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Erickson Claims Coronavirus Concern in Attempt to Avoid Prison Time But Doesn’t Wear Mask to Court

South Dakota’s international man of mystery Paul Erickson spent over twenty years scamming family, friends, and neighbors; now he’ll spend seven years in federal prison for wire fraud and money laundering:

Prosecutors said Erickson concocted multiple investment schemes from 1996 to August 2018, including recruiting investors for a string of elder care homes; developing a wheelchair that allowed a person to use the bathroom from the chair; and home-building in North Dakota’s booming oil fields. He operated his schemes from Sioux Falls, defrauding $5.3 million from investors.

Judge Karen Schreier listed former classmates, family members and even Erickson’s godmother as victims of his investment schemes.

“You’re a thief, and you have betrayed your friends and family, pretty much everyone you know,” Schreier said [“South Dakota Man Linked to Russian Spy Sentenced for Fraud,” AP via Rapid City Journal, 2020.07.06].

Other victims of Erickson’s swindling include “Mark Sanford, a former U.S. representative and governor from South Carolina; Vance Thompson, a well-known ophthalmologist surgeon from Sioux Falls; and Greg Johnson, a childhood friend of Erickson’s who was a co-pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermillion for several years during the 1990s.”

Playing a Roger Stone card, Erickson’s lawyer Clint Sargent asked the judge to let Erickson serve his sentence from home due to his medical condition and fear of coronavirus. Alas for Paul, the defendant torpedoed his own pitch by playing a Trump card on the way into court:

While unusual, Sargent said that Erickson had recently undergone a heart valve replacement, putting him at greater risk if he contracts coronavirus.

Jeff Clapper, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, resisted the motion, saying the Bureau of Prisons could take appropriate action to screen and protect inmates.

Schreier sided with the government. She said she arrived at the courthouse Monday morning at the same time Erickson did.

“He walked in without a mask,” Schreier said, noting that if Erickson were so concerned with coronavirus, he would have taken the precaution of wearing one [David Lias, “Erickson Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, updated 2020.07.07].

Funny: bandits usually don’t mind wearing masks.

Erickson’s broken heart may have come from the imprisonment and deportation of his girlfriend, Russian agent Maria Butina. The 31-year-old Red Fox received a promotion last December to host a program on Russian state propaganda outlet RT. If his heart could take it, Paul could watch Maria on Прекрасная Россия бу-бу-бу (Beautiful Russia Blah-Blah-Blah) on YouTube:

Hang in there, Paul—there’s always a pardon….


  1. cibvet 2020-07-08 11:02

    Put him away because if trump loses, he will slash and burn everything on his way out, including pardons.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-08 12:21

    But you know, cibvet, I wonder about pardons. When Trump loses, he may be so angry and vindictive that he won’t go on a pardon bender; he may just retreat into himself, maybe pardon himself and a few close personal friends, and not bother with anyone beyond his inner inner circle. Even those close cronies may not be safe as Trump flails about looking for someone to blame for his downfall.

  3. leslie 2020-07-08 14:19

    Pardon mania is coming. Republicans running for cover. Roberts’ SCOTUS “clean up for Trump?” Three knowledgable opinions:

    1.) Josh Kraushaar
    · Jul 2
    “The source said perhaps as soon as August, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have to advise Republican Senate candidates to distance themselves from Trump if needed to win election and keep their majority.”

    2.) Steve Vladeck
    My best (but wild) guess for tomorrow at #SCOTUS:

    10:00: McGirt (Gorsuch, 5-4), OK can’t try McGirt in state court.

    10:10: Vance (Breyer, 7-2), upholding DA subpoena.

    10:20: Mazars (Roberts for different 5-4 majorities), upholding 2 congressional subpoenas & throwing out rest.

    3.) And…

    It’s almost impressive how much a single policy combined the Trump administration’s hostility to immigrants, hostility to public health, hostility to higher education, hostility to substantive expertise, and general hubris—at the expense of basic human decency and common sense.
    Quote Tweet

    Tim Massie
    · Jul 7
    Ken Cuccinelli just said on @CNN the reason to for ICE’s international students ruling is to force colleges & universities to open. He also cannot understand international students’ $41 BILLION impact on the economies of the schools they attend and communities in which they live.

  4. Moses6 2020-07-08 14:58

    Go with the tide because their is a coming Biden landslide.

  5. bearcreekbat 2020-07-08 17:40

    The unfortunate temptation is to summarily dismiss Erickson’s claim because he is an unpopular prisoner. This seems shortsighted. Whether one likes the guy or not, or is appalled at his behavior, the objective fact appears to be that he is at a high risk for serious complications from Covid 19. Add to that the abject failure of some of our prisons to protect inmates from Covid 19:

    See e.g., (no apparent paywall) “No One Deserves to Die of Covid-19 in Jail . . .”,.

