An alleged Russian spy, a mysterious South Dakota company, and an attempt to “infiltrate” political organizations to advance the interests of Russia.
It has the makings of a spy movie, but it’s real life according to federal court papers unsealed last night.
KELOLAND Investigates first told you about Maria Butina in December.
Now, she is being held without bond and faces a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
We have team coverage on the investigation as we dig into the court papers and bring you reaction from those who knew Butina.
Maria Butina lived in Washington, D.C. but is no stranger to South Dakota.
The Justice Department says she worked under the direction of a high level Russian government official.
Her alleged goal was to build ties and infiltrate U.S. political organizations between 2015 and 2017.
According to court papers, Butina and the Russian official planned to advance Moscow’s long term strategic objectives in the U.S. by establishing relationships with American political organizations, including a Gun Rights Organization.
During that time, Butina made several visits to the South Dakota.
She spoke in spring of 2015 at the University of South Dakota. Her lecture was called “The Right To Bear Arms In Russia … Where Neither Currently Exists”
Later that same year she spoke about working for freedom in Russia to South Dakota Teen Republicans and she talked to students at the Academy of Finance in Sioux Falls about starting small businesses.
In 2016, Butina did just that in Sioux Falls. She and Vermillion native Paul Erickson formed a limited liability company called Bridges, LLC according to the South Dakota Secretary of State.
It’s unclear what that company does.
The address listed for both Butina and Erickson is an apartment building on West 57th Street.
KELOLAND News stopped by Tuesday to see if Erickson was there.
He didn’t answer, so we had to leave a message.
We also stopped by his last known office in Sioux Falls, but it too was locked up and dark.
Bridges, LLC is now listed as delinquent by the Secretary of State’s office. In a statement, Butina’s lawyers deny she was “an agent of the Russian Federation.”