Man Who Aided Mueller in Probe Scared

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A California man who unwittingly sold bank accounts to Russians meddling in U.S. elections is living in a "constant state of fear" after becoming a government cooperator, his attorney said in a court filing Wednesday.

Richard "Ricky" Pinedo has received death threats after testifying before a grand jury and helping special counsel Robert Mueller secure an indictment against 13 Russians accused in an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, his attorney, Jeremy Lessem, said in court papers.

The 28-year-old Santa Paula man pleaded guilty in February to using stolen identities to set up bank accounts that were then used by the Russians. Prosecutors have acknowledged he didn't know that he was dealing with Russians.

Arguing that his client should only be sentenced to probation, Lessem said in court papers that Pinedo has accepted full responsibility for his actions and provided "crucial insight into internal flaws embedded in the online financial verification system."

Pinedo, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 10, has provided investigators with "significant assistance" in identity theft probes, prosecutors said. He flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with investigators, explained how he obtained the stolen account numbers and gave investigators business records that identified the buyers of the stolen accounts, prosecutors said in a separate court filing.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Pinedo to serve between 12 and 18 months behind bars, but noting his cooperation, prosecutors did not recommend any particular sentence.

From 2014 until 2017, Pinedo purchased the bank account numbers of real people and then sold the account numbers to anonymous customers on the internet, earning between $40,000 and $95,000, according to prosecutors. Pinedo never had access to the names, Social Security numbers or addresses of any of his victims and never saw himself as a thief, Lessem said.

Pinedo first learned he was in the FBI's crosshairs when federal agents raided his family's home in December 2017. Without a promise of immunity, Pinedo sat down with investigators from the special counsel's office and agreed to testify before a grand jury that was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to Lessem.

Since then, Pinedo has noticed "strange unidentified vehicles" parked outside of his home, will not travel outside of the U.S. and suffers from anxiety driving around his neighborhood, Lessem said.

"Beyond the mere fact that he is now a convicted felon, Mr. Pinedo has suffered, and will continue to suffer, in ways far beyond what anyone else convicted of a similar offense would expect - and suffers these consequences as a result of helping this Country right the wrong his unwitting and foolish criminal conduct facilitated," he wrote.

(KA)