The Justice Department has charged 13 Russian nationals and three entities for interference in US politics, including the 2016 presidential election.
CAMARILLO, Calif. — A California man accused of helping Russia meddle in the 2016 presidential election has pleaded guilty to identity fraud.
The plea agreement was announced on the U.S. Department of Justice’s website under Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Richard Pinedo Santa Paula admitted to identity fraud in the agreement filed Monday in federal court.
According to court documents, from 2014 to at least November 2017, Pinedo created fraudulent bank accounts that were then used by the Russians. He did this by operating an online service called Auction Essistance to circumvent large online digital payment companies’ security features.
In a statement, Pinedo’s attorney Jeremy Lessem said his client admits he made a mistake and takes full responsibility.
“Through an online website, Mr. Pinedo sold bank information which allowed individuals to fraudulently verify and establish accounts with online financial institutions,” Pinedo said.
Auction Essistance was registered with the state of California as a business in Santa Paula on Dec. 17, 2013, but the registration was canceled on Feb. 17, 2015, according to the California Secretary of State’s website.
On Friday, the website stated it was down for maintenance.
Lessem said Pinedo did not know what the account information was being used for or who was using it.
“To the extent that Mr. Pinedo’s actions assisted any individuals, including foreign nationals, from affecting or interfering in the American presidential election was done completely without his knowledge or understanding,” Lessem said.
Special counsel’s office charges 13 Russian nationals, 3 Russian entities with interfering in US political process. (Feb. 16)
Court documents state that Pinedo purchased the information from someone who he knew did not live in the United States, and based on Internet protocol addresses, he also knew that the account information he was selling was coming from people outside the country.
“Many of the bank accounts purchased by Pinedo over the Internet were created using stolen identities of U.S. persons. Although Pinedo was not directly involved in the registration of these accounts using stolen identities, he willfully and intentionally avoided learning about the use of stolen identities,” the documents state.
Hundreds of pieces bank account information were used, and Pinedo allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars through the sale of the accounts.
Pinedo has no prior criminal convictions. He also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, according to court documents.
Pinedo faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2o6zbgF