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Is Russia’s New U.S. Propaganda Star Wanted on Child Porn Charges in Rhode Island?

via Telegram
via Telegram

Kremlin-controlled media lit up this week with news that an American veteran had signed a contract with the Russian military in a bold act of defiance against U.S. support for Ukraine.

“Wil is staunchly convinced of the need to support Russia and admires the tenacity and heroism of our soldiers,” one report declared of the new “hero.”

He even got the movie-star treatment in a one-and-a-half minute video circulated by popular pro-war Russian Telegram channels. But this new propaganda darling, identified only as “Wil” in the flurry of gushing Russian news reports, may have a controversial background.

According to reports in Russia and back home in Massachusetts, the new American in Ukraine may be none other than Wilmer Puello-Mota, a former city councilor in Holyoke, Massachusetts, who prosecutors say fled the country to evade child porn charges.

A Russian government insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he believed the Defense Ministry was well aware of the charges against Puello in the U.S. “They all are aware. They know who he is and whatnot,” he told The Daily Beast.

In a video widely shared in Russia this week, the “former American soldier” clearly shows his face to the camera—and the independent Russian outlet Agentstvo reported that their analysis identified him as Puello-Mota.

The video shows him approaching a military recruitment office and receiving a warm welcome from Russian military brass, as he delivers a monologue in English—set to dramatic music—about how honored he is to be joining Russia’s “special military operation” and helping Russia to “continue the mission.”

He says he’s already taken part on the battlefield by serving alongside Russian troops as a volunteer in Avdiivka, but now he’s making it official.

Describing the Russian troops in Avdiivka as “great people, fantastic people,” he went on to echo Moscow’s oft-repeated claim that the Ukrainian cities it ravages are actually being “liberated.”

“It’s terrible, it’s sad what’s happened there. You know, it’s a very bad situation, and I’m glad that we can help in the way that we’re helping,” he said.

“We must support Russia,” he was quoted as saying in another post by pro-war Russian bloggers. “‘Wil’ served in the U.S. armed forces, unaware of what was really happening in Ukraine, and several months ago he came to the special military operation as a volunteer,” wrote pro-Kremlin war reporter Yuri Kotenok.

The video indicates he signed a contract with Russia’s Defense Ministry in Khanty-Mansiysk in western Siberia. He was reportedly given 745,000 rubles ($8,060) as an initial, one-time payment and is set to collect another 150,000 rubles ($1,621) for every two months of service.

The American signed the contract just a few weeks after Rhode Island’s attorney general accused Puello-Mota of evading the charges against him there, which include child pornography, obstructing justice, and forgery and counterfeiting. Puello-Mota was due to appear in court in early January, but flew out of Dulles International Airport just two days before his scheduled appearance, authorities said.

He was first arrested in September 2020, after a 17-year-old girl told police in Warwick, Rhode Island, that Puello-Mota had sent her money in exchange for sexually explicit photos, knowing she was underage, according to court documents. A former member of the Massachusetts National Guard, Puello-Mota was also accused of forging documents to deceive his commanders after his arrest.

After his release on $20,000 bail, Puello-Mota reportedly continued to serve as a Holyoke city councilor for a time before becoming a no-show in court last January. Shortly after that, authorities caught wind of him leaving the country and potentially moving to Russia, though the Office of the Attorney General in Rhode Island said it could not rule out at the time if the Russia narrative was just an “elaborate ruse to conceal his whereabouts.”

It appears not to have been.

An earlier video shot in Ukraine, which showed an American soldier with a blurred face, caused waves in Holyoke last month when The Republican newspaper reported that a number of people who knew Puello-Mota recognized his voice in the disguised video. “We’re here to plant the U.S. flag as a sign of friendship and support,” he says in that video, as he is shown erecting an American flag in Avdiivka after Russian troops took over the Ukrainian city.

That was before “Wil” went on to become a Russian media darling.

On Facebook, a page apparently belonging to Puello-Mota lists his location as Moscow and says he works for Russia’s Defense Ministry.

A page using the same name of “Will Puello” appears on the Russian social networking site VK. Reached on VK for comment, Puello referred questions from The Daily Beast to the Russian Defense Ministry. Asked directly if he had fled the U.S. to evade the charges against him in Rhode Island, he replied with “Lol” before again deferring to the Russian military.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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