Richard Pinedo, who was charged with identity fraud by special counsel Robert Mueller, was sentenced on Wednesday to one year imprisonment, broken up into six months in prison and six months in home confinement.
Pinedo, a California resident, cooperated with Mueller’s probe, including testifying for the special counsel’s grand jury, after he was approached by the FBI. Before his sentencing Pinedo’s lawyer asked the judge for leniency, emphasizing Pinedo’s cooperation with Mueller and noting that he was living in fear while helping the government’s Russia probe.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said it was a “very very difficult case.”
She called Pinedo’s crime “serious,” but also noted the “significant mitigating factors,” including his timely acceptance of responsibility, his cooperation with the government, his age, and his lack of criminal history.
She said she was “very sorry” about “the significant hardship this [case] has caused you and especially your family.”
Pinedo and his attorney Jeremy Lessem, in their remarks to the judge, stressed how him being swept up in Mueller’s probe had turned his life “upside down,” according to Lessem.
“Every knock on the door comes with anxiety,” Pinedo said, in describing the harassment he and his family had received, and how his personal information, including his home address, was “all over the internet.”
Pinedo acted as a middleman of sorts, selling bank account numbers connected to real people that he purchased on the black market (though not stealing the bank account numbers directly himself) to anonymous customers. Among those customers were some of the Russian internet trolls whom Mueller has alleged sought to influence the 2016 election, though Pinedo was not aware that he was facilitating the alleged election meddling scheme.
“Never did it cross my mind,” Pinedo said, that the information that he was providing to his customers was being used for those crimes.
Much of the discussion before the judge handed down her sentence centered around why the government had not identified Pinedo’s cooperation as a “substantial” in its briefing papers — a legal standard that may have led to a lighter sentence.
Rush Atkinson, who spoke on behalf of Mueller’s team, explained that because of the mandate of the special counsel, Mueller could not prosecute some of the other people above Pinedo in the ID fraud scheme, despite the information Pinedo had given prosecutors implicating them. Atkinson said that the special counsel, generally speaking, has referred information to relevant U.S. attorney’s offices that could lead to prosecutions outside of Mueller’s mandate. The information Pinedo provided apparently has not led to any such prosecutions yet.
“I feel like the government could have done more, they felt that they could not for whatever reasons, but I think thats when somebody puts themselves out there the way that Mr. Pinedo did, to try to provide information that could be helpful an investigation that quite frankly we believe in, I think they could have done more in this case,” Lessem, Pinedo’s lawyer, told reporters after the sentencing.
Pinedo’s plea deal with Mueller was first filed under seal, and was not publicly revealed until Mueller unveiled his charges against the Russian individuals and entities last February. Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time Pinedo appeared in the D.C. federal courthouse with the media watching. The lanky 28-year-old wore a black suit with a gray patterned tie, his black hair slicked back. His father, also named Richard Pinedo, was present in the courtroom for the sentencing, and had written a letter to the judge vouching for his son.
The younger Pinedo did not speak to reporters afterwards, but his attorney sounded disappointed that his client had gotten prison time.
“This is a difficult day for Mr. Pinedo, this is not the outcome we were hoping for,” Lessem said.