the afternoon I had obtained the criminal complaint."
Today El Diario/La Prensa carried a story on the 55-year-old columnist’s arrest and the raid and search of her home by federal agents. El Diario quotes friends and family who believe Pelaez was arrested in retaliation for her hard-hitting political columns. A friend, Patricia Aranibar, is quoted as saying: “This is based on her writings.” Pelaez’s 38-year-old son Waldo Mariscal is also quoted: “This is a political persecution; they want to put something together to shut her up.”
A version of the story published yesterday by QueensLatino.com is below, translated from the original Spanish.
A columnist for New York’s El Diario/La Prensa, Peru-born Vicky Pelaez, and her husband Juan Lazaro, were arrested and accused of working as Russian agents.
Their arrests came as part of a case in which federal agents tracked suspects for some 20 years.
Pelaez and Lazaro were not the only ones arrested in this case, which involves a ring of 11 alleged agents working for Russia.
Since 1990, the U.S. government has been filming videos, intercepting private conversations in homes and in parks, and generally monitoring alleged Russian agents on long-term “deep-cover” assignments.
In the criminal complaint, FBI agent Maria Ricci says under oath that Pelaez and Lazaro, described as the “Yonkers conspirators,” worked as agents for Russia without registering that fact with the U.S. government, and that they conspired to launder money.
Throughout 2003, Lazaro received encrypted radio signals from Russia’s secret services to direct his work, according to the complaint.
The complaint confirms that Pelaez is a U.S. citizen born in Peru, but the same complaint casts doubt on the nationality of Pelaez’s husband, Juan Lazaro, saying he “purports to be a citizen of Peru, born in Uruguay.”
The complaint alleges that Pelaez and Lazaro traveled abroad to South America to receive payments from Russian agents, and pass on information to Russia.
On February 20, 2002, the complaint says, Pelaez and Lazaro were recorded having a conversation about money hidden in Pelaez’s luggage on her return from South America.
Then, on February 23, 2003, according to the complaint, Pelaez and Lazaro were taped at their home while they counted what “sounded like a large amount of money.”
Pelaez was heard in the recording discussing eight bags of “ten” and spoke about dividing two so that they wouldn’t be too bulky, according to the complaint. Then the two discussed only having “76” left after expenses.
According to the complaint, Pelaez had just arrived from a trip to South America.
Ricci, the FBI agent, says in the complaint that “based on my training” and experience, she believes the two were discussing how Pelaez had picked up $80,000 on her trip abroad.
According to the complaint, Pelaez and Lazaro had also been videotaped receiving suspicious packages at a public park in an unnamed South American country— Pelaez on Jan. 14, 2000, and Lazaro on Aug. 25, 2007.
In the case of the August meeting, an unidentified U.S. official has identified the man meeting Lazaro in South America as a Russian government employee.
In addition, the complaint said that Pelaez and Lazaro were taped on September 10, 2002, while they argued about how “Moscow Center”— the headquarters of the Russian secret services— was displeased with them. According to the complaint, Pelaez says: “If they don’t care about the country … what do we have intelligence services for?”
A total of 11 people were charged in the case for being unregistered foreign agents, and face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Those, like Pelaez and Lazaro, also accused of money laundering, face up to 20 years in prison.
Among those arrested are Richard and Cynthia Murphy, arrested in Montclair, N.J. Also arrested were Anna Chapman, Mikhail Semenko, Christopher Metsos, Donald Howard Healthfield, Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills.
The charges were brought by the U.S. District Attorney‘s Office for the Southern District of New York. The charges were the result of an investigation carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the D.A.’s office, and the Office of Counter-terrorism and Counterespionage at the U.S. Department of Justice.
The prosecutors Michael Farbiarz, Glen Kopp and Jason Smith are handling the case for the D.A. Pelaez and Lazaro appeared in court yesterday, and have retained legal representation.
Vicky Pelaez was born in Peru and has lived in the Bronx and nearby Yonkers, N.Y. She arrived in the United States 25 years ago and has worked for El Diario/La Prensa for over 22 years, carrying out work as a reporter and section editor for Latin American news.
However, she’s far better known for her Tuesday columns, where she offers critiques of the political and social systems of the United States.
On her own web page, titled “El Mundo No Puede Esperar,” or “The World Cannot Wait,” she lists some recent column headlines:
The oil spill is Obama’s Katrina
(June 1, 2010)
Obama another champion deporter of the undocumented
(May 25, 2010)
The human rights shadow on the United States
(March 16, 2010)
The United States raises its presence in Colombia
(November 3, 2009)
The voice of Venezuela echoes throughout the world (September 15, 2009)
The United States does not want to release its ‘backyard’ (February 7, 2007)
Some of Pelaez’s collected columns were published in 2004 in a book that received a great deal of attention in New York, when it was launched at the Lectorum bookstore in Manhattan. There were lines of people and many who were not able to enter due to lack of space.
Pelaez’s work as an opinion writer has always defended the marginalized, such as the working class immigrants. She has also paid special attention to themes such as human rights, civil liberties, and the defense of Cuba. Consistently, she has attacked neo-liberalism as a tool “used by world powers to dominate developing nations.”
Pelaez’s family is from the Machu Picchu area of Peru, and many of her columns have defended Latin American indigenous groups. She also has a teenage U.S.-born son who is an accomplished piano player.