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California man is "genuinely remorseful" for role in 2016 election interference

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The man who sold the personal banking information of Americans to the Russian nationals indicted for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Richard Pinedo, a California native, will be sentenced in federal court in Washington, D.C. on October 10th. He faces 12-18 months imprisonment according to the guidelines. 

A sentencing memo filed Wednesday night indicated prosecutors for the special counsel have no opinion about what his sentence should be. The memo can be read here:

In the report prosecutors noted Pinedo's quick acceptance of responsibility and cooperation, "Mr. Pinedo readily admitted his own misconduct and provided significant assistance to the government in its own investigation of the facts surrounding the identity theft." 

They pointed out that Pinedo traveled across the country to D.C. to answer the government's questions as a way of showing his willingness to cooperate. "He explained how he obtained the account numbers later sold for profit and provided the government with access to records identifying buyers of the accounts," the memo says. "Mr. Pinedo's prompt acceptance of responsibility saved the government significant time and resources in the investigation."

Pinedo was unaware that some of his customers were in fact Russian nationals working to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In February, Mueller's office indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities who used the identities that Pinedo had sold to them. That information was used as a means to impersonate Americans on social media. According to the indictment, "Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities."

Pinedo's lawyers say that "never in his wildest dreams, "did Pinedo think he would be playing a part in the interference of the 2016 election." They are asking the court for a "non-custodial sentence," meaning he would not have to serve any time in prison. 

In the defense memo, Pinedo's attorneys say that he grew up in Santa Paula, California. He never received his associate's degree but was always interested in computers. He used the website eBay as a means to make money. Eventually PayPal suspended Pinedo's account, which affected his income. Pinedo then created a company, "Auction Essistance," where he sold his clients "bank account and deposit information so that they could establish verified PayPal accounts without having to provide personal bank account information," the information he eventually sold to Russian nationals. 

His lawyers argued that he had fully and completely cooperated from the outset of the investigation, testifying before special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury and contributing to the indictment of those 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities. "With his eyes wide open, Mr. Pinedo agreed to provide this evidence, knowing full well that testifying against foreign agents, especially Russian foreign nationals potentially working directly for the Kremlin, meant putting his own safety at serious risk."

They add that since the indictment Pinedo fears for his life and "often suffers severe anxiety simply driving through his own neighborhood." They say that element should be taken into account when determining his sentence.

The filing also includes a letter to the judge from Richard Pinedo Sr., Pinedo's father. He says his son was always "mature and responsible" and was "surprise[d]" when his son found himself in legal trouble. His father says he believes his son "has been punished enough" and that his family is "willing to pay a fine or do whatever else is needed to help keep him out of jail."

Ultimately, Pinedo's sentence will be determined by federal Judge Dabney L. Friedrich. Pinedo will be the third individual sentenced in connection with Mueller's investigation.