HOUSTON (AP) — In his suburban Houston neighborhood, at least, Alexander Fishenko kept a low profile, living well but never mingling with others on his block. All the while, U.S. authorities say, the immigrant from Kazakhstan was leading a plot to funnel cutting-edge military technology to Russia.
For the last four years, Fishenko lived with his family in a two-story, four-bedroom home, a stranger to his neighbors, unknown to leaders in Houston's Russian community of more than 100,000 residents.
"I wouldn't have thought he was the ring leader. He was so nondescript, an everyday kind of guy," Charlie Houssiere, who lives across the street from Fishenko, said Thursday. "The whole time I thought he worked at an oil company."
Instead, U.S. authorities say he was running a Houston-based company that obtained highly regulated technology and clandestinely exported it to Russia for use by that country's military and intelligence agencies. The microelectronics could have a wide range of military uses, including radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems and detonation triggers, U.S. authorities say.
Fishenko is accused of scheming to purposely evade strict export controls for cutting-edge microelectronics, of operating inside the U.S. as an unregistered agent of the Russian government, and of money laundering.
Fishenko and six others arrested by authorities this week made their initial appearances Thursday in federal court in Houston. An eighth defendant appeared in court Wednesday.
Hearings to determine whether Fishenko and the other defendants will be granted bail are scheduled to start Friday. None of the defendants have entered pleas. Their cases are expected to be transferred to New York, where the indictment was filed.
Fishenko's attorney, Eric Reed, said he plans to review the charges against his client with a critical eye.
"I think these are fairly dramatic allegations that we will certainly take a hard look at to determine whether there is any evidence to back that up," Reed said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement noted the defendants are not charged with espionage.
According to court documents, Fishenko was born in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan and graduated from a technical institute in St. Petersburg before coming to America in 1994. In Houston, he initially worked at a Circuit City store. In his initial asylum application, Fishenko stated he had no prior military experience, but elsewhere he claimed to have served in a Soviet military intelligence unit in Berlin in the 1980s, according to court records.