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Can Mueller’s Scapegoat Save the $17 million Trump-Russia Investigation?
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Can Mueller’s Scapegoat Save the $17 million Trump-Russia Investigation?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 1, 2018

After 16 months of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, in effect, admitted that he has hit a dry well. All this time Mueller and his high-priced legal brain-trust were under strong pressure to keep the charade going until the November elections, and now the time has come to pay the bills.

The scandal may have at last reached a tipping point last week, when on September 26th, a new prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum was filed. U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, is scheduled to sentence the 28-year-old Santa Paula man Richard "Ricky" Pinedo in Washington on Oct. 10th.

Despite all the long months of labor, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller brought forth a mouse.

First, the investigation failed to connect the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the alleged St. Petersburg troll factory accused of political meddling, with the Russian government and President Putin, the all-purpose evil-doer who the corporate media says is out to destroy American democracy.

Second, it similarly failed to establish a connection with the Trump campaign and indeed went out of its way to describe contacts with the accused Russians as “unwitting.”

Third, Mueller described the alleged meddling itself as even more inept and amateurish than many people from the Democratic National Committee tried to show.

Thus, Pinedo is the last change for Mueller’s team to bring at least something to the table. Pinedo is set to become the third person sentenced in the Mueller probe. Who are the other two actors of the drama in this theater of the absurd?

In April, Dutch attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison and fined $20,000.after admitting he lied to investigators about his activities while working for law firm Skadden Arps on matters related to… Ukraine.

Special Counsel investigation prosecutor Andrew Weissmann stated in February 2018 that, as part of Manafort's and Rick Gates's lobbying effort to improve Ukraine's reputation in the United States, Van der Zwaan took an advance copy of the report in late July or early August 2012, without authorization, and provided it to a public-relations firm working for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice with the aim being to get the report published in The New York Times. Prosecutors also said Van der Zwaan deleted emails sought by the special counsel's office—such as emails between him and Manafort associate "Person A", including one requesting that Van der Zwaan use encrypted communications and one from September 2016—rather than turning them over to Skadden Arps, which was gathering documents for the special counsel. He was charged with having lied about the timing and nature of his last communications with Gates and an unidentified Ukrainian-based long-term associate of Manafort described as "Person A".

Van der Zwaan served his sentence and in June he was deported to the Netherlands.

Earlier this month, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos received a 14-day sentence after conceding he lied to the FBI about his interactions with so called “pro-Russian figures” during the 2016 campaign. On October 5, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to making false statements to FBI agents relating to contacts he had with “agents of the Russian government” (aka “the Professor” and “the Female Russian National” indicated in statement of offence as Putin’s niece) while working for the Trump campaign. The guilty plea was part of a plea bargain reflecting his cooperation with the Mueller investigation.

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In a footnote, the document adds, "Defendant PAPADOPOULOS later learned that the Female Russian National was not in fact a relative of President Putin. In addition, while defendant PAPADOPOULOS expected that the Professor and the Female Russian National would introduce him to the Russian Ambassador in London, they never did," on September 7, 2018, Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison, 12 months of supervised release, and 200 hours of community service; he was also fined $9,500 and Robert Mueller continued his investigation.

Now, special counsel Mueller takes his last chance and plays ‘va banque’, putting everything at stake. So, who is Mr Pinedo, whose role in this ‘Russian meddling’ drama is so important?

According to a statement of the offense, Richard Pinedo, 28, of Santa Paula, ran an online service called Auction Essistance with an office located at 712 Fillmore Street Santa Paula, Ca 93060, through which he bought and sold bank account numbers that would help users circumvent the security measures of digital payment companies. Pinedo transferred, possessed and used the identities of other people in connection with unlawful activity. Mr. Pinedo collected tens of thousands of dollars, somewhere between $40,000 and $95,000, through the sale of these bank account numbers, Mueller said.

The Auction Essistance website said it was down but a cached version of the site said it helps “people who have found out that eBay has suspended their accounts or have sided with buyers for ridiculous claims that these buyers have filed.”

The website said it offers “services that will enable you to get back onto eBay or Amazon ranging from pre-made eBay & Paypal accounts or verification tools. We help those who have been suspended or limited by the actions of eBay & Paypal as well as offer consultations/coaching for first time sellers.” It said it guarantees the accounts “are legitimate and not hacked or stolen like most other sellers offer.”

