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US military veteran seemingly joins Russian army amid criminal probe

Wilmer Puello-Mota is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a former elected official in Massachusetts who is facing sex offender charges.
US military veteran seemingly joins Russian army amid criminal probe
Posted at 3:23 PM, Apr 12, 2024

A former U.S. Air National Guardsman and former city councilor from Massachusetts is believed to have enlisted in the Russian military while he faces child pornography charges in the United States, according to multiple reports, including

Wilmer Puello-Mota, 28, was seen in undated video posted to pro-Kremlin media sites that appears to show him signing papers in a military enlistment office in Siberia, The Associated Press reported

Puello-Mota is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a former elected official in Massachusetts who U.S. officials say fled the country after he was charged with possessing sexually explicit images of children.

Reports say he informed his lawyer that he had joined the Russian military and could be made a part of its fight against Ukraine. 

In a statement to Scripps News, the Massachusetts National Guard said, "We are aware Mr. Puello-Mota left the country in response to civil criminal charges filed against him. These charges are very serious and led to his separation from service in October 2022. Criminal activity is not compatible with our values as an organization and will not be tolerated in our ranks."

The Holyoke City Council in Massachusetts confirmed that Puello-Mota served with them after being elected in November 2021. Beginning in January 2022, he served as the area's Ward 2 councilor until the end of his term in January 2024, a spokesperson for the council told Scripps News. It was noted that while serving on the Holyoke City Council he went by the name Will Puello.

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A message was sent out on the secure messaging platform Telegram with a video that appeared to show Puello-Mota at the Russian military enlistment center. A message read, "An American signed a military contract at the patriots center in Khanty-Mansiysk," the Guardian reported

As the Associated Press reported, Puello-Mota's lawyer, John M. Cicilline, said he called his client on Jan. 8, a day before he was expected to plead guilty, according to the Boston Globe. He learned that his client had boarded a flight from Washington, D.C. to Turkey just a day before. 

"He said, 'I joined the Russian army,' or something like that," according to an account from Cicilline to the Boston Globe. “I’m sure he joined the Russian army because he didn’t want to register as a sex offender,” he said. 

The National Guard said it revoked Puello-Mota's security clearance before the completion of the civil proceedings against him "due to the seriousness of the charges." The Guard said Puello-Mota willfully disregarded the "ongoing legal process he is involved in," and said before his legal troubles he served as a Tech Sgt. and a Security Forces airman with the 104th Fighter Wing.

The National Guard said that more extensive records on Puello-Mota's service were not available due to his level of discharge from the military and said it had no further information about the case to provide, referring any other questions to the Attorney General in Rhode Island.

The Associated Press reported that Puello-Mota was arrested in Warwick, Rhode Island, in 2020 after police, who were investigating reports of a stolen gun, allegedly found nude images of a 17-year-old on Puello-Mota's phone. 

Rhode Island prosecutors told the Associated Press that they couldn't independently authenticate other videos and still images that appeared to show Puello-Mota in both Ukraine and Russia. 

"If they are accurate the defendant is well beyond the jurisdiction of this court and, if false, the defendant is engaged in an elaborate ruse to conceal his whereabouts,” prosecutors said. 

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