Nigel Farage, a prominent member of Britain’s right-wing U.K. Independence Party, made headlines in late August for all the wrong reasons. On his way back from a Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, FBI agents arrested one of the man’s closest aides, George Cottrell. Unbeknownst to Mr. Farage, the FBI opened an investigation into Cottrell as early as 2014, according to the 21-count indictment. After previously denying all charges, the aide pleaded guilty after the prosecution and defense came to an agreement.
On the darknet, Cottrell used the pseudonym “Bill” to advertise money laundering services. He offered complete anonymity and security through his offshore accounts. The FBI, posing as drug dealers, began interacting with Bill. They sought to launder $50,000 to $150,000 per month—explicitly described as money from drug trafficking. Through an encrypted group messaging app, the agents came to an agreement with Cottrell aka Bill. They agreed to meet in person in Las Vegas, Nevada, where agents positively identified George Cottrell.
The 21-count indictment consisted of money laundering, mail and wire fraud, and blackmail charges—all of which he initially denied. At his first hearing, Cottrell pleaded not guilty to all 21 charges. The UKIP added no information, save for a short press release: “George was an unpaid and enthusiastic volunteer for the party over the period of the referendum. We are unaware of the details of the allegations.”
Cottrell stayed in custody in Arizona after that hearing; his gambling issues and lifelong risk taking antics kept the judge from granting him bail.
The Cottrell vs. United States Plea Agreement:
In court documents released on December 19, the plea agreement between the United States and George Cottrell became public. Cottrell pleaded guilty to one count of felony wire fraud and the US dropped the 20 remaining charges. He explained his so-called “scheme” and that he “intended to retain the money”
An excerpt from the plea deal:
I explained various ways criminal proceeds could be laundered, for example, methods to transfer large amounts of cash out of the United States without triggering reporting requirements, and ways to disguise the proceeds as legitimate business income for tax purposes. I also falsely claimed that I would launder the criminal proceeds through my bank accounts for a fee. Rather than launder any of the money, though, Banker and I intended to retain the money.
The statements I made during the scheme were material, and the scheme involved wire communications over the internet in interstate and foreign commerce. At the time, I was in London, England, and the individuals I communicated with were in Phoenix, Arizona. (George Cottrell via the Plea Agreement).
Despite the loss of 20 different charges on the man’s court documents, he is far from being in the clear. According to the Plea Agreement, Cottrell faces $250,000 in fines and a maximum of 20-years in prison. Or both. Additionally, he faces the standard supervised release or probation terms, depending on the sentencing.
A judge at the U.S. District Court in Arizona will schedule Cottrell sometime in March 2017.