Russia probe hits new target
California man is sentenced to six months for identity fraud
WASHINGTON – A California man who unwittingly aided Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 election by providing operatives access to fraudulent bank account information was sentenced to six months in prison followed by six months of home confinement Wednesday. Richard Pinedo, 28, who has been cooperating with Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller in the continuing Russia inquiry, is the second target to be sentenced in the past two months. Last month, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was sentenced to two weeks in prison and fined $9,500 for lying to the FBI. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich cited Pinedo’s “significant” cooperation with federal investigators but said the “widespread scale” of the identity fraud merited a period of incarceration. Pinedo, a former computer science student who had no connection to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this year to identity fraud as part of a scheme in which he acquired bank account information online and sold the information to anonymous buyers whose ranks included operatives linked to the Kremlin. From 2014 to 2017, Pinedo earned $40,000 to $95,000 from the transactions, prosecutors have said, adding that there is no evidence he knew of Russia’s involvement or the buyers’ identities. In a brief statement, Pinedo apologized and described how his involvement in the high profile probe has altered his life. “Never did it cross my mind that the services I was providing were to be used in crimes at the highest level,” he said, reading from a written statement. “My life has been turned upside down.” In court documents, Pinedo’s attorney, Jeremy Lessem, had asked the court to impose a sentence of probation, citing his client’s extensive cooperation with prosecutors. Lessem argued that at the start of the scheme Pinedo had sold only accounts “he personally opened in his own name.” “Eventually the demand for account information outpaced his ability to open bank accounts under his own name,” Lessem said, making it necessary to “find account numbers from other sources.” “When Mr. Pinedo undertook his illegal and misguided business venture ... he didn’t picture his customers using his services to commit crimes,” Lessem said in court documents. “Mr. Pinedo obviously should have invested more thought into the possible nefarious intentions of those that sought his services. However, never in his wildest dreams could he have foreseen that providing bank account information to set up PayPal accounts could be used to interfere with a presidential election.”
“Never did it cross my mind that the services I was providing were to be used in crimes at the highest level.” Richard Pinedo
Richard Pinedo has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, above, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.