Giuliani associates are on trial in campaign fundraising scheme
Lev Parnas once portrayed himself in television interviews and through an unorthodox advertising campaign led by his lawyer as someone who could speak out against corruption within the Trump administration over his dealings in Ukraine.
Less than two years later and with less fanfare, the 49-year-old is on trial in a federal case that makes him more of an ordinary con artist than a whistleblower that would bring down former President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.
Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in a trial in which Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman, and a co-accused, Ukrainian investor Andrey Kukushkin, are accused of making illegal contributions to American politicians in order to advance their affairs. interests.
Parnas and another Soviet-born Florida businessman who previously pleaded guilty to the case, Igor Fruman, first caught the attention of reporters and investigators after making large donations through of a corporation to Republican political committees, including a donation of $ 325,000 in 2018 to America First Action, a super PAC supporting Trump.
The couple went on to become intermediaries in Giuliani’s efforts to discredit then-candidate Joe Biden. They put Giuliani in touch with Ukrainian officials as the former New York mayor tried to get that country to open an investigation into the future president’s son, Hunter. Ukrainian tycoons and officials, meanwhile, have enlisted Giuliani’s help in connecting with the Trump administration.
New York City federal prosecutors have made it clear, however, that anyone seeking the trial to produce damaging new information about Trump or Giuliani will be disappointed.
They told U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken last week that while jurors are likely to learn how Parnas and Fruman tried to tout their influence as international fixers by sharing photos of themselves with Trump and Giuliani, the ex-Republican president and his former personal lawyer come very on the periphery “to the trial.
Prosecutors also quietly dropped one of the most intriguing allegations in the original indictment: that Parnas and Fruman donated money to American politicians as part of an effort by prominent Ukrainian figures. to oust U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovanovitch, who later became a central figure in the impeachment process against Trump.
When the charges were announced in 2019, then-US lawyer Geoffrey S. Berman pointed to Yovanovitch’s allegations, saying the defendants “were seeking political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but also to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official – a Ukrainian government official who called for the removal of the US Ambassador to Ukraine.
Prosecutors later wrote to the judge that the allegation had been withdrawn from a revised indictment in an attempt to “streamline” the case, but offered no further explanation.
Giuliani said he was not aware of any illegal election contributions and is not charged in the case, although his work in Ukraine is still the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Federal agents raided Giuliani’s New York home and office last April, taking away computers and phones as part of an investigation into whether any of the work he performed required him to register. as a foreign agent. Giuliani said his only client was Trump.
With the Ukrainian allegations having disappeared, the trial is expected to focus on accusations that Parnas exceeded the limits of personal contributions to the campaign by covering up the origin of the money. US Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and political committees to support Republicans running for Congress were among those who received donations.
Part of the case alleges Parnas and Kukushkin were straw donors for Andrey Muraviev, a wealthy Russian investor in the burgeoning legal marijuana market in the United States.
The indictment alleges that Muraviev paid $ 1 million for donations to politicians in several states, including Nevada, where the group hoped to engage in the legal marijuana trade.
Prosecutors did not allege that the politicians who obtained the money knew it came from prohibited sources. Muraviev has not been charged either.
The defense hopes to present Parnas as an investor who was trying to develop legitimate marijuana and other business ventures, including an energy company, Global Energy Producers, which is said to be involved in the export of natural gas to Europe.
He and Fruman were in part seeking relationships “which could best promote their nascent energy business interests,” defense attorney Joseph Bondy wrote in a court filing. He said Muraviev’s million dollars went to Fruman – not Parnas – and was a personal loan, made as a result of a declining cannabis business in Nevada.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Kukushkin’s lawyer on Monday. Parnas’ co-accused is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur with long-standing ties to several legal marijuana companies in California.
Another defendant in the case, David Correia, has pleaded guilty to charges of misrepresenting the Federal Election Commission and conspiracy to wire fraud. The conspiracy count related to an allegation that he defrauded investors in an insurance company who paid Giuliani an advisory fee of $ 500,000.
Unlike Fruman, who has stayed out of the spotlight and recently pleaded guilty to soliciting illegal campaign contributions, Parnas sought to play a leading role in Trump’s first impeachment by providing his personal files to investigators. of Congress.
With Parnas indicted in 2020, Bondy began tweeting photos of his client with Giuliani and Republican lawmakers using the hashtag #LetLevSpeak. The lawyer also provided congressional investigators with a recording of Parnas speaking with Trump about Yovanovitch, the US ambassador.
In part of the tape, first obtained by ABC News, a voice that appears to be Parnas can be heard saying, “She is walking around saying to everyone, ‘Wait, he’s going to be impeached. Wait. A speaker who appears to be Trump then replies, “Get rid of her!” … Take it out. OKAY? Do it.”
The then Republican-controlled US Senate acquitted Trump in 2020 of allegations he abused his power by threatening to suspend military aid to Ukraine unless its leaders investigate the Bidens.