SAN DIEGO — In halting and heavily-accented English, a former Soviet spy recounted Wednesday how she became an FBI informant in a murder-for-hire case.
Svetlana Ogorodnikova this week is testifying as a key government witness, seven years after her release from prison. She was convicted of seducing a Los Angeles FBI agent into selling a confidential document to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
After serving half her 18-year sentence, Ogorodnikova was released and spent several years fighting deportation from the United States — an effort she gave up by moving to Tijuana, Mexico, with a convicted drug trafficker she met and married in prison.
Ogorodnikova returned illegally to Southern California in 1999 and moved with her husband to a ranch in Fallbrook. The ranch was owned by Kimberly Bailey, who is now on trial in federal court on charges of having a San Diego private investigator tortured and murdered in an abandoned house in Tijuana.
Bailey repeatedly asked Ogorodnikova if she could hire a hitman to kill witnesses and others involved in the murder of the private investigator, Richard Post, the Russian woman testified.
“I became very scared,” said the former spy, dressed in a dark blue suit, her hair cut short. “I think maybe she’d forget, maybe she’s not serious.”
Bailey is accused of having Post kidnapped, tortured over five days in Tijuana, and then murdered because she believed he cheated on her with other women and stole money from her.
Bailey has pleaded innocent to conspiracy to murder a person in a foreign country and other charges. Through her lawyer, she has insisted that Post is alive and in hiding.
FBI agents who had the Fallbrook ranch under surveillance approached Ogorodnikova, who agreed to covertly tape conversations over the phone and in person with Bailey.
The Russian woman, according to the tapes, set up a meeting in the Mandalay Bay casino between an FBI agent posing as a hitman and Bailey, who allegedly wanted to have him kill several people involved with Post’s slaying.
In their conversations, Ogorodnikova said she and Bailey developed a code. Examples included “brother” or “lawyer” to mean hitman and “investigation” to refer to murder. “It was like a spy movie, like in James Bond,” she testified.
Bailey’s defense attorney, Philip DeMassa, said he hoped to use Ogorodnikova’s past to convince jurors that she is not a reliable witness.
“She’s an experienced KGB agent and she’s lying about everything,” he said outside the federal courtroom.
Ogorodnikova pleaded guilty to espionage charges in 1985, after she admitted seducing Richard Miller, the first FBI agent charged with espionage.
The former Soviet spy had no trouble slipping back into the United States when a friend drove her across the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, where inspectors failed to check Ogorodnikova’s background, according to her husband, Bruce Perlowin.
The Bailey trial is expected to last several more weeks.