A Hummel Report Investigation
Last fall the U.S. Attorney announced the arrest of a Russian couple living in Warwick on identity theft and fraud charges. The media painted the picture of spies who had infiltrated the community. This week - what the indictment doesn't say, and Jim Hummel's prison interview with the man who is the target of the government's case.
To read the federal indictment click HERE.
To read Magistrate Judge Martin's bail decision click HERE.
To read the U.S. Attorney's news release on the indictment, click HERE.
The federal agents showed up just before dawn one day last November at the home where Alexia and Finnoghal ``Finn" MacEoghan had lived with their young son the past three years.
MacaEoghan: ``Probably about 12 to 15 agents with machine guns and all that started storming the house.''
When the couple didn't answer quickly enough the agents began ramming the mahogany door they had recently installed. They were handcuffed and initially taken to the Warwick Police Department, after making hasty arrangements for someone to take their son.
There, the questions began:
MacEoghan: ``Do I have any connection to Russia, and there was some talk about spies, or whatever. I wasn't sure what was going on.''
Alexia: ``Can somebody tell me what's going on here? And they were like `Oh you don't understand? You don't understand.?' No, I don't understand, I'm sorry, you have to explain it to me.''
It wasn't until their arraignment in federal court later that day they discovered the charges against them: identity theft, wire and passport fraud. And that's when they began to piece together what had happened.
Several months earlier a man named Finnoghal Solomon MacEoghan, from Ireland, contacted Alexia on Facebook - and began asking her questions, noting that her husband had his exact name. She said her husband had a Russian mother and American father.
Several months later she says her co-workers began receiving calls.
Alex: ``And my (supervisor) came over to me saying that we have an Irish man who calls our customer care, and he doesn't want to talk to you, but he calls every single different customer care person and says `You are a Russian spy, you're living under false pretense here, you don't have rights to be here, and we have to go and report to police. And this was right after, when like all those Russian spies were caught in New Jersey.
The Finnoghal MacEoghan who had just been arrested in Warwick came to this country on a Visa in 1991 years ago from the Soviet Union as Evgueni Tetioukhine - a 20-year-old business major who won a competition to participate in a program at Camp Fuller in South County. Just as the program ended in August the Soviet Union was crumbling, living conditions were tough, and Tetioukhine was desperate to stay in the United States.
As a Russian Jew he wound up here at the Chabad House in Providence, where he began the process of applying for asylum. Then he ran into a man also staying there with his young daughter named Laurence Albert McCoon, a meeting confirmed by the rabbi at the time.
MacEoghan: ``I asked himif he could help me with the application for asylum, that's what I applied for, political asylum. In a few days he approached me and said asylum it could be a great shot, it might happen, but there is no guarantee and he's willing to help me out and he said that adoption would be be the best way for me. That's 100 percent sure shot to stay here.''
Hummel: ``That he would adopt you.''
Tetioukhine was 20 years old.
He says Laurence McCoon gave him a social security card, then went with him to get a driver's license at the old registry building in Providence. McCoon told him he always wanted a son - wanted to adopt him and for him take his family name, Fionghal MacEoghan.
Twenty years later that decision would come back to haunt him and Finogahl ``Finn'' MacEoghan, now married and living in Warwick, would discover that social security number belonged to McCoon's son in Ireland - who hadn't been to the U.S. since 1995.
Tetioukhine, now MacEoghan never pursued asylum and for the next 20 years he used that Social Security number and obtained a passport. He worked as a roofer, got married and obtained a student loan. He paid income and social security taxes and bought this house near Warwick Neck. He kept in periodic touch with Laurence McCoon until his death in 2006.
The case has drawn the interest of Sergei Khrushchev, son of longtime Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and a professor at Brown University. He's become involved through the local Russian community, offering to testify. Khrushchev came to Rhode Island the same time as Evgueni Tetioukhine after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early '90s.
Hummel: ``How could he be that naive, not to know that this might be a problem taking somebody else's identity? What would be your response to that?''
Khrushchev: ``I'm repeating that I was 56 years old when I came here in 1991, I was the same naive. Because we came to the different country with a very different system. He didn't say he would take somebody's identity. `I will adopt you as my son. I am giving you my name.'''
MacEoghan has been held without bail at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls since his arrest 10 months ago, despite an April decision by a judge magistrate to release him on $250,000 bail.