    These objective facts seem to be the more relevant considerations for a decision whether Erickson’s motion has substantial merit. Perhaps the Court was presented with convincing evidence that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) could do an adequate job of protecting Erickson, even though BOP reports:

    There are 1,992 federal inmates and 160 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 5,137 inmates and 603 staff have recovered. There have been 94 federal inmate deaths and 1 BOP staff member death attributed to COVID-19 disease.

    The fact that Erickson wasn’t wearing a mask in the Courthouse doesn’t seem to be even marginally relevant if the facts about his weakened health and increased danger from Covid 19 are accurate. To the extent the Judge may have believed otherwise seems inconsistent with the goal of providing even handed justice based on established facts rather than personal bias. Indeed, most information I have seen about masks suggests they offer only minimal, if that, protection against contracting Covid-19. Instead, they are recommended to avoid spreading the virus to others. And if the evidence established that Erickson was in real danger from Covid – 19, his personal stupidity, bravery or cowardice also seems irrelevant.

  6. mike from iowa 2020-07-08 18:26

    OTOH, seems like so any of these high profile crooks develop all kinds of owies right about the time they realize they are going to jail, finally.

  7. Donald Pay 2020-07-08 20:02

    If we’re sentencing kids and teachers, meatpackers and nurses to show up at Covid factories, why should a crook get special treatment?

  8. bearcreekbat 2020-07-08 21:20

    mfi, as to Erickson’s medical problems I am assuming Cory’s report to be credible.

    Donald, personally I don’t think it right or moral to require anyone to participate against his or her will in activities that might threaten their lives or safety, including “kids and teachers, meatpackers and nurses,” or prisoners.

  9. mike from iowa 2020-07-09 04:54

    bcb, This may not be much of an argument to a highly skilled, knowledgeable attorney, but, why does a white collar crook rate more deference than deceased George Floyd’s medical conditions?

    Excuse me as I am heading back to nighty night.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-09 06:00

    BCB, I am willing to give weight to Judge Schreier’s observation that the defendant does not seem to take his own argument seriously.

    An analogy: genuine contrition may warrant a reduction of sentence. If a defendant says “I’m sorry” in a sarcastic tone and rolls his eyes when saying it to the victims of his crime, the judge can justifiably refuse to reduce sentence in ways she has done with defendants who demonstrate sincere contrition. Maybe this eye-roller really is sorry and just is terribly at expressing himself, but the judge has to act on the evidence presented.

    A guy with genuine concern about catching a disease should be taking the most basic and useful precaution possible, and right now, that’s wearing a mask in public. Failing to wear a mask tells me Erickson isn’t worried about getting coronavirus; he’s just trying to stay out of prison and serve his sentence someplace comfier of his choosing.

    I would be interested in knowing how many convicts have received modified sentences from judges based on fears of exposure to coronavirus in prison. We’re hearing this argument from newsworthy white-collar politicos; are public defenders making this argument for their indigent clients, for people who’ve had crappy health and crappy access to health care all their lives and thus are likely more vulnerable to coronavirus than Paul Erickson and Roger Stone? Are judges buying this plea anywhere, and if so, is that leniency just one more advantage going to the wealthy white defendants who can hire the higher-powered lawyers far more often than the poor, black, Indian, and other disadvantaged defendants?

  11. mike from iowa 2020-07-09 08:54

    OT transcripts of George Floyd’s ugly death reveals he told the cops 20 times he couldn’t breathe.

  12. bearcreekbat 2020-07-09 09:19

    mfi, I am not sure I really understand your question, but I am not trying to suggest “more deference” for any particular group, unless it is based on health factors. Perhaps my response to Cory below will shed more light on my views.

    Cory, my view is that the nature of any sentence ought to take into account the danger that sentence poses to the person sentenced. That consideration would be unrelated to contrition as I don’t view it appropriate to knowingly impose a sentence based on vengeance that will cause an avoidable known and clear danger to someone’s life or health, even when the person sentenced has engaged in reprehensible behavior.

    In my view sentencing should be designed to protect the public from future crimes, deter others from committing similar crimes, and provide some form of retribution that is neither cruel nor unusual in light of the offense of conviction. I do not consider taking a person’s health into account in an effort to avoid imposing a cruel and unusual sentence to be a matter of “leniency,” rather it is simply a constitutional duty.

    In Erickson’s case, he has committed serious, but non-violent, crimes, which suggests the public need not fear violence but should be protected against future fraudulent type behavior. The requested home confinement, with specific conditions limiting Erickson’s access to the public (such as restricted use of technology) would seem to adequately address the protection issue. Likewise, no one desires to be restricted to their home and limited in their activities any more than they desire to be incarcerated, hence to the extent any sentence would be a deterrent, it would seem that such a home confinement sentence would be a reasonable deterrent (noting that stronger deterrents for any crime are certainly available such being summarily executed for non-violent misdemeanors). Finally, the idea of retribution for Erickson’s particular crimes does not typically include intentionally harming the offender’s health or endangering offender’s life, hence to impose a sentence that does so would qualify as both “cruel and unusual” contrary to the limitation we have imposed on our government by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    Your query about the sentencing treatment of other individuals is a valid and important question. If the answer is that other groups are treated improperly, then in my view, the remedy would be to stop or reduce mistreatment of the people in each group rather than increasing it by mistreating additional victims.

