California man who unwittingly helped Russian meddling released from federal custody

Richard Pinedo of Santa Paula, California, listens as his lawyer speaks to members of the media outside federal court after sentencing in Washington, D.C. Full Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

TAFT, Calif. — The California fake ID salesman who unknowingly helped Russian trolls meddle in the 2016 election has been released after a six-month stint in federal prison.

Richard Pinedo, 29, was released from federal custody on Monday, according to the Bureau of Prisons website. He was sentenced to prison in October after pleading guilty to identity fraud and served at least part of his six-month sentence at a federal prison near Taft, California.

As part of his sentence, Pinedo will now serve six months under house arrest. The federal judge overseeing the case also ordered Pinedo to complete 100 hours of community service.

In pleading guilty, Pinedo acknowledged that he sold dummy bank accounts to Russians who used them for online payment services, like PayPal. Pinedo’s lawyer said his client was unaware that his customers were Russians and that they were trying to meddle in the election.

The scheme earned Pinedo about $40,000 over three years, according to court filings.

The Mueller report, which is nearly 500 pages in all, mentioned Pinedo by name eight times. Most of the references came in a section about how Kremlin-backed trolls, at a company called the Internet Research Agency, used social media to spread political propaganda to US voters.

“The investigation did not establish that Pinedo was aware of the identity of the IRA members who purchased bank account numbers from him,” the report said about his overlap with the Russians. “Pinedo’s sales of account numbers enabled the IRA members to anonymously access a financial network through which they transacted with US persons and companies.”

Partially helped by Pinedo’s fake bank accounts, and with millions of dollars of funding from a Russian oligarch, the IRA “had the ability to reach millions of US persons through their social media accounts” by the time Americans went to the polls in November 2016, the report said.

Prosecutors from Mueller’s office previously said Pinedo cooperated extensively with their investigation and offered to help other prosecutors if related cases arise in the future. At his sentencing in October, Pinedo apologized and said he took “full responsibility” for his actions.

Pinedo was one of five people sent to prison as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s far-reaching investigation into Russian meddling, which wrapped up earlier this spring. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, remain in prison.

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