South Dakota man linked to Russian spy sentenced for fraud

In this Nov. 26, 2019, file photo, Paul Erickson leaves the federal courthouse, in Sioux Falls, Erickson, a former conservative operative who was once linked to a Russian agent has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison on Monday, July 6, in South Dakota. (Abigail Dollins/The Argus Leader via AP File)

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – A former conservative operative who was once romantically linked to a Russian agent was sentenced Monday to seven years in federal prison in South Dakota.

Paul Erickson pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering as part of fraudulent investment schemes he operated for many years, the Argus Leader reported.

Erickson was not charged in connection to his romantic relationship with Maria Butina, who was deported in October after admitting she sought to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups and promote Russia’s agenda.

Prosecutors said Erickson concocted multiple investment schemes from 1996 to August 2018, including recruiting investors for a string of elder care homes; developing a wheelchair that allowed a person to use the bathroom from the chair; and home-building in North Dakota’s booming oil fields. He operated his schemes from Sioux Falls.

Judge Karen Schrier listed former classmates, family members and even Erickson's godmother as victims of his investment schemes.

“You’re a thief, and you have betrayed your friends and family, pretty much everyone you know,” Schreier said.

Erickson, described by one of his victims as a “charismatic gentleman,” was the national political director for Pat Buchanan’s challenge to President George H. W. Bush in the 1992 Republican primary. He also worked as a media adviser to John Wayne Bobbitt, the Virginia man whose wife cut off his penis with a kitchen knife in 1993. And he joined with Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist later imprisoned for corruption, in producing an anti-communist action movie.

Clint Sargent, Erickson’s lawyer, argued for Erickson to be confined at home because he recently underwent heart valve replacement surgery, putting him at greater risk if he contracts the coronavirus.

Federal prosecutors resisted the motion, saying the Bureau of Prisons could take appropriate action to screen and protect inmates. Schreier said she gave credit to Erickson for pleading guilty and taking responsibility for his crimes before giving him a seven-year sentence, which will be followed with three years of supervised release. A decision on restitution for victims was deferred.

Erickson will be required to report to prison on July 20. Monday’s sentencing had been repeatedly postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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