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'It was mind boggling': American University students react to classmate charged as Russian agent

A federal judge ruled that suspected 29-year-old Russian spy, Maria Butina, will remain behind bars while awaiting her trial.
Credit: Getty Images

Some American University students were surprised to learn their former classmate had been charged with conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agent.

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On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that suspected 29-year-old Russian spy, Maria Butina, will remain behind bars while awaiting her trial.

"It was mind boggling, some of my classmates had talked about her being a Russian spy,” said Sierra Hicks who attended graduate school with Butina. “She was kind of loud, like a big personality.”

In court, she appeared serious and attentive.

“I'm a representative of the Russian Federation here, and I'm the chairman of The Right to Bear Arms. It's a Russian non-profit organization," Butina said in professional-looking video.

She is used to being in the public eye. Prosecutors said she's been in the United States working as a covert agent as part of a "year's long" conspiracy. She came to the U.S. on a student visa, but the government argues that her "legal status was predicated on deception" and that she actually works for the Russian government.

In order to influence the 2016 elections, prosecutors said Butina infiltrated conservative organizations and the National Rifle Association.

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Prosecutors described Butina as leading a double life in which she dated a Republican operative from South Dakota as part of her job. Prosecutors wrote that she offered sex to another American in “exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”

Her defense attorney said she recently graduated from American University's graduate studies receiving straight A's, but something she said in global security class, stood out to Hicks.

"One day we were talking about our experiences with TSA and she said, 'I got interrogated and they asked me if I was a Russian agent and I said of course not I'm just here to go to school.' I keep coming back to that moment, because obviously she was kind of working for the Russian government, allegedly was," said Hicks.

PHOTOS: Gun rights activist Maria Butina accused of being a Russian agent

The government argued Butina is a flight risk and that if she were released she could easily leave the country with Russia's help. The judge agreed and ordered her to be held without bond pending her trial.

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