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Prosecutors are asking a judge to continue to detain Maria Butina, who is charged with illegally acting as an agent for Russia in the United States.
Maria Butina, the Russian graduate student and gun rights activist charged with conspiring to act as an agent for the Russian government in the United States, appeared to have ties to Russian intelligence, prosecutors said in court papers on Wednesday.
Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to continue to hold Butina in custody while her case is pending. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. In arguing for her incarceration, prosecutors presented new information about Butina’s alleged activities in the United States that the government said bolstered their argument that she is a flight risk.
Butina is charged with organizing “influence” activities with US individuals and organizations at the direction of an unnamed, high-level Russian official, without registering as an agent for a foreign entity as required by federal law.
In the latest filing from the government, prosecutors said that Butina had contact information for four employees of the Russian FSB, which was a primary successor agency to the KGB — investigators found a handwritten note titled, “Maria’s ‘Russian Patriots In-Waiting’ Organization” and included the question, “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?”
The FBI also saw Butina with a Russian diplomat who was suspected of being a Russian intelligence officer, before that diplomat left the United States in March 2018, according to the filing. The FBI found messages between Butina and the unnamed Russian official who allegedly directed her activities in which the official compared her to Anna Vasilyevna Chapman, a Russian intelligence agent who was arrested in 2010 and later pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent.
Prosecutors are arguing that given Butina’s few ties to the United States, her extensive contacts in Russia — including a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration — and evidence that she was already taking steps to leave Washington, DC, she posed “an extreme risk of flight.” Although Butina had a personal relationship with an unidentified US citizen, prosecutors say she saw that as part of her work and had complained about living with that person; she allegedly offered another person sex “in exchange for a position within a special interest organization,” according to Wednesday’s filing.
If Butina is released, US law enforcement would not be able to stop her from going into the Russian Embassy, at which point she would be beyond the legal jurisdiction of the United States, prosecutors argued. One of the charges that Butina faces has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“The defendant is a foreign agent who loyally acted on behalf of the Russian government. Based on the nature of the charges and the weight of the proffered evidence against the defendant, no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant at trial,” prosecutors wrote.
Butina made her first court appearance on July 16 following her arrest. A federal magistrate judge ordered her temporarily detained until her next hearing. Butina has yet to enter a plea on the charges; her lawyer has previously denied that she had been acting as a Russian agent.