Special counsel Robert Mueller achieved a major victory for his Trump-Russia investigation on Wednesday when a California man investigated by his office pleaded guilty to a felony identity fraud charge and was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement.
28-year-old Richard Pinedo admitted in February that he unknowingly sold stolen bank accounts to Russian internet trolls, who in turn used that information to purchase internet advertisements with the plan of disrupting America's political discourse during the 2016 presidential election, according to Politico. In his statement to the court, Pinedo accepted "full responsibility" for what he did and asked for leniency on the basis of his cooperation with Mueller's investigation and the fact that he has received threats since his involvement in the Russian meddling became public.
"Never did it cross my mind that the services I was providing would be used in crimes at the highest level," Pinedo told U. S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in a statement. He claimed that his life had been turned "upside down" and argued that he was worried about his physical well-being because "every knock on the door comes with anxiety about who it may be."
Pinedo may have actually received the leniency that he sought from the court, as Politico reported:
While Friedrich’s sentence was the longest Mueller has obtained, it was on the low end of the sentencing guideline recommendations. Still, Pinedo’s attorney had asked that his client get no prison time. Mueller’s prosecutors let the judge factor in other cases of similar caliber and didn’t recommend any specific sentence.
“This is a very difficult case,” Friedrich said as she ticked through how Pinedo had “opened the door” for Russian actors to upend an American presidential election and made between $40,000 to $95,000 on the transactions from 2014 to 2017.
She also considered Pinedo’s immediate admission of guilt when FBI agents came to his home and the grand jury testimony delivered to help Mueller’s investigation in Washington, D.C.
“I can tell you are genuinely remorseful for your actions,” Friedrich said.
This was the second major win for Mueller since the start of the month. Last week, convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Mueller's team as part of his cooperation agreement. Although a source close to Manafort said after the initial plea hearing that "the cooperation agreement does not involve the Trump campaign. ... there was no collusion with Russia," the agreement itself required Manafort to "cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the Government in any and all matters to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant."
President Donald Trump has denounced the Manafort investigation from its inception, characterizing it as a "witch hunt" against his administration that had no factual merit. He has persisted in making this claim despite the convictions and guilty pleas of many people connected to his campaign including George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and Manafort himself.