Best Of 2018

Best there’s always a Tampa Bay connection: MARIA BUTINA AT USF ST. PETE IN 2016

When a big national or international crime story breaks, it’s never if, but how the Tampa Bay region might somehow come into play. Usually a given person of interest went to middle school in Seminole in the ‘90s or was arrested after cooling his heels in Apollo Beach while on the lam. But “spoke on two panels during a heady conference on international matters”? That’s a new one. Yet that’s Tampa Bay’s connection to the case of alleged Russian agent Maria Butina, who was recently busted for (allegedly) being an unregistered foreign agent — and a gun-lovin’ one, to boot. It turns out that Butina spoke on two panels, including one discussing Russia, during the 2016 St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs. Butina, who is accused of trying to influence U.S. politics in the run-up to the 2016 election and supposedly tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, spoke glowingly of her home country during a panel entitled “Russia: Imperial aspirations on a beer budget.” Thanks, Tampa Bay, for keeping it weird. —KB