Rus­sia probe hits new tar­get

Cal­i­for­nia man is sen­tenced to six months for iden­tity fraud

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Kevin John­son

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

AP

Richard Pinedo has been co­op­er­at­ing with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, above, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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