(Memphis) The FBI wants to know if a Russian diplomat was trying to recruit Memphians to be spies.
The FBI is questioning people from the Mid-South who got free trips to Russia.
Applications for the trip went through the Russian Cultural Center in Memphis and now everyone involved is being questioned.
“They said there was a matter of national security and that they needed to speak to me about it,” one man who asked not to be identified said.
He had no idea why the FBI wanted to talk to him, but he’s one of ten Memphians who went on trips to Russia recently through a Russian government-run exchange program run by Russian diplomat Yury Zaytsev, who heads the Russian Cultural Center in D.C.
“They wanted to know if I had had any strange experience that were out of the ordinary,” the man said.
He said the FBI suspects Zaytsev could be a spy, and was using his program to recruit Americans.
“They were asking me about someone who they said was a high level Russian spy and me I’m just a nobody who went on a free trip to Russia,” he said.
The Director of the Memphis Russian Cultural Center, Anna Terry, knows Zaytsev well.
“He helped us open the Russian Cultural Center here in January 2012,” she said.
Terry was also interviewed by the FBI about her relationship with Zaytsev.
“We knew him and his wife personally as just people who helped support our work here by funding programs and exhibits we would have here.”
She never suspected he could be a spy.
“It was shocking it blew us out of the water,” she said.
Terry did say that the FBI told her that several American had been put in compromising positions in Russia, but no one she knew of from Memphis had been approached.
Reporter: “Did anyone with your group ever say they were approached by anybody with the Russian government?
Man: “I didn’t hear anything about that,” he said. “We got to talk about our perspective of Russia and gain insight into the view of what Russian politics were like.”
The purpose of the program was to build bridges between the us and Russia.
“If I have really put my friends and these people in that position of course I feel terrible about it,” Terry said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement to CNN that the allegations, “contain nothing in common with the reality.”
No one in the FBI wanted to talk to us about the investigation.
Terry told us they are talking to everyone who went on those free trips. She said that State Sen. Brian Kelsey was one of the people who went on a trip this year.
We tried to contact him, but no one answered at his office.
Terry said the FBI also told her to change the name of the center. It now says outside the Main Street Office that it is the “Cultural Center.”