A judge in New York ordered 10 defendants who admitted acting as Russian spies deported from the United States in a swap that results in.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in an exclusive interview for CBS's "Face the Nation" told Bob Schieffer it was a good deal for both sides.
"We essentially orchestrated a swap so that we had access to or got back people who had been charged in Russia with conducting intelligence activities on behalf of western countries," said Holder.
Federal Judge Kimba Wood announced the resolution of the case Thursday as she went immediately from guilty pleas to a conspiracy charge by the defendants to a brief sentencing in Manhattan.
Even before the 10 alleged spies appeared in a Manhattan courtroom, the deal was in place, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. Each would plead guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Prosecutors would drop money laundering charges and demands for jail time and the suspects would agree to immediately leave the U.S.
Prosecutors then released copies of the signed admissions, dropping all pretenses. The suspects signed their real names.
The defendants were arrested last week after more than a decade of spying on the United States.
The defendants each announced their pleas to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. An 11th defendant was a fugitive after he fled authorities in Cyprus following his release on bail.
They had been led into the courtroom by U.S. marshals, reports CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton. They were handcuffed with their hands in front of them, most of them were dressed in khaki prison jumpsuits. Some of them wore orange T-shirts.
Each of the defendants, after entering a guilty plea, described for the court specifically what they had done, reports Milton. Some of them read from prepared statements. They all acknowledged that they were living in the United States under the direction of the Russian Federation, and that they were not diplomats and had not notified the U.S. attorney general as is required by law.
They all said they knew what they were doing was illegal.
Each defendant said they had not been induced by the Russian government to enter a guilty plea. The attorney for defendant Vicky Pelaez told the court that his client was given promises by Russian officials, although he said it was not as an inducement for her plea, reports Milton.
Her attorney said that among those promises were that she would received $2000 a month in U.S. dollars for the rest of her life; she could live in any country she wished; and her children would be given visas at the Russian government's expense for wherever she resided.
Pelaez is originally from Peru. When she spoke directly to the court she did so through an interpreter.
Pelaez's mother was at the hearing and wiped away tears during the proceedings, eventually putting on sunglasses.
Other attorneys rose and said their clients had been given promises by Russian officials but they were not inducements for a plea.
The 10 defendants sat in the jury box for the entire proceeding. A source tells CBS News that the defendants will be put on a bus and taken to an airport.
U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara told CBS News, "With these arrests and guilty pleas it would appear that Russian Federation is unlikely to engage in this methodology in the future. It sends a message to every other intelligence agency that if you come to spy on Americans in America you will be arrested."
The arrests occurred more than a week ago, capping a decade-plus investigation of people who seemed to have embedded themselves in the fabric of American life. Authorities said they were reporting what they learned in the U.S. to Russian officials.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control analyst serving a 14-year sentenced for spying for the United States, had told his relatives he was going to be one of 11 convicted spies in Russia who would be freed in exchange for 11 people charged in the United States with being Russian agents. They said he was going to be sent to Vienna, then London.
In Moscow, his lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said a journalist called Igor Sutyagin's family to inform them that Sutyagin was seen walking off a plane in Vienna on Thursday. However, she told the AP she couldn't get confirmation of that claim from Russian authorities.
The 11 suspects were formally charged in a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday in New York. All had been charged with conspiring to act as secret agents; nine were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment demanded that those accused of money laundering return any assets used in the offense.
Prosecutors released a copy of the indictment as federal judges in Boston and Alexandria, Va., signed orders directing that five defendants arrested in Massachusetts and Virginia be transferred to New York. All were charged in Manhattan.
All of the accused were in U.S. custody except for a man identified as Christopher R. Metsos, who is charged with being the spy ring's paymaster. Metsos, traveling on a forged Canadian passport, jumped bail last week after being arrested in Cyprus.
Sutyagin, who worked as an arms control and military analyst at the Moscow-based U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a think tank, was arrested in 1999 and convicted in 2004 on charges of passing information on nuclear submarines and other weapons to a British company that investigators claimed was a CIA cover. Sutyagin has all along denied that he was spying, saying the information he provided was available from open sources.
His case was one of several incidents of Russian academics and scientists being targeted by Russia's Federal Security Service and accused of misusing classified information, revealing state secrets or, in some cases, espionage.