Lawyer: California man in Russia probe ‘has made mistakes’

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By AMANDA LEE MYERS

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A California man who pleaded guilty earlier this month to unwittingly selling bank accounts to Russians meddling in U.S. elections made a mistake and is coming to terms with his role in the matter, his attorney told The Associated Press on Friday.

Richard “Ricky” Pinedo pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to set up bank accounts that were then used by the Russians. The U.S. government acknowledged that Pinedo did not know that he was dealing with Russians.

Pinedo’s guilty plea is the third stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

On Friday, Robert Mueller’s office charged 13 Russians, including a businessman close to Vladimir Putin, in an elaborate plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The federal indictment was the most direct allegation to date of illegal Russian meddling during the campaign.

Pinedo’s attorney, Jeremy Lessem, said his client “was shocked to find out that what he was doing had any relationship whatsoever” to the Mueller investigation.

“This is something that is way beyond anything he could have possibly imagined he could be involved in,” Lessem said.

He said Pinedo “has made mistakes, he’s taken responsibility for those mistakes, he pled guilty, and he will be punished for those mistakes he made. But he had nothing to do with assisting any type of foreign national at all.”

Pinedo thought he was helping people fraudulently open online bank accounts, but not Russians, Lessem said. He said his client would not make any public statements.

Pinedo, of Santa Paula, California, could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He has no criminal history, according to his plea agreement, which he signed as “Ricky” on Feb. 2 during a court hearing in Washington, D.C. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.

Lessem declined to say what sentence he would request for his client.

Pinedo is listed on a LinkedIn page as a marketing strategist who graduated from Ventura College with a degree in computer science in 2009.

“Being able to come up with creative ideas, strategies and coming up with solutions to problems is always a big plus for me,” according to the profile.

Between 2014 and last year, Pinedo operated an online service called Auction Essistance, selling bank account numbers either by registering accounts in his own name or often using stolen identities, according to court documents.

“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 said.

Prosecutors say the scheme netted Pinedo tens of thousands of dollars.

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