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South Dakota man linked to Russian spy sentenced for fraud
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South Dakota man linked to Russian spy sentenced for fraud

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Paul Erickson leaves the Sioux Falls federal courthouse in this November 2019 file photo. Erickson, a former conservative operative who was once linked to a Russian agent, was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison. 

SIOUX FALLS | 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. He came under the scrutiny of federal investigators who were monitoring Butina but her role in his downfall did not come up in court.

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, defrauding $5.3 million from investors.

Judge Karen Schreier 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.

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He was also involved in South Dakota politics, briefly worked for Sen. Jim Abdnor, the Republican who beat George McGovern in the 1980 election. In 2004 he organized a campaign against Sen. Tom Daschle, then the Democratic leader in the Senate. But South Dakota Republicans, including John Thune’s team, kept Erickson at arms’ length because he wanted to run a negative campaign. Erickson ultimately didn’t play a role in Thune’s successful win.

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 sided with the government.

“He walked in without a mask,” which shows he’s not that concerned with contacting the virus, she said.

Erickson admitted that his “moral judgement failed,” and he failed his faith and investors. “Everything most precious to me has already been taken” such as the right to vote and bear arms.

Schreier said she gave credit to Erickson for pleading guilty and taking responsibility for his crimes before giving him a seven-year sentence, more than three years longer than the high-end of the sentencing guidelines. After prison, he must serve 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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