NEW YORK (AP) — He was known as a passionate leftist, the husband of Vicky Pelaez, a prominent Spanish-language journalist from Peru who shared his views and was known for her fiery columns critical of U.S. foreign policy. But authorities say much about Juan Lazaro’s life was fabricated, beginning with his name.
Lazaro has confessed to authorities that he worked for Russian intelligence as part of an alleged spy ring, prosecutors said Thursday. He also has admitted to living under a false identity for decades and lying about being born in Uruguay, as he has long claimed, they said.
Indeed, he pledged he would support Russia’s intelligence service over his own son during a June 27 statement following his arrest, prosecutors said.
“Although he … loved his son, he would not violate his loyalty to the ‘Service’ even for his son,” prosecutors said in court papers.
The revelations came in a memo to a federal judge as Lazaro and his wife, a columnist for El Diario/La Prensa, appeared in court for bail hearings. A judge said Pelaez could be freed on $250,000 bail plus house arrest as early as Tuesday.
A bail hearing was postponed for Lazaro.
Waldo Mariscal, the couple’s eldest son, said he did not believe the statements that were attributed to his stepfather.
“It’s a circus. This is pure psychological pressure,” he said in Spanish during the hearings. “It’s total confusion. He’s an old guy. His English isn’t so good.”
The couple are among 11 suspects in an alleged Russian spy ring whose takedown by federal authorities in the Northeast has evoked memories of Cold War espionage.
Following their arrests, attorneys for Pelaez and Lazaro said their clients were innocent. Neither attorney immediately responded to messages seeking comment Thursday.
“Lazaro has been able to pass himself off for years as a Peruvian-Uruguayan named ‘Juan Lazaro’ — even though that is not his name, and he was raised in the Soviet Union,” prosecutors said.
They revealed that microphones had been recording conversations for years in Lazaro’s home in Yonkers, a Yew York City suburb, and had captured damning evidence. In 2002, FBI agents recorded Lazaro describing his move to Siberia as a child.
The couple, arrested earlier this week, have two children, one an adult and the other a teenager.
Pelaez and Lazaro met and fell in love in the 1980s in Lima.
She was a scrappy Peruvian-born television reporter who once turned her kidnapping by a leftist guerrilla group into a chance to get a scoop. He was a photographer for various publications and a karate instructor.
On Dec 8. 1984, while working for Channel 2, Frecuencia Latina, Pelaez was kidnapped for a day by members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, one of the country’s main communist armed insurgencies, along with her cameraman.
She persuaded one of the group’s leaders, Victor Polay, to let her interview him. The interview wasn’t broadcast on television, but the following year it appeared in Marka, a newspaper with leftist leanings.
It was partly because of that ordeal that Pelaez and Lazaro left the country for New York, her sister said.
“She was recently married, and she left because the kidnapping had scared her a bit,” Elvira Pelaez said.
While Pelaez continued to pursue her career as a columnist, Lazaro studied at the New School for Social Research, now called The New School, a university in Manhattan. He taught a class on Latin American and Caribbean politics at Baruch College, also in Manhattan, for a short time in 2008.
In 1990, Lazaro published a study in a leftist European journal about the positive role of women as combatants in Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, a violent Maoist insurgency in Peru that had peaked in the 1980s before government security forces cracked down on it.
“It seems that sexism, normally one of the stronger barriers limiting female performance in guerrilla actions to support roles in the majority of the revolutionary movements, has been overcome by the Sendero Luminoso,” Lazaro wrote.
Elvira Pelaez told reporters Wednesday that Lazaro was an “honest” and “hardworking” man who has always been an “incredible support” during the investigations that Peleaz had done for her articles.
Pelaez dedicated her 2004 collection of El Diario columns to her children and to Lazaro, whom she called her “comrade and guide of all dreams.”
Associated Press writer Carla Salazar contributed to this story from Lima, Peru.