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No one answered a phone number listed for Auction Essistance, Newsweek wrote. USA Really tried to reach out to Pinedo via (805)6167571 as well, but a virtual receptionist answered “Hi, Ricky is currently unavailable…”

A LinkedIn page that appears to belong to Pinedo said he worked for Auction Essistance between November 2012 and February 2014 as a customer marketing manager. (Court documents state he worked for Auction Essistance from 2014 at least through December 2017)

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According to the LinkedIn page, he most recently worked for a digital marketing company called SEO Distortion, which lists the same phone number as Auction Essistance. Under a section labeled “Who We Are,” the website for SEO Distortion lists Pinedo as the only employee, with the title of CEO, according to Newsweek’s reporter Max Kutner.

Pinedo also said he got an associate’s degree in computer science from Ventura College in 2009. But Patti Blair, a school spokesperson, said Pinedo was not listed as a graduate or a certificate recipient there.

The SEO Distortion website appears to contain testimonials from people who do not exist. The site features a photo of a woman it names as Georgina Nichollas and says is an executive director at Rogerson Law Firm. But no such law firm appears to exist, and the image matches one on the LinkedIn page for a woman in the Netherlands with a different name. Another testimonial says it is from David Brandford, apparently an admissions director at West Virginia Tech. But a representative for the school said it had never hired anyone with the last name Brandford. A third testimonial says it is by Lisa Reynolds of “Quality Dallas Realty Service.” But no one by that name has a real estate license in Texas, and the image matches a sample picture on a website for a Dallas company that does headshots. One of the testimonial images matches the first result for the Google search “dummy image for testimonial”, Max Kutner said.

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However the reviews from real customers were the opposite.

“They Scam Me And took my credit card information to make purchases online, i never receive the account that i buy, my account is not accessible, i still have my purchase voucher on my email and still i haven't been able to communicate with anyone, I don't usually use my credit card for online purchase i use it and week later i start receiving message from my credit card provider telling that there are unknown spent in my credit card”, the latest comment from February 14th said.

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 Pinedo’s other clients were not happy working with him as well. According to a review left on his website, Ricky definitely knew how to run his business and how to talk to his customers:

“How can you be that dumb as a customer support!

They asked: how can i help you?

Asking: how many accounts can i buy?

(was willing to buy 1000 accounts)

But your customer service is RETARTED as $#*!!

The answer i get was, are you an idiot?

I am like...noo YOU ARE THE IDIOT BY setting up a customer service and not answering any $#*!. Well good luck with your $#*!ed up business $#*!, but one thing is for sure complete BH and every know network i know anonymous as wel going to be aware of your BS mother$#*!er. You dont treat customers like that stupid $#*!.”

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“Very rude and bad behave”, said another Pinedo client. “Never go to this site .customer service is worst ever .very badly behave use abusive language. he didn't want to explain anything about service ,wants only money.”

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Absolutely no doubts left now, why “Russian trolls” and “hackers from GRU” acknowledged Mr Pinedo as a “professional troll” fully credible and reliable enough to work for GRU and Kremlin in their “election meddling” operation.

Surprisingly, there’s nothing about Russia, Kremlin,’GRU’ or ‘Russian trolls’ in Pinedo’s sentencing memo or statement of offence. The public court documents against the Russians and Pinedo just do not reference each other. How come it's like that?

“The offense committed by Mr. Pinedo encapsulates these concerns: identity fraud on a large scale, committed remotely through the ease of the internet, with real-life damage inflicted on scores of innocent victims.

Pinedo would face a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for these type of criminal activity, but “since being confronted by law enforcement, Mr. Pinedo readily admitted his own misconduct and provided significant assistance to the government in its own investigation of the facts surrounding the identity theft”, Mueller said in the memo, so Mr. Pinedo is likely to get a much shorter sentence in accord with federal sentencing guidelines. Federal sentencing guidelines call for Pinedo to serve between 12 and 18 months behind bars, but noting his cooperation, prosecutors did not recommend any particular sentence.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has already cost taxpayers nearly $17 million, according to a recently released expense report. That includes $7.7 million spent directly by Mueller for things like staff salaries, travel and rent as well as the about $9 million the Justice Department shelled out in support of the Russia probe, according to Justice Department figures. The expenses were incurred from May 17, 2017 – the day Mueller was appointed – through March 2018. The DOJ released its latest six-month expense tally to show that “the Special Counsel’s spending within the approved budget.” Another expenditure review will occur for the six-month period ending Sept. 30. And the expenses are growing — $10 million in the last six months between Mueller's and the DOJ's expenses. For the five-month period at the start of the investigation, an earlier report showed about $6.7 million in costs.

So, is this Mr. Mueller’s best shot as a result of multi-million taxpayers’ money spending, or this shot is appeared to be blank and ‘É Finita la Commedia’?

Author: USA Really