Calif. man pleads guilty to identity fraud in Mueller probe

Calif. man pleads guilty to identity fraud in Mueller probe
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A California man has pleaded guilty to identity fraud in connection with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The man, Pichard Pinedo, is accused of selling bank account numbers over the internet that helped individuals circumvent security protocols of online digital payment companies, according to documents released by the Justice Department on Friday.

Pinedo’s Feb. 12 guilty plea was revealed the same day that Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for allegedly taking part in the election interference efforts. The defendants are allegedly involved in the Internet Research Agency, a Russian propaganda operation based in St. Petersburg that leveraged social media platforms to spread divisive content online ahead of the 2016 election. 

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It is unclear exactly what role Pinedo played in the alleged interference effort, but the documents unsealed Friday suggest that he helped the Russians commit wire fraud.

According to the statement of the offense, Pinedo allegedly operated an online service called “Auction Essistance” between 2014 and December of last year through which he helped people circumvent security features of online digital payment companies, including one company in particular identified only as “Company 1.”

Pinedo sold bank account numbers over the internet, including to one individual he knew was outside the United States, according to the document. Many of the bank accounts that he purchased were created using stolen U.S. identities. The document alleges that, while Pinedo did not himself register the accounts using the fake identities, he nevertheless “willfully and intentionally” avoided learning of the fraudulent identities.

The criminal indictment for those operating the Internet Research Agency states that the defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly “purchased credit card and bank account numbers from online sellers.” It alleges they paid for the political advertisements using PayPal accounts, which they established in the names of fake U.S. personas.

The bank account numbers that they purchased were allegedly created using stolen American identities, according to the indictment. “After purchasing the accounts, Defendants and their co-conspirators submitted these bank account numbers to PayPal,” the indictment states.

Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

The statement of offense says that Pinedo unlawfully transferred, possessed, and used “hundreds” of bank account numbers that were used to commit wire fraud against the unnamed “Company 1.” He allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars through the sale of the bank accounts.