Maria Butina, the suspected Russian spy KELOLAND Investigates has been following since last December, appeared in Federal Court Wednesday.
She came to the U.S. on a student visa, but the government’s criminal complaint argues her legal status was predicated on deception, working on behalf of the Russian government until her arrest Sunday.
Federal prosecutors say Butina infiltrated the National Rifle Association and conservative political organizations in order to influence the 2016 Presidential election.
Search warrants uncovered what the FBI says is evidence she had ongoing communication with Russian intelligence operatives.
According to court papers obtained by KELOLAND News, a Russian official tells Butina that she shouldn’t be going as an observer from Russia, the risk of provocation is too high.
Butina replied: “I agree, right now everything has to be quiet and careful.”
Butina was preparing to relocate to South Dakota when FBI agents arrested her.
Prosecutors argued Butina posed a serious flight risk. The judge ordered her to remain behind bars until her trial.
As KELOLAND News reported Tuesday night, Butina made several trips to South Dakota, including speaking to the South Dakota Teen Republicans in 2015.
In 2016, Butina 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.
KELOLAND News talked with a retired FBI agent by phone Thursday who worked in counter intelligence for a number of years.
David Gomez told KELOLAND News “the Russians like to use a tool called perception management where in this case Butina was using the NRA as a conduit to reach other policy makers to gather information or extract information from political organizations that would benefit the Russian Federation.”