Alleged Russian spies received business degrees from the University of Washington, Bothell
By ANDY NYSTROM
Bothell Reporter Reporter
July 3, 2010 · Updated 10:16 PM
At first, the names Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli seemed vaguely familiar to University of Washington, Bothell professor Ufuk Ince. When he jogged his memory and envisioned them as an engaged couple in his investments course in the spring of 2005, Ince knew for sure that he taught a pair of alleged Russian secret agents who were arrested June 27 at their home in Arlington, Va.
"(Initially) I thought, 'Oh, no, that doesn't ring a big bell,'" Ince said of reading local and national newspaper stories and seeing TV news reports. "You put the two together and hear they lived in Seattle, and I know that they were my students.
"They were nice and charming and the only two I remember from that class — vision-memory-wise," he added of their time in the high-level elective course. "They would participate a little in class and were somewhat low-key. After the class, they would come to me as a couple to talk. Michael was more the vocal one ... they were pleasant people."
In a federal-court filing Friday in Alexandria, Va., prosecutors said Zottoli and Mills revealed that they are Russian citizens and their real names are Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva.
Both graduated with bachelor of arts degrees in business in 2006, according to university records. Ince noted that Zottoli was "probably the top student" in the investments class and received a 3.9 grade out of a possible 4.0. Ince even wrote Zottoli a letter of recommendation for possible future use endorsing his stellar class performance and personality.
In 2010, Mills and Zottoli are known as the "Seattle Conspirators" in Southern District of New York court documents. According to the documents, the two are now married and have lived together in a number of locations over the years, including in a Seattle apartment. In October 2009, they moved to Arlington.
They appeared in Alexandria federal court June 28 and again July 2, according to a court employee.
According to a Department of Justice press release, Mills and Zottoli were two of 10 individuals arrested June 27 after a multi-year FBI investigation for allegedly carrying out long-term, “deep-cover” assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation.
Federal law prohibits individuals from acting as agents of foreign governments within the United States without prior notification to the U.S. Attorney General. Nine of the defendants are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In the court documents, Zottoli purported to be a U.S. citizen born in Yonkers, NY, while Mills was listed as a Canadian citizen.
Professor Ince said that Zottoli spoke with an accent, which he thought to be Italian because of his student's last name, and he assumed Mills was American. Ince added that while the couple sat together during class, they were required to team up with two other students for a class project.
After a Web search, the Reporter discovered a course-details page from UW-Bothell professor Sandeep Krishnamurthy's summer of 2006 Search the World Wide Web class that featured Mills — with a middle name of Ann — and Zottoli on the students' list. The 22 students were asked to contribute 500-1,000 words a week into a class blog, however, Mills and Zottoli were the only two students with no blogs found online. Blog participation was noted as going toward 20 percent of one's grade.
Ten percent of students' grades required them to create a rudimentary Web site and complete a scavenger hunt, with item No. 2 listed as: "Find Bill Gates' home address and get directions to get there from our campus."
In a phone message to the Reporter, Krishnamurthy confirmed that the two participated in his class.
In what reads in part like a real-life Russian-spy movie script, court documents note that Mills and Zottoli boarded a plane from Seattle to New York City on or about June 5, 2006 — 15 days before Krishnamurthy's class was set to begin. Three days later, law-enforcement agents' surveillance video shows Zottoli digging at the "Bury Location" and retrieving a small package in the vicinity of where they had been spotted in June 2004 to allegedly meet up with Richard Murphy, who was also recently arrested.
On or about June 9, 2006, surveillance video from a Washington, D.C., hotel shows Zottoli sporting a "money belt," which seemed to be full, according to court documents.
Professor Ince speaks with amazement that Mills and Zottoli were being watched since 2004 (their Seattle apartment was also searched in 2006). While teaching, Ince says he's in "my own world then," and doesn't recall anything out of the ordinary, such as surveillance, going on at UW-Bothell.
"People come in and out of the classrooms, so who knows?" said Ince, adding, "It's scary — out of 1,000-2,000 students I've had, who knows what kind of background each person has?"Contact Bothell Reporter Reporter Andy Nystrom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-483-3732 (ext 5050).