Recently filed court documents reveal that an accused covert Russian agent, Maria Butina, was talking to the FBI in South Dakota before her arrest and was keeping the talks secret from her South Dakota boyfriend, Paul Erickson, who may be the subject of a fraud investigation.
The court documents include an email in which Butina’s attorney, Bob Driscoll, told a South Dakota FBI agent that Butina “has not told Paul she is talking to you.” In the same email, Driscoll warned the FBI agent that if Butina were to speak with the agent in South Dakota rather than in Washington, D.C., it would be “harder to keep Paul in the dark.”
The email was included among nine exhibits attached to a memorandum that Driscoll filed Friday. The memorandum argues that Butina should be released from jail and put on home detention with electronic monitoring while she awaits the outcome of criminal charges against her in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Butina, a 29-year-old Russian national, is accused of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, and acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the U.S. attorney general. Prosecutors have alleged that Butina used someone described as “U.S. Person 1,” who is widely reported to be Erickson, to help her infiltrate American political organizations and advance Russia’s interests.
Erickson, 56, who grew up in Vermillion and has an apartment in Sioux Falls, has frequently been active in Republican politics. He has also worn many other hats during his stranger-than-fiction life, ranging from executive producer for a Dolph Lundgren action movie to entertainment agent for the infamous John Wayne Bobbitt. Along the way, Erickson has described himself as a successful businessman, but public records show he has been dogged by lawsuits and financial judgments filed by former business associates.
Erickson is not charged with a crime and has not responded to interview requests while keeping a low profile since Butina’s arrest.
According to an interview with Driscoll that was aired Tuesday by ABC News, Erickson visited Butina on Saturday at the Virginia jail where she is detained. Driscoll spoke at length to ABC about the relationship between Butina and Erickson and even released a video showing Butina and Erickson singing a duet of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Driscoll used the ABC interview and his Friday memorandum to assert that Butina’s relationship with Erickson is legitimate, rather than duplicitous as prosecutors have alleged.
In the memorandum, Driscoll rejected the prosecution’s allegation that Butina offered sex with someone other than Erickson in exchange for a position with a special interest organization. Driscoll also denied a prosecution allegation that Butina expressed private disdain about having to cohabit with Erickson. And Driscoll disclosed receipts showing that in the days prior to Butina's July 15 arrest in Washington, D.C., Erickson and Butina had obtained a one-way U-Haul rental so Butina could move in with Erickson in South Dakota.
Yet, despite all of those attempts to depict Erickson and Butina as a couple in love, Driscoll also disclosed in the ninth of nine exhibits attached to his memorandum that Butina was keeping a secret from Erickson.
That exhibit consists of three emails between Driscoll and South Dakota FBI agent Matthew Miller. By including the email string as an exhibit, Driscoll apparently intended to bolster his argument that Butina is not a flight risk, because the emails show that Driscoll repeatedly informed the FBI about Butina’s whereabouts during the weeks leading up to her July 15 arrest.
In the first email included in the exhibit, dated June 28, Miller asked Driscoll if Butina would be available for a “proffer” — an offer of information to investigators — on Aug. 3.
The email did not mention the subject of the proffer, but a government prosecutor has said in court that someone described in prosecution documents as “U.S. Person 1” — who is widely reported to be Erickson — has been under investigation for fraud in South Dakota. Additionally, as previously reported by the Rapid City Journal, Driscoll received a May 29 letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota seeking a proffer from Butina about unspecified “illegal activities of others.”
In the second Driscoll-Miller email, also dated June 28, Driscoll informed Miller about Butina’s whereabouts, her future plan to be in South Dakota and her potential availability for a proffer.
In the third and final email of the exhibit, Driscoll, having apparently not received a reply to his June 28 email, followed up to seek a response from Miller and to provide Miller with additional information.
“Just checking if you saw this — the bottom line is that she is moving,” Driscoll wrote. “July 11-14 work best for DC (and generally), as she has not told Paul she is talking to you. She can do other dates in SD, but I will have to fly out and it will be harder to keep Paul in the dark, which may or may not matter to you at this point (I understand that he rolled in with counsel a few weeks back).”
It’s publicly unknown whether Butina has given the requested proffer to South Dakota investigators. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota deferred an interview request to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment. Neither Driscoll, nor the FBI’s Minneapolis office, which oversees several satellite offices in South Dakota, responded immediately to messages Tuesday from the Rapid City Journal.
Butina is scheduled for a status conference Sept. 10. The judge in the case, Tonya Chutkan, has said the hearing will likely be used to address Butina’s request for a pretrial release, and to address a suggestion by the prosecution that an order may be necessary to prohibit everyone involved in the case from making further statements to the media.