Threat Management, Threat Intelligence

Calif. man pleads guilty to ID fraud in deal with Mueller probe

While all eyes were on the Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three organizations, the special counsel's office unsealed a plea deal cut earlier in February with a 28-year-old man accused of committing identity fraud in connection with the Russian meddling investigation.

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to selling to persons overseas bank account numbers that were opened using identities stolen from U.S. citizens. From 2014 through December 2017, Pinedo ran Auction Essistence, an online business that “offered a variety of services designed to circumvent the security features of large online digital payment companies.”

While the court filing didn't name the large online digital payment company it referred to, instead referring to it as Company 1, the Friday indictments of the Russians said they used, without permission, the social security numbers and birth dates of American citizens to open PayPal accounts and create fake IDs, such as driver's licenses to use in their campaign to sow discord in the U.S. and influence the 2016 presidential campaign.

After acquiring them from Pinedo, “users linked the bank account numbers to their accounts with Company 1 as if they were the real owners of the bank accounts,” the court documents said, though nothing in the filing indicated that the California man knew he was sometimes dealing with Russian operatives. Pinedo, who often acquired the numbers from someone outside the United States and who knew many of his buyers were located overseas, “knowingly transferred, possessed, and used, without lawful authority, hundreds of banks account numbers to aid and abet, and in connection with, the use of the wires in interstate and foreign commerce to defeat security measures employed” by the online digital payment company.

Pinedo, who pleaded guilty to one county of identity fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years and a fine of $250,000, has agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

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