US citizens, Russian nationals charged in influence campaign probe
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US citizens, Russian nationals charged in influence campaign probe

A group of four US citizens and three Russian nationals have been charged in connection with an investigation into a foreign influence campaign.

The Justice Department (DOJ) said in a release on Tuesday that a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment against the individuals, alleging they were working on behalf of the Russian government and with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main security and intelligence force, to influence US politics over multiple years.

The indictment adds to a case the DOJ has been pursuing against Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, the founder and president of a Moscow-based organization called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. He was charged in July with conspiring to have US citizens act as agents on behalf of the Russian government.

Officials alliance Ionov used his organization to conduct the foreign influence campaign with supervision from FSB officers. The superseding indictment names Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov as FSB officers who were responsible for directing the campaign.

The release states that the three Russian defendants “recruited, funded and directed” political groups in the United States to act illegally as unregistered agents of Moscow and spread pro-Russian propaganda.

“Russia’s foreign intelligence service appears to have weaponized our First Amendment rights — freedoms Russia denies its own citizens — to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s National Security Division Matthew Olsen said.

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The release alleges Ionov was engaged in the campaign from at least November 2014 to July 2022. He allegedly recruited members from three political groups in Florida, Georgia and California to participate in the campaign.

The four US citizens who are being indicted are people whom Ionov allegedly recruited to participate. They are Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus C. Romain Jr. Yeshitela, Hess and Nevel are residents of St. Petersburg, Fla., and St. Louis, while Romain was a resident of St. Petersburg and Atlanta.

Prosecutors allege that Ionov, Sukhodolov and Popov conspired to influence democratic elections by funding a political candidate running for local office in St. Petersburg in 2019 and also planned to influence other elections, including possibly the 2020 presidential election.

Ionov’s campaign also allegedly tried to create an appearance of the US public’s support for Russia’s annexing territories in Ukraine and generally spread propaganda supporting Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to the DOJ.

All seven indicted individuals are being charged with conspiring to have US citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government and could face up to five years in prison if convicted. Yeshitela, Hess and Nevel are also being charged with acting as agents of Russia without notifying the US government and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

A separate criminal complaint charging a Russian national with conspiring with an FSB officer to act as an illegal agent of Moscow has also been unsealed, the release states.

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