Mueller Investigation Leads To Third Prison Sentence In Connection With Russian Meddling In 2016 Election

Robert Mueller grimaces during hearing.
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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign meddling in the 2016 presidential election led to the sentencing of a California man to six months behind bars on Wednesday, October 10. Richard Pinedo was read his fate eight months after he pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud for his role in assisting a network of pro-Putin internet trolls who sought to influence the American vote, the New York Times reports.

Back in February, Pinedo folded to Mueller’s inquiry into his repeated sale of bank account information to bad actors connected with the St. Petersburg based Internet Research Agency. The IRA had been identified as a Russian troll farm that was active most prevalently in the creation and dissemination of fake news articles and memes on Facebook and other social media platforms – although it also went so far as to recruit U.S. activists to organize political initiatives on the ground. All along, the agency depended on online payment processing to fund its work.

According to The Hill, Pineda made between $40,000 and $95,000 over a three-year period through the use of his firm Auction Essistance to help the IRA circumvent security features that protect customers’ information on online payment platforms. The investigation found that he would use stolen identities to synthesize dummy accounts that the trolls would then purchase from him with the intention of setting up shop on Paypal. While he’s admitted to committing the acts detailed in the probe, Pineda maintains that he was clueless as to the nature of his consumers’ intent to facilitate their election meddling operations through the use of accounts he provided.

Federal guidelines call for those who commit the crimes that Pinedo has confessed to, to face between 12 and 18 months in a cell. However, Judge Dabney Friedrich granted the 28-year-old scammer leniency because of his willingness to cooperate in the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities suspected of steering the IRA operation to sew dissent and manipulate the political will of U.S. citizens.

When he finishes serving what will so far be the stiffest prison stint passed down to a suspect convicted of aiding foreign operatives in their interference in the election, Pinedo will have to serve an additional six months of home detention and complete 100 hours of community service.

Pinedo is the third defendant to be sentenced as a result of the Mueller probe, with former foreign policy advisory panelist to the Trump campaign George Papadopoulos and Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan having received lesser sentences after agreeing to cooperate in the heat of inquiries that found both guilty of lying to federal investigators.