In an 18-page, Judge Magistrate David Martin said, in part: `` The circumstances... appear to indicate that Defendant’s intent was not to inflict economic harm by obtaining loans and then not paying them, but to assume a new identity. Indeed, if Victim MacEoghan had not discovered that Defendant had adopted his identity, Victim MacEoghan may have remained unaware of Defendant’s actions because it does not appear that any economic loss would have resulted.'
Finn MacEoghan now has no passport and the country he left 20 years ago doesn't exist. And his employer said his job is waiting for him as a roofer.
But the U.S. Attorney's office immediately appealed, saying he was a flight risk. Chief Judge Mary Lisi agreed and overturned Judge Martin's decision, meaning he remains in prison until his trial later this month. Because he can't work, the bank is foreclosing on the house.
Judge Lisi also denied a defense request to call Professor Khrushchev as a witness in the case. Khrushchev doesn't understand either decision.
Khrushchev: ``I don't think he can fly off, because he has no place to go. It is possibility if he's a real big spy, of course it is 5 KGB agents gathering around the court around the jail to take him out. But he's a normal person. Where will he go? Who will accept him in Canada, or any other place?''
Avanzato: ``I'm a very pro-prosecution, pro-government person.''
Lynda Avanzato is an attorney who used to work for the U.S. Justice Department. She became interested in this case through a mutual friend who once employed MacEoghan. Avanzato believes strongly enough in the case that she and her husband are willing to put up their house for part of his bail.
Avanzato: ``But I think some cases and circumstances you have to look hard at. Sometimes right is not always on the government's side. When Alexia first told me the story, I took a close look at some of those details and started making some phone calls, and it just turned out that a lot of the things Finn had talked about were corroborated by people that I didn't know and that he hadn't seen for 20 years. And I thought that was pretty amazing to go 20 years and find people who knew that it happened the way he said it happened.''
Laurence McCoon died in 2006, but Avanzato was able to track down two of his children, one in Ireland, one in Philadelphia, both who were estranged from their father. His daughter claimed that he had molested her and Avanzato found McCoon had a criminal record in Minnesota for molestation.
Avanzato: ``I think that he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he was giving his son's identity to someone. He knew that - Finn wasn't in a position to know that, he was in a position to know everything. That opened up a huge possibility of something like this happening to Finn down the road. Maybe thisguy thought: `Oh it will never happen. I'm not sure what his motivation was.''
Hummel: ``There will be some people who will look at this and say well this is the government doing its job. We have illegal immigrants in this country, he clearly based his identity on fraud, on a false set of documents and identity and shouldn't the government be trying to come in and right this wrong?''
Avanzato: ``The government's not in the wrong for having followed this down and doing what they did and intervening.''
But Avanzato says the government is using a sledge hammer in this case, when a hammer would do.
As to the to the charge of aggravated identity theft:
Avanzato: ``So it needs to be knowing, if the person doesn't know it's someone else identity, the it's not a criminal act and in fact there's a Supreme Court case that's really related to aggravated identity theft, which is what Finn is charged with - and it was a unanimous Supreme Court just recently in 2009 holding that the government has to prove, not only that you used a false identity, that you used a number that you knew wasn't your number - but that you had to have known it belonged to another real person.
MacEoghan has rejected a plea offer that would keep him in jail for two years. He's already served 10 months. He says he plans to take the stand and tell his story because he has nothing to hide.
Hummel: ``A lot of people come here because of the American justice system.''
MacEoghan: ``I still do, yes.''
Hummel: ``With everything that's happened, you still believe in it?''
MacEoghan: ``I still believe in it.''
Earlier this year the government dropped the charges against Alexia, but won't say why. She has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Moscow and at one time was an executive with British Petroleum.
She says the family is barely hanging on. Even though she is a naturalized American citizen, she lost her job at an insurance company because of the publicity - and though the charges have been dropped against her, she can't get back any of her documents, preventing her from travelling to Russia for her brother's wedding this fall.
Alexia: ``In the newspaper I read about us, that we were a fake couple - we're not a fake couple. So we had a real wedding, and we have son, we're living together. we've been filing taxes together.''
Hummel Standup: So this case goes to trial later this month. And it will come down to whether the jury believes the government's portrait of MacEoghan as a con man who has been living a lie, or the story of a young Russian man whose actions may have been naive, but not criminal.
At federal Court in Providence, Jim Hummel, for the Hummel Report.