Paul Erickson, the former boyfriend of convicted Russian agent Maria Butina, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering, according to a plea agreement filed in a South Dakota federal court Monday afternoon.
In a two-page statement detailing the factual basis for the plea, Erickson said he conned someone only identified as “D.G.” into wiring him $100,000 under the pretense that the money was for a real estate investment in North Dakota. As part of the plea filed in U.S. district court in South Dakota, Erickson admits the money was not for a real estate deal. He also notes that he wired $1,000 of the money to a person called “M.B.”
“My client, Paul Erickson, entered into a plea agreement with the federal government to resolve all charges leveled against him regarding his business practices of many years. In pleading to two counts all other charges will be dismissed, and this ordeal for Mr. Erickson will come to an end,” said Clint Sargent, an attorney for Erickson.
The case against Erickson, a well-known conservative operative who shuttled between Washington D.C. and South Dakota, was separate from the one lodged against Butina in Washington, D.C.
Butina, a Russian national who cultivated relationships with powerful American conservative activists including Erickson, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate laws prohibiting covert foreign agents. As part of her agreement she has promised to cooperate with American law enforcement. She was deported earlier this year after serving a short prison sentence to her native Russia where she received a hero’s welcome.
Erickson became involved in relationship with Butina in 2013. As The Daily Beast previously reported, the duo dressed up as Rasputin to Butina’s flame-haired Empress Alexandra during a 2016 birthday party. The over-the-top gathering included an ice sculpture of a bottle imprinted with the Soviet hammer and sickle from which vodka flowed.
The couple, who at one point lived together in South Dakota, had some kind of business together. The two were listed as the sole officers of Bridges LLC, a company registered in the state in February 2016, though it’s unclear what the company did or how it operated.
Erickson was indicted in February on allegations that he ran a criminal scheme from 1996 to 2018 in which he was accused of using a chain of assisted living homes called Compass Care.
Prosecutors alleged that Erickson also defrauded investors through a company called Investing with Dignity that claimed to be “in the business of developing a wheelchair that allowed people to go to the bathroom without being lifted out of the wheelchair.”
The indictment says he also ran a fraudulent scheme that claimed to be building homes in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.
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.
The Daily Beast was first to unveil Erickson’s business scheme in North Dakota where he knowingly misled investors about owning a company there, according to a 2015 judgement filed in a California court.
Two individuals who Erickson approached told The Daily Beast that he swindled them into investing in a land deal he had set up near Williston, North Dakota. Erickson told the two that he owned land there and would set up a transaction between two of his companies.
One of the companies he represented while soliciting investments was Northern Plains Holdings, LLC, according to investors and people familiar with the deal.
The North Dakota secretary of state’s office told The Daily Beast it did not have record of such a company connected to Erickson. In a complaint filed in a lawsuit in 2015, one of the investors alleged Erickson planned to use a company he controlled to sell undeveloped North Dakota land it owned to a second company Erickson controlled.
In an email in November of 2013 to a potential investor for the Bakken deal, Erickson asked for funding for what he called his “new real estate development venture” in North Dakota.
“I’m extremely proud of the work of our development team as together we find new ways to service the office and housing needs of this new American gold rush,” Erickson wrote.
In the email, Erickson called his new business the “Bakken oil fields” and said it was set up to capitalize on the boom in North Dakota.“Due to your interest in my work and in consideration of past kindness, I would welcome your investment of any amount you choose (up to $100,000),” the email said.
Erickson garnered at least $50,000 from the email exchange and did not pay any of it back, according to the judge’s decision on the 2015 case.
— Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this story.