New court documents released Thursday indicate that South Dakotan Paul Erickson agreed and conspired with Maria Butina in her activities as a Russian agent operating illegally in the United States.
Although the documents do not mention Erickson by name, they refer repeatedly to “U.S. Person 1.” Other court documents have said U.S. Person 1 cohabited with Butina, while Butina’s own attorney, Robert Driscoll, has described Erickson as Butina’s boyfriend.
The new court documents released Thursday came in conjunction with Butina’s guilty plea to a conspiracy charge, pursuant to a deal she struck with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C. She will be sentenced at a later date.
Erickson’s Virginia-based attorney, William Hurd, responded to the Journal on Thursday by reiterating a public statement Hurd issued Wednesday.
“Paul Erickson is a good American,” Hurd said. “He has never done anything to harm our country and never would.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is prosecuting the Butina case, declined to answer Journal questions about whether Erickson has been charged or will be charged with any crime.
Butina’s written plea agreement includes a cooperation clause in which the 30-year-old agrees, among other things, to “cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” with federal, state and local law enforcement.
That could affect Erickson, 57, who grew up in Vermillion and has kept an apartment in Sioux Falls in recent years. Besides his apparent role in Butina’s case as U.S. Person 1, Erickson has also reportedly been under investigation for fraud in South Dakota, according to court documents and statements made in open court during proceedings in the Butina case.
A statement of facts filed Thursday with Butina’s plea agreement contains numerous references to U.S. Person 1.
The statement says that beginning no later than March 2015, Butina and U.S. Person 1 agreed and conspired with a Russian government official — who is widely reported to be Alexander Torshin, a former member of the Russian parliament who also served as an official in Russia's central bank — for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of the Russian official without prior notification to the U.S. attorney general.
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With U.S. Person 1’s assistance, the statement says, Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.
In furtherance of that effort, the statement says, Butina drafted — with U.S. Person 1’s help — a proposal in March 2015 titled “Description of the Diplomacy Project.” U.S. Person 1 provided Butina with information about prominent U.S. political figures and a forecast of the upcoming presidential election, the statement says, and also provided information about Vladimir Pozner, a Russian media commentator who was described in Butina’s proposal as the “unofficial transmitter” of the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in the United States.
Butina later informed U.S. Person 1 that she was meeting with the Russian government official and others about the proposal, the statement says.
The statement says Butina hosted powerful members of a gun-rights organization — apparently the National Rifle Association — in 2015 at Moscow. U.S. Person 1 provided Butina with background on the invitees, the statement says, including an assessment of their degree of political influence in the United States.
The statement mentions “friendship dinners” that Butina hosted with “a wealthy and well-connected U.S. person,” where other wealthy and influential Americans discussed U.S.-Russian relations. In March 2016, prior to the first such dinner, Butina told the Russian government official about the potential American attendees, based on information she obtained from U.S. Person 1, the statement says.
In 2017, according to the statement, Butina helped the Russian government official organize a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and emailed a list of delegation invitees to U.S. Person 1. Later, the statement says, U.S. Person 1 emailed another person and copied Butina to say, “Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY” to the Russian president and foreign minister.
Prior to Erickson’s association with Butina, he had already lived a colorful life.
The highlights and lowlights of that life have included serving as an executive producer in 1989 for an anti-communist action movie, "Red Scorpion," which starred Dolph Lundgren of “Rocky IV” fame; working as national political director for the 1992 Republican presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan; lobbying unsuccessfully during the 1990s for the admission of Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko into the United States; and serving as an entertainment agent for John Wayne Bobbitt during the months after Bobbitt’s penis was infamously severed by Bobbitt’s wife in 1993.
In past interviews with the Journal for a profile published earlier this year, Erickson said he has a successful career in real-estate development. But the Journal also found multiple lawsuits against him by former business partners, plus $421,212 in judgments filed against him or his companies since 2003 in South Dakota alone.