Paul Erickson, the GOP operative and longtime boyfriend of criminal Russian national Maria Butina, has been indicted on 11 counts of federal wire fraud and money laundering, for what the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Dakota describes as a two-decade scheme to “defraud” investors and “personally enrich Erickson.” Each count is punishable by as many as 20 years in prison, meaning the 56-year-old is facing the potential of life behind bars. Erickson appeared in court Wednesday to plead not guilty; according to his attorney, Erickson is “free on his personal recognizance, subject to minimal conditions.”
These federal charges are not directly related to the conspiracy plot that Butina pleaded guilty to in December 2018, for seeking to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics… for the benefit of the Russian Federation.” Erickson is referred to in court documents as “U.S. Person 1,” and Butina’s plea documents describe him as a participant in her conspiracy. Elsewhere, prosecutors have alleged: “U.S. Person 1 has aided the defendant’s [Butina’s] charged criminal activity for years.” A lawyer for Erickson has insisted: “Paul Erickson is a good American. He has done nothing to harm our country and never would.” (Rolling Stone published an expose of Butina’s scheme to infiltrate the NRA last April, prior to her July arrest.)
The charges brought this week against Erickson relate to three businesses he founded, dating far as back as 1996. Compass Care was purportedly in the business of managing senior-care facilities. Investing with Dignity was a business that Erickson said was designing a wheelchair that “allowed people using it to go to the bathroom without being lifted out of the wheelchair.” A third, unnamed venture, Erickson allegedly told investors, was developing real estate near the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. According to the federal indictment, these businesses “were all part of the same scheme to defraud investors and personally enrich [the] Defendant.”
According to the indictment, Erickson repeatedly promised his investors high returns at low risk, including offering to “personally repay the full amount of the original investment” if the deals went south. Instead, Erickson allegedly used the funds “to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of people he defrauded.” (Erickson has already lost in court on civil charges relating investments in Compass Care. He was reportedly ordered to pay out $190,000 to L. Brent Bozell, another prominent conservative activist, who sued Erickson in 2007.)
Financial transactions included in the indictment offer clues that Erickson may have used some of the cash he allegedly obtained through fraud to benefit Butina. The counts for “Money Laundering” refer to a transfer of more than $20,000 to American University, where Butina was a graduate student. Erickson has previously suggested joint business venture with Butina, Bridges LLC (which is not named in the indictment) was used to pay her education expenses. The indictment also flags two other unlawful transfers, totaling $9,000, to a payee with the initials “M.B.”
Erickson attorney Clint Sargent tells Rolling Stone: “Mr. Erickson is anxious to let the criminal justice process play out and believes a story different from the government’s will emerge.” The threat of a lengthy prison sentence, however, could provide a powerful incentive for Erickson to cut a deal with prosecutors. Such a cooperation agreement could include Erickson detailing for the federal government anything he knows about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Ericksn’s arrest and indictment mark a fall from grace for a longtime conservative star. Lanky and gregarious, Erickson emerged from the same generation of college Republicans as Grover Norquist, the GOP’s anti-tax crusader. He was player in many GOP presidential campaigns, including serving as national political director for Pat Buchanan’s nationalist 1992 bid. Erickson was also famous for wrangling the “Love Hurts” media circus for penis amputee John Wayne Bobbitt, and he was the executive producer Red Scorpion, a 1989 B-movie starring Dolph Lundgren.