Spy Kids: What Happens When Mom and Dad are Busted for Espionage?

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True

Two alleged spies, known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy, were living in this unassuming suburban New Jersey home. Credit: Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

Remember when you were just a kid in elementary school and you went to a friend's birthday party only to come home and find out Mom and Dad had been busted as Russian spies and hauled away by the FBI?

Now, there's a story to tell your therapist years later.

This is why Boris and Natasha never had kids when they were chasing after Rocky and Bullwinkle. You have to think about certain things when you're in a spy family. A biggie is what will happen to the kids if you get nabbed.

Four married couples who were part of a spy ring FBI agents busted a few days ago are no doubt thinking about that right now. The couples had seven children between them -- ranging in age from babies to adults.

The Washington Post reports that one of the children actually did find out what happened to her parents after coming home from a birthday party.

Justice Department officials, citing privacy laws, refused to tell the Post what's become of the children of the alleged spies.

However, children of defendants in federal cases generally are placed in the care of state child protection agencies, Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, tells the newspaper.

"We recognize the importance of proper care for the children in this case," he says.

FBI agents arrested a total of 10 suspects in Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts for allegedly spying on the United States to gain information on everything from nuclear weapons to American relations with Iran.

An 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus, but went missing June 30, a day after being released on bail.

The suspects with children are:

  • Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez
  • Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills
  • Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley
  • Richard and Cynthia Murphy
According to the Post, federal agents often notify child protective services in advance of arrests. FBI victim-witness coordinators also help the children of defendants.

In this case, an unidentified law enforcement official tells the Post, "people were well aware of the children and planned for it."

The Post reports that the defendants all have suggested friends as guardians for their kids. Child protective service agencies in the various jurisdictions will decide whether those friends will take custody of the children while their parents' cases make their way through the court system.

According to the newspaper, the defendants were Russian operatives sent to the United States as long-term plants, but have no relatives in this country.

FBI sources tell the Post the alleged spies went to great lengths to blend in with American society, and having children gave eight of the suspects a particularly good cover, they add.

But at what cost to the kids?

Preston Burton, a lawyer who represented convicted spies Aldrich H. Ames and Robert P. Hanssen, tells the Post spying cases place "extraordinarily difficult" strains on families, particularly when both parents are arrested.

The government "usually seeks restrictive measures which can prevent family members from seeing the arrested relatives," Burton tells the Post. "The notion is that people who are accused of passing classified information present that risk at all times."

Parents who work as spies is nothing new.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's sons Robert and Michael were 6 and 10 when the couple was executed for espionage in 1953. They boys were eventually adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol, took their adoptive parents' last name and buried their real identity.

"My relatives were so frightened of being associated with 'Communist spies' they refused to take me in," Robert Meeropol tells the London Guardian.

He set up the Rosenberg Fund for Children to assist kids targeted because of their parents' involvement in progressive movements.

Related: Parents Arrested for Giving Their Kids Home Tattoos


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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.