A Santa Monica lawyer testified Thursday that accused spy Nikolai Ogorodnikov hired him a year ago to locate a high-ranking Soviet KGB official who had defected to the United States and later warned him that they would both be in trouble if the defector could not be found.
Attorney Donald Levinson said Ogorodnikov claimed to be acting on behalf of a woman who wanted to file a paternity suit against the Soviet defector, Stanislav Levchenko, a former KGB major. However, Ogorodnikov never identified the woman, Levinson said.
“He said it’s very important that I find this person,” Levinson testified. “He said it could mean lots of trouble for him and trouble for me if I couldn’t find him.”
The Santa Monica lawyer was the 10th prosecution witness called during 10 days of testimony in the espionage trial of Ogorodnikov and his wife, Svetlana Ogorodnikova, in Los Angeles federal court. The two Russian emigres are accused of conspiring with former FBI Agent Richard W. Miller to pass secret FBI documents to the Soviet Union.
Levinson said he was retained to find Levchenko, 42, who is regarded by U.S. intelligence officials as one of the most important Soviet agents to ever defect to the United States, during a walk with Ogorodnikov outside the Russian emigre’s Hollywood apartment in late May, 1984, about the same time that the Ogorodnikovs allegedly first became involved with Miller.
For the next four months, Levinson testified, he was repeatedly asked by Ogorodnikov if he was having any luck finding Levchenko. He said he was paid $190 by Ogorodnikov on one occasion and received a few hundred dollars later on from Ogorodnikova, who also asked about his progress.
The attorney, who had obtained settlements for the Ogorodnikovs in two previous personal injury cases, said he approached several private detective agencies to find the former KGB spy for him but did not hire an investigator, because he could not find one he trusted to do the job.
Levinson said he went as far as checking Levchenko’s name with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, finding a Washington address that turned out to be the location of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI’s headquarters.
“I asked him very specifically if this involved the Soviet government, the KGB or the United States government in some manner,” Levinson said in response to questioning from Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce G. Merritt. “I remember very well his reply: ‘No, no, no, it’s important lady.’ I felt this was getting into a very sensitive area and told him he should contact the FBI.”
Highly Placed Agents
Levinson said Ogorodnikov continued to press him about the location of Levchenko, who ran a KGB spy ring of 10 to 12 highly placed agents in Japan before defecting to the United States in 1979, during phone conversations almost until the time of the Ogorodnikovs’ arrest, along with Miller, last Oct. 2.
Defense attorneys objected to Levinson’s testimony on grounds that it was a violation of attorney-client privilege, contending that the government had never proved that Ogorodnikov’s story of the paternity suit was false. U.S. District Judge David Kenyon allowed the testimony, saying it was “more incredible than credible” to believe there was a woman who wanted to sue the Soviet defector.
As Levinson finished his second day of testimony, the government announced that it will “soon” begin introducing its evidence about the events that unfolded after Ogorodnikova and Miller first made contact on May 24, 1984. A crucial event during that period was a trip by Ogorodnikova and Miller to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco in late August of last year, which reportedly triggered the FBI’s subsequent espionage investigation.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard B. Kendall said about 20 FBI agents will be called during at least five days of testimony to describe the surveillance activities of Miller and the Ogorodnikovs during the following month in a massive operation code named “Whipworm,” a reference to an internal parasite.
One hint of how the FBI may have learned of Miller’s involvement at the time of his trip to San Francisco with Ogorodnikova came during testimony Wednesday, when an FBI special operations assistant, Linda Franusich, described how she and other FBI employees are regularly assigned to photograph anyone entering or leaving the Soviet Consulate in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.
Franusich told of two occasions last year when she had seen Ogorodnikova at the consulate, once on April 2 and again on May 23, the day before Ogorodnikova allegedly first called Miller and arranged to meet with him.
Also testifying was San Francisco taxi driver Alexander Nayberg, who had picked up Ogorodnikova at San Francisco International Airport on the morning of May 23 and returned her to the airport from the consulate that afternoon.
Miller, 48, who has admitted being sexually involved with Ogorodnikova, is the first FBI agent ever charged with espionage. He is scheduled to testify later in the trial of the Ogorodnikovs. His own trial is scheduled to begin June 18.