    I do not know what percentage of judges currently agree that a defendant’s health and life are important factors to consider in imposing sentence. Here is a sentencing blog article that may provide some answers:

  13. leslie 2020-07-09 11:47

    No question imprisonment is dangerous, but federal judges are capable of saying “STFU” when necessary. Erickson has a particular toxic political reputation given his “dirty tricks” take-down of Sen Daschle replaced by Thune, and later devious infiltration with Putin’s spy and back-channel communication cloaked behind NRA culture and our schools in association with the GOP and Rep Dusty Johnson.

    How far will this guy go, serving his sentence from home?

    Judge Schreier is surely aware of someone like Roger Stone’s hijinks in court in this moment of heightened right-wing judicial politicization. A mask prevents spread of virus one may/may not have, to others, hence a sign of respect. Telling a court you do not care if you infect others while asking for a special pandemic-circumstances sentencing, is a sign of disrespect. Refusing masks In hospitals, grocery stores and in court. This has led to violence. Not taking this pandemic seriously is killing millions.

    How far will this guy go? This judge decided that incarceration is necessary to protect the public. I am the last person to support harsh imprisonment. Yet we all watch daily as this nation truly may be in a death spiral as a result of a world crisis under Trump’s watch on top of 4 decades of political war in which the right has abandoned law and norms with impunity. The world is following suit.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-09 12:30

    Bearcreekbat, I appreciate your concern for the health and safety of prisoners. Justice requires that we deny them liberty but not their health or their lives.

    Your comments make me think about the problem of prison rape. I wonder: would soft old white men like Erickson and Stone be more at risk of being sexually assaulted in prison?

    No convict should be crowded into a plague-infested prison. Increased risk coronavirus is not an appropriate sentence for any convict, regardless of crime committed. Erickson has no special argument or status on that account. If the judge were to decide that putting Erickson in prison was an unjust infringement of his health, then we would need to open the cell doors, put ankle bracelets on every convict, and tell ’em be good.

    Erickson poses a public safety risk outside of confinement. Outside prison, he can continue to freely contact potential marks, not to mention foxy Russian agents trying to get an in in influential circles. Protecting the public from the threats Erickson poses requires keeping him out of contact with the general public.

    The solution is not to give rich white guys with high-powered lawyers get-out-of-jail free cards. Nor is the solution to let everyone out (although if we won’t invest in humane prisons, well, we might be able to make an argument that fines and ankle bracelets are a less bad alternative to pestilent penitentiaries). The solution for prisons is similar to the solution for schools: more spaces, bigger spaces, more supervision to reduce the inmate:staff ratio to allow better supervision without assembling the inmates in crowds. We need to keep inmates apart from each other to ensure they aren’t stuck in places with concentrated viral load. We also need to keep inmates apart from each other so they don’t get assaulted.

  15. bearcreekbat 2020-07-09 15:05

    Cory and leslie, I appreciate your feedback and consideration of my arguments. I will try to respond to several of your concerns.

    As I understand it, home confinement can be imposed with specific limitations, including an ankle monitor to prevent unauthorized travel, computer restrictions to prevent use of a computer, no contact orders to prevent contact with victims and potential victims, phone monitoring and restrictions of calls, as well as whatever other conditions a Judge deems appropriate to protect the public. Thus, the concern of danger to others during home confinement seems to be weak in Erickson’s case, although I acknowledge any prisoner might find a way physically remove a monitor and run to avoid these restrictions. Perhaps Erickson has a history of violating court imposed conditions or from some other reason the Judge found Erickson to be a risk of escape or violating the conditions of confinement, but I saw no reference to any such finding in your story.

    In Erickson’s case, it appears from your story that the motion for home confinement was not simply based on an increased danger of Covid 19 infection, rather it was based on Erickson’s specific health history which allegedly made him more susceptible to serious consequences, including an increased chance of death, if infected. Thus while perhaps attractive, the argument that Covid 19 alone is sufficient to merit relief to all prisoners is beyond the scope of Erickson’s specific case.

    Erickson’s physical condition as described in your story seems to have been factually validated. If someone’s individual susceptibility to prison rape is established I believe both the courts and the prisons have a duty to take necessary steps to mitigate that danger. See e.g. “Civil Liability for Sexual Assaults on Prisoners,” at

    Certainly a prisoner should not be given special or worse treatment based on the access to wealth or expensive high powered attorneys. As for the latter, however, I will say federal public defenders appointed to represent indigent prisoners often have the most experience and even the most overworked defenders are often much more capable than any team of “high powered” private attorneys that infrequently practice any form of criminal law.

  16. leslie 2020-07-09 20:01
  17. Debbo 2020-07-10 00:22

    Thousands of prisoners have asked for home confinement due to physical conditions that make COVID-19 a deadly risk for them. They are mostly poor and Black. Requests denied.

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