A Russian spy who worked to steal American secrets while undercover as a bank employee was sent back to Russia on Wednesday—months ahead of schedule.
As a non-official cover spy, Evgeny Buryakov worked an ordinary job—in his case, at the state-run development bank Vnesheconombank—while conducting his covert duties on the side. He tried to gather financial information, including details about U.S. sanctions, for Russia, while his handlers sought to recruit Americans as intelligence assets.
Buryakov was asked to get information about the “effects of economic sanctions on our country,” according to his criminal complaint. He later searched the internet for “sanctions Russia consiquences” [sic].
He was busted in January 2015 in part because his handlers were sloppy and bragged about their exploits while bugged by the FBI. But they were able to flee the country without getting arrested, under diplomatic cover.
Buryakov pleaded guilty in May 2016 and sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiring to act in the United States as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation.
The spy’s release comes amid increasing concerns about Russian intelligence operations against the United States. Just last week, Reuters reported that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Vnesheconombank executives in December. The bank that Buryakov worked for while conducting espionage for Russia paid for his legal bills after his arrest and was also sanctioned after Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
Concerns over the Trump team’s Russia ties have swirled for months. Notably, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was scrutinized over his tight Russia ties early in the presidential race. This week, it emerged that Page was the man Buryakov’s handlers tried to recruit as an intelligence asset. And former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after lying about meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. After Flynn’s resignation, it emerged that, among other things, he failed to disclose hefty payments received from Russian propaganda network RT.
Buryakov shed nearly four months from his sentence for good behavior and was released from prison and into ICE custody on March 31. He was expected to be released in July.
Yet while his early exit from prison may be unexpected, it is not altogether uncommon, experts said.
Kara Gotsch, the director of strategic initiatives at The Sentencing Project, told The Daily Beast that those serving more than a year in federal prison are eligible for a 47-day reduction for good behavior on their sentence for every year they serve. There are other mechanisms for early release, too—like compassionate release—though they are not commonly used.
“The [Bureau of Prisons] does have discretion for up to six months prior to someone’s release,” Gotsch said. “They could go into a halfway house or home confinement or something like that.”
That option was not given to Buryakov. He remained at an Ohio prison before being handed over to ICE and deported. In a statement, the agency defended his deportation.
“Removing individuals like Mr. Buryakov represents ICE’s highest enforcement priority, which is protecting the national security of the United States,” said Rebecca Adducci, field office director for ICE’s enforcement and removal operations in Michigan and Ohio.