Speed Reads

The Spy Who Played Me

The odd money trail of alleged Russian spy Mariia Butina

Accused Russian spy Mariia Butina didn't exactly hide her purported ties to the Kremlin over the past two years, when she was a graduate student at American University, and she openly bragged about connecting President Trump's campaign with Russia's government. But she was slightly more guarded with her financial paper trail, tightly intertwined with Republican operative and reputed lover Paul Erickson, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday evening. Butina, 29, appeared to have started their financial entanglement, wiring Erickson $8,000 from her Alfa Bank account in 2014, but from June 2016 to March 2017, Erickson wired $27,000 back into Butina's account, BuzzFeed reports. In total, $89,000 passed between their accounts.

Overall, anti-fraud investigators at Wells Fargo, following a tip from the FBI, flagged nearly $300,000 in "suspicious" transactions by Butina and Erickson, saying in some cases the activity had no "apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose." Cash withdrawals made up $107,000 of that total, BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report. "Counterintelligence officers say the duo's banking activity could provide a road map of back channels to powerful American entities such as the National Rifle Association, and information about the Kremlin's attempt to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

Butina is accused of working with an American consultant, believed to be Erickson, on a covert Kremlin influence campaign to further Russia's interest in the U.S. by cultivating ties to prominent conservative groups, including the NRA. But Butina also appeared to have had a broader mission, The Daily Beast reports, detailing an encounter in which Butina urged legendary U.S. financial executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg to pour more money into the secretly insolvent Russian bank Investtorgbank, leaving observers "shocked and disturbed" at her audacity.

Erickson, 56, paid Butina's rent and tuition and gave her a monthly furniture allowance, bank officials reportedly discovered, and Erickson, in dire financial shape himself, received financial help from people described as personal or family connections. You can read more about their financial and romantic ties at BuzzFeed News.