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Friend of Russia’s Butina indicted on fraud, money-laundering charges

In this file image, Maria Butina attends a rally at Krasnopresnenskaya Zastava Square in support of legalizing the possession of handguns and gun ownership, on April 23, 2013, in Moscow. (Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A conservative U.S. political activist who has been identified as the boyfriend of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina has been indicted by a federal grand jury in South Dakota, officials say.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota on February 6 said Paul Erickson, 56, was indicted on 11 counts of wire fraud and money laundering.

He pleaded not guilty in a court appearance and was released on bond. No trial date has been set.

The charges do not appear to be related to the matters involved in a separate U.S. case against Butina.

An attorney for Erickson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Erickson, a well-known figure in Republican politics, was romantically linked to the 30-year-old Butina, who pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to act as a foreign agent in a case that Washington said highlighted Moscow’s efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy.

Prosecutors have alleged that Butina, who received a graduate degree from American University in Washington and who publicly advocated for gun rights, sought to build relationships with influential conservative political groups, including the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).

In Russia, Butina had established a group that advocated for Russians to own firearms, something strictly proscribed under Russian law.

Butina admitted working with a top Russian official to infiltrate the NRA and to make inroads with American conservatives and the Republican Party as an agent for Moscow.

Erickson’s name did not appear in those court filings. However, the descriptions given by prosecutors match up with Erickson’s background and past activities.

The South Dakota indictment against Erickson alleges that Erickson between 1996 and 2018 made “false and fraudulent representations” to people in the state and elsewhere about his business deals in an effort to raise money from potential investors.

Among Erickson’s career accomplishments, he served as an executive producer in 1989 for an anticommunist action movie, Red Scorpion, and worked as national political director for the 1992 Republican presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan.

He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count and possible fines.