Calif. man ensnared in Mueller probe sentenced to 6 months in prison

Source: The Hill | October 10, 2018 | Morgan Chalfant

A California man ensnared in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference was sentenced on Wednesday to six months in prison, six months of home detention and two years of supervised release.

Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud seven months ago and cooperated with government investigators in the case against the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Judge Dabney Friedrich handed down his sentence in federal court in Washington, D.C. Pinedo will also have to complete 100 hours of community service and submit to computer monitoring.

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Pinedo, who has no connection to the Trump campaign, ran a firm called Auction Essistance that helped individuals circumvent security features of online payment companies, according to court filings. Over three years, he allegedly generated between $40,000 and $95,000 by acquiring and selling bank account information. He has admitted to using stolen identities to set up bank accounts that were later used by Russians in a broad plot to interfere in the 2016 election, though his attorneys maintain Pinedo did not know he was dealing with Russians.

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Government prosecutors described Pinedo’s cooperation as significant but not rising to the level of “substantial assistance.” Rush Atkinson, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, suggested Wednesday that Pinedo provided the government with information on other Americans involved in the identity fraud scheme but not enough to generate other criminal charges. 

Atkinson also argued the government already knew much of the information Pinedo revealed about the Russian operation. Mueller’s team did not request a particular sentence, instead electing to defer to the court. 

Mueller revealed Pinedo’s guilty plea on Feb. 16, the same day 13 Russians and three Russian business entities were indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges in an elaborate scheme to use social media to interfere in the election. The Russians are linked to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm based in St. Petersburg that purchased ads on Facebook and leveraged other social media platforms to spread divisive content to American audiences leading up to the vote. 

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