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Six-month sentence for California man who sold bank accounts to Russians

Six-month sentence for California man who sold bank accounts to Russians
Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel probing Russian interference, leaves the Capitol building after meeting with the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017. (Ting Shen / Xinhua/TNS)

A California man on Wednesday was sentenced to six months in prison for unwittingly helping the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich sentenced Richard Pinedo to six months’ imprisonment followed by six months of home detention for selling bank account numbers to Russian operatives. According to the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the Russians used that information to set up PayPal accounts and purchase advertisements on Facebook.

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Pinedo was essentially a middleman in the shady world of online information exchange. He bought and sold stolen identifications and bank account numbers that would allow people to bypass and deceive the verification requirements of PayPal, Facebook and elsewhere. Prosecutors estimate that the 28-year-old Santa Paula resident earned $40,000 to $95,000 over a three-year period.

Pinedo pleaded guilty to identity fraud and came to Washington to testify before a grand jury. Prosecutors acknowledged that Pinedo had cooperated fully with Mueller’s investigation and that his testimony had helped shine a light on important details of the Russian election conspiracy.

So far, Mueller’s team has obtained six guilty pleas, including those of four Trump campaign advisors, and a jury conviction. He has pending indictments against 26 others and three Russian companies.

“Mr. Pinedo has continued to provide information,” said prosecutor Rush Atkinson. “He has fulfilled his obligations.”

Pinedo’s lawyer, Jeremy Lessem, said he had hoped to avoid any prison time given his client’s extensive cooperation with the Mueller investigation. He described Pinedo as a small-time criminal caught up in a global conspiracy.

“He never wanted to be a part of any of this,” Lessem said. “If it wasn’t for the fact that some of his co-conspirators or clients were involved in the [Russia] investigation, this probably would have been handled quickly in state court.”

Pinedo briefly addressed the judge, saying he took full responsibility for his actions. “I was convinced that the service I was offering put no one at risk,” he said.

Friedrich said she was deliberately leaning toward the low end of the suggested sentencing guidelines. But she also said she felt it necessary that Pinedo spend some time in prison.

“You did knowingly commit identity fraud and you opened the door for others to access the American financial system,” the judge said.

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