Republican operative Paul Erickson indicted on wire fraud, money laundering charges in South Dakota

PHOTO: Paul Erickson speaks at the College Republican National Convention on July 25, 2003.PlayC-SPAN
WATCH The romance at the heart of an alleged Russian influence operation

Paul Erickson, the longtime Republican operative who had a multiyear romantic relationship with accused Russian agent Maria Butina, was indicted on 11 counts wire fraud and money laundering charges by a federal grand jury in South Dakota, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.

The indictment alleges, according to the Justice Department press release, that between 1996 and 2018 Erickson "knowingly and unlawfully devised a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money from many victims by means of false and fraudulent pretense, representations, and promises." The charges are not related to Butina’s case or the broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The multiyear scheme allegedly involved three entities “owned and operated” by Erickson — Compass Care, Inc., Investing with Dignity, LLC, and an unnamed venture — through which he allegedly defrauded investors for his personal enrichment. He was arrested and released on bond. If convicted, Erickson faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each count.

PHOTO: Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist, and Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative are pictured together in an undated handout photo. Obtained by ABC News
Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist, and Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative are pictured together in an undated handout photo.

A lawyer for Erickson told ABC News the charges are "wholly unfounded" and "will be met by a vigorous defense." He also noted that these charges are entirely unrelated to matters involving Butina, the 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist who was accused of developing a covert influence operation in the United States

Butina recently agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

She admitted, as part of the deal, that she and an unnamed "U.S. Person 1," which sources have identified as Erickson, "agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official ("Russian Official") and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General."

PHOTO: Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriffs Office in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriffs Office/Handout via Reuters
Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 18, 2018.

Based on the description, the "Russian Official" appears to be Alexander Torshin, the former deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation. The target letter sent to Erickson is from federal prosecutors in Washington, sources familiar with the case told ABC News, and separate from any South Dakota-based federal fraud investigation into his business dealings.

Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll declined to comment.