WASHINGTON (JTA) — Federal investigators flagged payments to the brother and son of Jack Abramoff, a disgraced lobbyist, from an associate of a Russian charged with infiltrating American groups to advance Russian interests.
BuzzFeed reported Tuesday that anti-fraud investigators at Wells Fargo bank, acting on a tip from federal investigators, last year flagged what they said were suspicious bank transfers from an account held jointly by Maria Butina, who was arrested last month and remains in detention, and her associate and one-time lover Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative.
Among the transfers was one a year ago, when the account sent $30,000 to a company whose officers are Abramoff’s son and brother. The company had only been established a few months earlier and was based out of the home of Abramoff’s son, leading investigators to believe that it was operating as a shell company for Jack Abramoff, who has known Erickson for decades. Erickson and Abramoff co-produced a movie, “Red Scorpion,” in 1988.
Erickson appears in the indictment but has not been charged. Butina has been charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.”
Allegedly acting on Kremlin orders, Butina cultivated relations on the American right, including at the annual National Prayer Breakfast and at the National Rifle Association.
In 2006, Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding Native American tribes who were seeking Washington’s backing to build casinos. He served more than 3 1/2 years of a six-year sentence.
Before that, Abramoff figured prominently in Washington-area Jewish life, having established a Jewish day school and owning two kosher eateries.