Boyfriend of admitted Russian agent charged with fraud
By DEVLIN BARRETT, ROSALIND S. HELDERMAN | The Washington Post | Published: February 7, 2019
The American boyfriend of an admitted Russian influence agent has been indicted in South Dakota for what prosecutors say was an unrelated investment fraud scheme.
Paul Erickson became the subject of public interest after his girlfriend, Maria Butina, was charged last year and pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate American conservative political circles as an undeclared agent for the Kremlin.
Butina, 30, agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea deal that will likely see her sent back to her native Russia. According to her plea deal, Butina began acting on behalf of the Russian government in 2015 and continued her work after moving to the United States to attend graduate school at American University in 2016.
As part of that plea, Butina admitted to working with an American political operative to forge connections with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 presidential candidates, including Donald Trump.
The political operative has been identified by government officials as Erickson, a longtime GOP political adviser from South Dakota, who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan. Erickson's lawyer, William Hurd, has said he is a "good American" who "has never done anything to hurt our country and never would."
Court records show Erickson appeared before a federal judge Wednesday, pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was ordered released. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The new charges against Erickson are not connected to Russia. He is charged in an 11-count indictment with wire fraud and money laundering by raising money from investors for what prosecutors say were false claims about a company that would build senior residential care facilities.
Erickson also scammed investors by claiming to be developing a wheelchair that allowed people to go to the bathroom without being lifted out of the chair, according to the indictment. Another alleged scam was built around raising investments in a property development company, based on false claims about the company and promising "returns of between 25% and 90% in as short a time as 3 months," according to the indictment.
Investors paid him more than $1 million based on his claims about his companies, according to the indictment.
One of the money transfers listed in the indictment as an instance of money laundering is a $25,000 payment Erickson made in June 2017 to American University — the school Butina attended.