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Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 10:00 pm

Who: Back row, left to right: Rich Wahl, Larry Powers of Madera, Michael Walker of Auburn, John Anagnos, Larry Nies, Dan Tillman, Pat Hale, Mike Nakagawa, Dave Costa and Jason Eells; front row: Ron Goehring, Marty Weybret, Christi Weybret, Fred Weybret, Chet Hacke of Grass Valley, Dave Vaccarezza and Larry Mettler.

Occupations: Our leader was Larry Mettler who runs a local farm and winery with his family. The Weybrets own the News-Sentinel. Others farm, teach, collect garbage, fight fires and do jobs that didn't make it into this reporter's notebook. Some are even lucky enough to be retired.

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Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday denounced U.S. charges against three Russian men accused of involvement in a New York City spy ring, citing a lack of evidence.

The FBI announced Monday that it had arrested Evgeny Buryakov in the Bronx, and that he and two co-conspirators, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, would be charged with their involvement in an intelligence-gathering ring in New York City.

The complaint, unsealed in a Manhattan federal court Monday, alleges that the three worked as agents of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency to gather information and recruit U.S. residents as sources for Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said no proof has been presented to back up the charges, reported TASS, a news agency owned by the Russian government. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs linked to the TASS article on its official Twitter account.

The spokesman referred to ongoing difficulties in U.S.-Russia relations and alleged that U.S. officials are resorting to “their favorite tactic” with the arrest.

“We insist on a stop to the string of provocations against Russian representatives unleashed by U.S. secret services,” Lukashevich said in the statement.

Sporyshev, 40, and Podobnyy, 27, are no longer in the U.S. and haven’t been arrested. Buryakov appeared in court on Monday and was ordered held without bail, the Associated Press reported.

“These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement Monday.

The complaint, filed last week, alleges Sporyshev, Podobnyy and Buryakov had been meeting and plotting their work as government agents for at least two years. Among other things, the spy ring was gathering intelligence on potential U.S. sanctions against Russian banks, as well as the nation’s efforts to develop alternative energy resources, according to the criminal complaint filed against them.

Sporyshev was working as a trade representative for the Russian government in the city and Podobnyy was working in a government position as a permanent attache to the Russian Federation at the United Nations, according to the complaint. Buryakov was working as an employee of a Russian bank in Manhattan.

According to the criminal complaint, the FBI conducted surveillance of Buryakov and Sporyshev meeting over four dozen times. The two would typically meet outside, after a short phone call where they’d mention exchanging an item, like a book, an umbrella or a hat.

At the meeting, they would sometimes exchange documents or other small items. The transfers contained intelligence gathered on behalf of SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence agency, the complaint alleges.

In recorded communications, Sporyshev and Podobnyy discussed their work, sometimes appearing disillusioned by it, the complaint says. Podobnyy said his work was “not even close” to the James Bond movies he’d seen.

“Of course, I wouldn’t fly helicopters, but pretend to be someone else at a minimum,” he said. Sporyshev agreed and said he believed he would at least go abroad with a different passport.

Podobnyy and Sporyshev also discussed attempts to recruit U.S. residents, including people employed by major companies and several young women with ties to an unnamed university located in New York.

Podobnyy said his recruitment tactics includes cheating and empty promises, the complaint says.

“You promise a favor for a favor,” he said. “You get the documents from him and tell him to go ... himself.”


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