Richard Pinedo, 28, received six months in prison and six months of home confinement after pleading guilty to a felony identity fraud charge.
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a California man to six months in prison and six months of home confinement after he pleaded guilty to a felony identity fraud charge tied to Russian troll activity that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign.
The sentence for Richard Pinedo, 28, is the most severe penalty handed down yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s high-profile investigation into Moscow’s meddling to help elect President Donald Trump.
Story Continued Below
Pinedo’s case stemmed from his admission in February to unwittingly selling stolen bank accounts to Russian internet trolls who used the credentials to buy internet ads that sowed discord among Americans in the lead-up to Trump’s upset victory almost two years ago.
In brief statement before U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich handed down his sentence, Pinedo said he took “full responsibility” for his actions and pleaded for leniency because of both his full cooperation with Mueller’s investigators and the threats that he’s experienced since being publicly identified in the wider Russian efforts to influence the White House race.
“Never did it cross my mind that the services I was providing would be used in crimes at the highest level,” he said.
Pinedo said his life had been turned “upside down,” and that he worried for his safety after his home address was published online. “Every knock on the door comes with anxiety about who it may be,” he said.
While Friedrich’s sentence was the longest Mueller has obtained, it was on the low end of the sentencing guideline recommendations. Still, Pinedo’s attorney had asked that his client get no prison time. Mueller’s prosecutors let the judge factor in other cases of similar caliber and didn’t recommend any specific sentence.
“This is a very difficult case,” Friedrich said as she ticked through how Pinedo had “opened the door” for Russian actors to upend an American presidential election and made between $40,000 to $95,000 on the transactions from 2014 to 2017.
She also considered Pinedo’s immediate admission of guilt when FBI agents came to his home and the grand jury testimony delivered to help Mueller’s investigation in Washington, D.C.
“I can tell you are genuinely remorseful for your actions,” Friedrich said.
Pinedo left the federal courthouse with his attorney and father and will be required to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons at a later date in his home district in central California. He won’t be fined for his crime but will be required to serve two years of probation after completing his prison term. He’ll also have his computer use monitored after his release.
Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson said Pinedo’s cooperation did implicate others in alleged crimes, but he explained that the special counsel referred those matters to other U.S. attorneys around the country because the charges fell outside the special counsel’s original mandate to investigate the 2016 presidential campaign.
Atkinson added that Pinedo’s testimony to the Mueller team did assist in providing advice to U.S. private industry “to tighten up its security functions.”
But the Mueller attorney said that Pinedo’s cooperation was “not significant enough” to assist in the special counsel’s February indictment against three Russian companies and 13 Russian citizens who allegedly also used social media activity to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s team, he said, already knew about the information Pinedo provided.
Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Pinedo’s attorney, Jeremy Lessem, said he accepted the sentence but had hoped Mueller’s team would have spoken up more forcefully about the cooperation his client had provided.
“They felt they could not for whatever reason, but I think when somebody puts themselves out there the way Mr. Pinedo did to try to provide information that could be helpful in an investigation that quite frankly we believe in, I think they could have done more in this case,” Lessen said.
Pinedo’s sentence is the most severe to date handed out in the Mueller probe. Dutch attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan in April was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison in the wake of his guilty plea for lying to investigators about his activities while working for the law firm Skadden Arps on Ukraine issues. He was deported in June after serving his sentence.
Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous in September got a 14-day prison sentence after admitting to lying to the FBI about his communications with pro-Russian figures during the 2016 campaign.
Several other high-profile defendants tied to Mueller’s work are still awaiting sentencing. Attorneys for Mueller and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have until Nov. 16 to file their first joint status report on his sentencing following Manafort’s guilty plea last month. Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12 in federal court in New York tied to his guilty plea for bank fraud and campaign finance violations. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 18, following his guilty plea for lying to the FBI.