Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
After years of secretly watching two Russian spies living in Cambridge before they were sent back to their homeland last month in a dramatic spy swap, the FBI suspects that the couple's oldest son may have learned about his parents' double life before they were arrested, a top FBI official said today.
Richard DesLauriers, the newly appointed special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, told reporters that agents believed that the Russian couple who passed themselves off as French Canadians Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley kept their secret life hidden from their two sons after settling in Cambridge in 1999.
But he said it's possible that in recent years the couple had confided something about their covert work for Russia to their older son, Tim Foley 20, who is registered to begin his junior year at George Washington University this fall, although it's unclear if he will return.
"It's logical to presume, and we suspect he knew something towards the end, before their arrests,'' DesLauriers said.
DesLauriers, 50, is a Longmeadow native who was appointed last month to head the FBI's Boston office. He has been an agent since 1987 and was deputy assistant director of the counterintelligence division at FBI headquarters for two years before being assigned to Boston.
As for the couple's younger son, 16-year-old Alex Foley, DesLauriers said, "I'd say we have no reason to believe the younger son was witting of his parents' involvement.''
DesLauriers noted that the two sons were not charged with any wrongdoing and said the FBI would defer to US immigration officials on whether the children should be allowed to return to the United States.
Boston attorney Peter Krupp, who represented Heathfield, said, "I have seen absolutely no evidence that the kids knew anything about their parents activities. And I think it is irresponsible for the FBI to put that kind of speculation and suspicion out there, tainting kids who have a long and bright future ahead of them with that kind of allegation and insinuation.''
The Cambridge couple, whose true names are Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, and eight other Russian spies from New York, New Jersey, and Virginia pleaded guilty on July 8 in US District Court in Manhattan to conspiring to act as agents of the Russian Federation in the United States. They were sentenced to the 12 days they had already spent in jail and were sent back to Russia as part of a spy swap.
The FBI kept the alleged spies under surveillance for years before arresting them on June 27.
"Fortunately, these individuals, we don't believe did significant damage to the United States," said DesLauriers, but he said they posed a danger given that they were here as sleeper agents trying to gather information and cultivate relationships with power brokers.
"We are very confident they did not receive classified information or recruit significant individuals to work on behalf of the foreign government of Russia,'' DesLauriers said.
DesLauriers said that the hunt for fugitive South Boston gangster James "Whitey'' Bulger and the search for the priceless artworks stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 remain top FBI priorities.
"I think we are all frustrated when we can't solve a case quickly,'' he said, adding that they won't give up in their hunt for Bulger, who fled in 1995 and is wanted for 19 murders.
"We will maintain a laser-like focus'' on Bulger, he said.
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