A woman charged with lying to the FBI after the Boston Marathon bombings says she did nothing wrong and has no intention of returning to the United States to face trial, her mother said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Reniya Manukyan left for her native Russia in 2013 after a Boston FBI agent shot and killed her husband, Ibragim Todashev, during a sweeping investigation into associates of Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“They say that she’s been lying? It’s just ridiculous,” Manukyan’s mother, Elena Teyer, said in a telephone interview from Russia.
A federal grand jury in Atlanta indicted Manukyan last week on charges of lying to the FBI during a terror investigation, and officials said they were seeking her arrest.
But Teyer said the bureau knows where her daughter lives and even visited her city of Volgograd last year to interview her. She refused.
Manukyan, 27, declined to comment. Teyer said Manukyan gave birth to a baby boy in August 2015 and is still shaken by the loss of Todashev.
“She doesn’t care about what they’re saying,” said Teyer, who lives in the United States but is visiting her family in Russia, including her elderly father, who is ill. “The last thing she wants to remember is them.”
Federal officials allege that Manukyan lied to FBI investigators on May 21, 2013, hours before the agent fatally shot her estranged husband in Orlando. Federal investigators said Todashev, a gym buddy of Tsarnaev, confessed to helping Tsarnaev kill three men in Waltham in September 2011.
The charges against Manukyan also focus on the days surrounding the Waltham murders, though the indictment does not name Todashev or mention the murders. However, Teyer confirmed that the FBI had grilled Manukyan about Todashev’s whereabouts during the murders and she insisted that he had nothing to do with them.
The indictment suggests that Manukyan told authorities that Todashev had already left town when the murders occurred, when in reality, she picked him up in New York the day after the bodies were found and drove him back to Atlanta, where she lived.
Teyer said Todashev had been working in Massachusetts that summer and her daughter had taken multiple road trips from Atlanta to visit him, including to New York. Her daughter could not remember precise dates under grilling by federal investigators, but she believed bank records showed that Todashev could not have been in Massachusetts at the time of the deaths.
“Why would she lie? Especially her,” Teyer said., adding that her daughter worked two jobs and only wanted to find a stable relationship and start a family. “She was not even completely understanding what’s going on.”
On Sept. 12, 2011, the bodies of Brendan Mess, 25, once a close friend of Tsarnaev, Erik H. Weissman, 31, and Raphael M. Teken, 37, were found in Mess’s apartment. Their throats were cut and marijuana scattered on their bodies.
Teyer suggested that the FBI pursued charges against her daughter to pressure Todashev’s family to drop a $30 million wrongful-death claim against the bureau.
She pointed out that the United States cannot force Manukyan to return to Atlanta because the US and Russia have no extradition treaty. Teyer said she and her two children have dual citizenship in both countries, but Manukyan returned to Russia with Todashev’s body in June 2013 and stayed because she feared for her safety in the US.
Manukyan is facing up to eight years in prison for the felony charges, according to the US attorney’s office in Atlanta.
Hassan Shibly, the chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida who is working with the Todashev family on their claim against the FBI, said he feared the charges against Manukyan are in retaliation for her criticism of the bureau.
Otherwise, he said, the bureau could have waited until Manukyan returned to the US to charge her.
“The only thing the indictment does is effectively prohibit her from returning to America,” Shibly said, adding that the indictment requires a fairly low burden of proof. “They knew she was in Russia.”
The FBI declined to comment.
The bureau has also faced heated criticism for its handling of the Todashev case and for failing to disclose that the FBI agent who killed Todashev, Aaron McFarlane, had faced complaints of police brutality as an Oakland police officer in California before retiring on a tax-free disability pension at age 31.
McFarlane later joined the FBI while continuing to collect the disability pension. Oakland tried to review that pension but said the FBI refused to provide information the city needed. As of this week, McFarlane was still receiving the pension, grossing $4,550.83 a month, according to California’s state-run retirement system.
Teyer, a Russian immigrant who came to America in 2006, joined the Army and served as a pharmacy technician, winning commendations before retiring for medical reasons after the bombings.
But she has also garnered notoriety in Boston for supporting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at his trial in 2014. She maintains he is innocent. He was found guilty and sentenced to death for his role in the deadly April 2013 bombings. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in a shootout with Waltham police after the bombings.
On Tuesday, Teyer questioned why authorities had not solved the Waltham murders, since Todashev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are dead and authorities had access to their DNA.
“They have no evidence,” she said. “It’s basically like shaking the air. That’s all they’re doing.”
Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy called for clarity in the Waltham investigation in 2014 but did not respond to a request for comment this week.