Paul Erickson, the boyfriend of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, has retained lawyers in Virginia, The Daily Beast has learned.
Butina was indicted back in July, and the federal charging document all-but-named Erickson in its accusations that Butina infiltrated the conservative movement on Moscow’s behalf. But Erickson didn’t lawyer up until a month or so ago, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of Erickson’s affairs. Those sources added that he has struggled to cobble together funds to pay for representation. The former GOP operative appealed to former University of Virginia law school classmates for recommendations on which attorneys to hire, the sources said.
The U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota is currently leading a fraud investigation into Erickson’s past business dealings and the FBI has questioned those in his orbit for the last several months, according to three people familiar with the probes.
“He’s lying low. It’s been several months of this waiting around,” a close friend of Erickson’s told The Daily Beast. “He is a smart guy and understands what could be coming.”
Erickson struck up a relationship with Butina, 29, in 2013. Butina, a Russian gun rights activist, attended American University and allegedly worked closely with Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin to influence American politics, according to court records. Butina is currently in solitary confinement in the Alexandria jail on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.
Throughout the Butina court documents, federal investigators mention a “U.S. Person 1”—an individual Butina worked with, dated and used to make connections with “an extensive network” of right-wing political figures. That person, who documents say is closely tied to the National Rifle Association, is widely believed to be Erickson.
Despite the ongoing investigations and his reported ties to Butina’s activities, Erickson frequently visits her in jail, two individuals with knowledge of the meetings told The Daily Beast. Erickson apparently expressed frustration to friends over the fact that jail staff forced him to sign into the main visitor log, fearing the media would find out.
Several calls and notes to Erickson by The Daily Beast over the last four months have not been returned.
Erickson spent most of his professional life between the Sioux Falls and Washington, D.C. After graduating from the University of Virginia law school in 1988, he worked in various capacities for Republicans, including as a political director on the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan. During his time working as a political operative, Erickson founded and worked in a handful of different companies, some of which he used to set up fraudulent investment deals, according to court documents.
By the time he met Butina in 2013, Erickson had founded a handful of companies in South Dakota that dabbled in sectors ranging from real estate to patenting. He had solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment for his business ventures.
But he was also in legal trouble, according to court records. As first reported by The Daily Beast in July, several people have sued Erickson in California, Virginia, and South Dakota, claiming he misrepresented himself and his businesses and failed to pay investors back.
“I’d like to know where the guy is, and how he is making a living, because he owes me a lot of money,” a former business partner said.
In one case, according to court records, Erickson claimed to have set up a company in North Dakota. He solicited investment from individuals at the conservative events he frequented, telling them he would set up a real estate transaction that offered high returns. The Secretary of State’s office in North Dakota told The Daily Beast the company did not exist and one individual sued Erickson in California, alleging he duped him into investing in a fraudulent venture.
One source familiar with Erickson described him to The Daily Beast as “kind of like a taller, more physically unappealing Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can,” the movie about a serial scam artist.
Butina and Erickson worked together on several different business deals since 2013, including one that involved Russian jet fuel, according to the New York Times. Erickson and Butina also worked together operating Bridges LLC, a company they registered in 2016 in in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s unclear from South Dakota records how the company conducted its business.
Around the same time, Erickson reached out to the Trump campaign and suggested setting up a meeting between the candidate and President Vladimir Putin. In a May 2016 email to Trump’s campaign adviser Rick Dearborn, Erickson presented himself as someone connected to the Russian government and said he could arrange a back-channel meeting.
The subject line of the message: “Kremlin connection.”