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California man sentenced to 6 months in Mueller probe

By Danielle Haynes
California man sentenced to 6 months in Mueller probe
Richard Pinedo must serve six months in prison and six months in home confinement for identity fraud as part of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, pictured. File Photo by Alex Wong/Pool | License Photo

Oct. 10 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Washington issued a six-month prison sentence to a California man who pleaded guilty to identity fraud for selling bank account information to Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to six months in prison Richard Pinedo, 28, received six months of home confinement and 24 months of supervised release. He pleaded guilty Feb. 17 and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the election.

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From approximately 2014 through December 2017, court documents say Pinedo "provided online services designed to circumvent the security features of online payment processors, to include selling bank account numbers without authorization from the account holders."

Pinedo's attorney, Jeremy Lessem, said his client did not know he was helping Russians.

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"Through an online website, Mr. Pinedo sold bank information which allowed individuals to fraudulently verify and establish accounts with online financial institutions. Doing so was a mistake, and Mr. Pinedo has accepted full responsibility for his actions," Lessem said in February. "However, Mr. Pinedo had absolutely no knowledge of the identities and motivations of any of the purchasers of the information he provided. To the extent that Mr. Pinedo's actions assisted any individuals, including foreign nationals, from interfering in the American presidential election was done completely without his knowledge or understanding."

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The Russians opened 14 PayPal accounts with stolen identities of people in the United States, according to the separate indictment.

Pinedo's service, called Auction Essistance, charged $35 to assist customers who have been banned from PayPal as well as eBay and Amazon.

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"We guarantee our accounts are legitimate and not hacked or stolen like most other sellers offer," the site's homepage said. International customers are asked to use a U.S.-based IP address with a fake account.

He didn't register the account with stolen identities, but "he willfully and intentionally avoided learning about the use of stolen identities," the prosecutors said.

Allen Cone contributed to this report.

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