Mueller flips American who unwittingly sold bank info to Russian trolls
On Friday, shortly after Department of Justice officials announced the indictment of 13 Russians accused of being involved in a multi-year effort to spread false information online surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign, the DOJ also announced the guilty plea of a California man, Richard “Ricky” Pinedo.
The Californian, who did not respond to Ars’ attempts to contact him, admitted selling bank information to the Russians accused of being part of the criminal conspiracy.
Pinedo—28, of Santa Paula, California northwest of Los Angeles—ran a website called Auction Essistance. That site appears to have been in operation for at least a few years, and it offered “services that will enable you to get back onto eBay or Amazon ranging from pre-made eBay & Paypal accounts or verification tools.”
Pinedo also operates a related website, SEO Distortion, where he describes himself as:
…not your typical person who has a love for technology or is computer crazed. With certifications and years of experience with technology, web development & internet trends stemmed from childhood years of playing with computers. It is no denying that the best services come from the businesses who have the long kindled fire & knowledge from their experiences. His ever changing need for more advanced challenges and goals had spawned the beginning of starting a company that hones in on bringing businesses to the world wide web.
On his LinkedIn page, Pinedo says he is “Currently looking to connect and work with companies who share the same passion, experience & knowledge to gain more insights into sharpening my current skill set.”
In a statement sent to Ars, Jeremy I. Lessem, Pinedo’s attorney, said that his client’s actions were a “mistake, and Mr. Pinedo has accepted full responsibility for his actions.”
“However, Mr. Pinedo had absolutely no knowledge of the identities and motivations of any of the purchasers of the information he provided,” Lessem continued. “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. Given the ongoing nature of this investigation, Mr. Pinedo and his counsel will not be making any further comments at this time.”
When Ars contacted PayPal to see if they were familiar with Pinedo’s efforts prior to Friday’s plea deal, Justin Higgs, a spokesman, emailed a statement.
“PayPal is intensely focused on combating and preventing the illicit use of our services,” he wrote. “We work closely with law enforcement, and did so in this matter, to identify, investigate and stop improper or potentially illegal activity.”
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, told Ars that Pinedo has been “released on a personal recognizance bond pending sentencing.”
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