NEW YORK -- Nine people charged with operating as Russian spies entrenched in American suburbia awaited bail hearings Thursday, as authorities scoured the Meditteranean island nation of Cyprus for a defendant who posted bail and disappeared.
Hearings were set for federal courts in New York, Boston and Alexandria, Va., for all but one of the 10 people arrested over the weekend by federal authorities in the United States.
Police searched airports, ports and yacht marinas Thursday to find an 11th person who was arrested in Cyprus 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.
Authorities also examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing the suspect might have slipped into the breakaway north of the island, a diplomatic no-man's-land recognized only by Turkey.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz had a relatively easy time Monday as he cited evidence steadily growing stronger in convincing a magistrate judge that defendant Anna Chapman should be held without bail.
Chapman, a striking 28-year-old redhead who was branded a femme fatale in media reports and who lived a very public life complete with social networking pages and online video, faces a potential penalty of five years in prison if convicted. Court documents indicated she was about to leave the country when arrested.
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 Thursday 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-conspirators 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.
Cypriot Justice Minister Loucas Louca on Thursday admitted that a judge's decision to release Metsos on bail "may have been mistaken" and said authorities were examining leads on his possible whereabouts.
"We have some information and we hope that we will arrest him soon," Louca told reporters, without elaborating.
Chapman's lawyer 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.
Associated Press writer Menelaos Hadijcostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.
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