October 10, 2018 / 5:14 AM / 10 days ago

California man who sold stolen identities sentenced to prison in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A California man accused by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office of operating an online auction service for stolen identities was sentenced to one year of incarceration on Wednesday in a federal district court.

Richard Pinedo, who pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud in February, could serve half the sentence at home, U.S. Judge Dabney Friedrich said.

The criminal charge against Pinedo was announced in February by Mueller’s office at the same time it announced an indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian companies on charges they adopted fake online personas to push divisive messages, traveled to the United States to collect intelligence and staged political rallies.

The indictment against the Russians makes no mention of Pinedo by name. However, a source familiar with the case told Reuters he is referred to in the charging documents as the person who helped the Russian conspirators launder money, as well as purchase Facebook ads and pay for rally supplies, through PayPal Holdings Inc.

Mueller’s investigation has issued several indictments and accepted guilty pleas as it investigates Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Pinedo’s attorney, Jeremy Lessem, has said his client had no knowledge of the identities or the motivations of those who purchased the information he sold.

According to the indictment against the 13 Russians, the defendants in 2016 used Social Security numbers and birth dates of real U.S. people to open PayPal accounts and to create fake driver’s licenses and open social media accounts.

The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia. However, one of the Russian companies charged in the indictment - Concord Management and Consulting LLC - has hired American attorneys to fight the charges.

Friedrich said at Wednesday’s court hearing that Pinedo seemed “genuinely remorseful” and deserved credit for cooperating with prosecutors. But the judge said a prison sentence was appropriate because of the scale of the identity theft.

Lessem said in a statement he was disappointed the prosecutors did not formally request a sentence below federal guidelines for Pinedo in light of his cooperation.

“Such recognition would have more than likely resulted in a more lenient sentence for my client,” Lessem said. “However, it’s clear that Judge Friedrich took Mr. Pinedo’s significant participation into consideration, even in the absence of the recommendation he deserved from the special counsel’s office.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish

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