ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Four leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party, including the chairman and founder of the Uhuru Movement, located in St. Petersburg, were indicted alongside three Russian nationals for their alleged ties to a foreign campaign with the “main topic” of influencing the U.S. presidential election.

According to a federal grand jury indictment, Moscow resident Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, the founder and president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR) — an organization headquartered in Moscow, Russia, and funded by the Russian government — was charged with working on behalf of the Russian government.

The indictment alleges Ionov and two other Russian defendants recruited, funded, and directed U.S. political groups to act as unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government to “sow discord and spread pro-Russian propaganda.”

According to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Ionov and two others conspired to “directly and substantially influence democratic elections” in the U.S. by funding and directing the 2019 political campaign of a candidate for local office in St. Petersburg.

Officials said Ionov intended his election interference plot would extend beyond the 2019 local election cycle, subsequently discussing that the “USA Presidential election” was the Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) “main topic of the year.”

As part of the campaign, Ionov allegedly recruited members of U.S. political groups including the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement (collectively, the APSP) to create the appearance of American support for Russia’s annexation of territories in Ukraine.

Among those charged were:

  • Omali Yeshitela, of St. Petersburg, who served as the chairman and founder of the APSP,
  • Penny Joanne Hess, of St. Pete, who served as the leader of a component of the APSP
  • Jesse Nevel, of St. Pete, who served as a member of a component of the APSP, and
  • Augustus C. Romain Jr., aka Gazi Kodzo, of St. Pete, who served as a leader of the APSP and a founder of Black Hammer in Georgia.

On the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Ionov allegedly emailed Nevel an “URGENT MESSAGE” which contained pro-Russian talking points supporting the invasion. Over the next month, officials say the APSP repeatedly hosted video conferences with Ionov who falsely stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Naziism and white supremacy.

“Yeshitela and another APSP member allegedly made statements of solidarity with the Russian government,” the release said.

Ionov, Sukhodolov, Popov, Yeshitela, Hess, Nevel and Romain were charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government within the United States without providing prior notification to the Attorney General. If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Yeshitela, Hess, and Nevel were also charged with acting as agents of Russia within the United States without such prior notification. If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“Efforts by the Russian government to secretly influence U.S. elections will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As today’s announcement demonstrates, the Criminal Division is committed to eradicating foreign malign influence from the U.S. political system and helping ensure the integrity of our elections.”

“Today’s announcement paints a harrowing picture of Russian government actions and the lengths to which the FSB will go to interfere with our elections, sow discord in our nation and ultimately recruit U.S citizens to their efforts,” said Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “All Americans should be deeply concerned by the tactics employed by the FSB and remain vigilant to any attempt to undermine our democracy.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch issued a statement on the indictment saying: “The federal allegations about potential Russian interference are troubling. It is important to underscore that the City of St. Petersburg does not support, condone or tolerate any foreign government engaging in activities to undermine or influence our elections. The investigation is in the purview of our federal law enforcement agencies, and we will be monitoring the process going forward.”
Members of the Uhuru movement did not respond to calls or messages on Tuesday, but in the past they have denied the allegations.