Reporting from Washington — A 12th Russian whose name surfaced last fall as part of a federal investigation into a Moscow spy network in the United States was deported to his home country Tuesday after federal investigators determined that he had not committed any crimes during his nine-month stay here.
Alexey Karetnikov, a 23-year-old Russian citizen who was living in Seattle, was taken into U.S. custody June 28. The FBI's investigation led to a series of arrests last month in New York, New Jersey and Virginia. On Monday, a federal immigration judge ordered Karetnikov deported.
U.S. officials said Karetnikov "would face criminal and civil penalties if he returned without express U.S. government permission."
Justice Department officials said Karetnikov was not "charged with any criminal violation" in connection with the other agents, and that the intent all along was to deport Karetnikov once the others were prosecuted and deported.
"We investigated thoroughly, and if we had been able to prosecute the individual, we would have," said a federal law enforcement official.
Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said that as part of the decision to deport Karetnikov without the filing of criminal charges, "Mr. Karetnikov admitted that he was present in the United States in violation of immigration law and voluntarily agreed to deportation in lieu of further court proceedings."
Karetnikov came to the U.S. in October, in contrast to some of the others who arrived here years ago and set up new families and lifestyles.
Last week, 10 Russian operatives abruptly pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to a charge of failing to register as foreign agents. They were deported to Moscow, in return for the Russian Federation's release of four longtime prisoners who admitted they had spied against Russia. Two of the four were taken to England, the other two to the United States.
An 11th operative, identified as Christopher R. Metsos, the alleged "paymaster" of the operation, was briefly held and released by police in Cyprus. He has since disappeared.
Earlier this week, in his first extensive public comments on the matter, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said that federal authorities broke up the spy ring and arrested the first 10 individuals because the husband of one of the members was in the process of traveling to France, and then on to Russia.
"The concern was that, if we let him go, we would not be able to get him back," Holder said.