A California man who admitted to unwittingly facilitating Russian interference in the 2016 election and later cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the subject now fears for his safety, the man’s attorney said in a court filing Wednesday,
Richard Pinedo, 28, is set to be sentenced next month for selling bank account numbers to Russian internet trolls who used the numbers to buy web ads aimed at advancing President Donald Trump’s campaign and fomenting strife among Americans during the contentious election.
In a bid for leniency, defense attorney Jeremy Lessem argued that Pinedo has experienced harassment and death threats over his walk-on role in the Mueller probe. Lessem also suggested that Pinedo has curtailed his activities because fears he could be the victim of attack by Russia, Russian sympathizers, or their opponents.
“The mere act of providing publicly incriminating evidence against Russian nationals accused of undermining an American presidential election is not an undertaking one embarks on lightly, no matter what potential benefits may result,” Lessem wrote in a sentencing filing Wednesday. “Indeed, in a time when those critical of Russia are being murdered, and those who defend Russia in the United States are threatened with violence, Mr. Pinedo’s cooperation with the investigation was an act that directly undermined his, and his family’s, safety.”
The defense submission says Pinedo, who lives in rural Santa Paula, California, had never been out of the state before being contacted by investigators. But Lessem said Pinedo now won’t consider traveling abroad.
“Due to safety concerns related to this case, Mr. Pinedo wouldn’t even consider traveling outside the country, and often suffers severe anxiety simply driving through his own neighborhood,” the defense attorney said.
Lessem is asking that Pinedo get no prison time for the felony identity theft offense he admitted to in February. Prosecutors say sentencing guidelines call for him to receive from 12 months to 18 months, although part of that time could be served in home confinement. Mueller’s team is not recommending any specific sentence.
Pinedo’s conduct “recklessly enabled other criminal activity that may have otherwise been prevented,” prosecutors wrote. However, they gave him credit for owning up to his actions and they say he “saved the government significant time and resources in the investigation.”
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, is scheduled to sentence Pinedo in Washington on Oct. 10. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, but is likely to get a much shorter sentence in accord with federal sentencing guidelines.
Pinedo is set to become the third person sentenced in the Mueller probe.
In April, Dutch attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison after admitting he lied to investigators about his activities while working for law firm Skadden Arps on matters related to Ukraine. He served his sentence and was deported in June.
Earlier this month, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos received a 14-day sentence after conceding he lied to the FBI about his interactions with pro-Russian figures during the 2016 campaign.
Papadopoulos is free pending an order to surrender.