12:00 GMT +318 February 2019
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    US Special Counsel Announces Guilty Plea in Identity Fraud Case

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    Richard Pinedo, a California man, has pleaded guilty to charges of identity fraud levied against him by the US Justice Department's (DOJ) special counsel investigation into alleged collusion between the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and Russian actors.

    According to the plea deal, Pinedo knowingly used the identities of others to commit "unlawful activity" and was paid at least $1,000 for doing so.

    According to the brief, Pinedo ran an online service called "Auction Essistance" which would circumvent the security features of large digital payment companies. Pinedo's clients would use the information he stole to access the bank accounts of others.

    There is no mention in the DOJ filing of what connection Pinedo has to Mueller's investigation. The brief also refuses to name the digital payment company that Pinedo hoodwinked.

    The brief goes on to claim that most of the information Pinedo stole was the bank account numbers of US persons. "Pinedo frequently purchased bank account numbers from an individual he knew to be outside the United States. Similarly, based on IP addresses and other information, Pinedo knew that many of the persons to whom he sold bank account numbers were outside the United States."

    Pinedo's lawyer Jeremy Lessem claimed that his client "made a mistake" but "had absolutely no knowledge" about who was purchasing the information or for what reason.

    Lessem added that Pinedo "sold bank information which allowed individuals to fraudulently verify and establish accounts with online financial institutions," but "had absolutely no knowledge of the identities and motivations of any of the purchasers of the information he provided."

    Pinedo is the third guilty plea to come from the special counsel investigation, which began in May 2017 following Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. The previous two guilty pleas came from George Papadopolous and Michael Flynn, both of whom had served as advisers during Trump's campaign and both of whom pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.

    The investigation also secured two not-guilty pleas from Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, both accused of money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents for their lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych prior to their work on the Trump campaign. None of these five indictments directly pertain to allegations of collusion between Trump and Russia.


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    identity fraud, Russia Gate, US Department of Justice, Richard Pinedo, Robert Mueller, Donald Trump
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