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October 15, 2021
Politics

2 Florida businessmen who helped Giuliani in Ukraine arrested on campaign finance charges

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two foreign-born donors who gave money to a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump, were arrested Wednesday night and face charges tied to campaign finance violations, two law enforcement officials confirmed to NBC News.

The pair are expected to appear in federal court Thursday.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, has previously said that Fruman and Parnas worked with him as part of his dealings in Ukraine that involved efforts to encourage that nation to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Parnas told The Miami Herald last week that he and Fruman passed information on the Bidens to Giuliani.

Parnas is Ukrainian, while Fruman is Belarusian, according to the indictment unsealed Thursday. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the arrests.

The indictment details an elaborate scheme to help other foreign nationals, including one unnamed Ukrainian government official and a person who is described as having “Russian roots,” gain access to U.S. politicians and government officials through campaign contributions in order to advance business and personal financial interests.

“This investigation is about corrupt behavior,” William Sweeney, a top official in the FBI’s New York office said at a Thursday press conference. “Deliberate law breaking.”

At that press conference, investigators said the probe was ongoing.

According to the indictment filed in the Southern District of New York, the two men, along with fellow defendants David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, “conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”

The defendants deceived “the candidates, campaigns, federal regulators, and the public by entering into secret agreements, laundering foreign money through bank accounts in the name of limited liability corporations, and through the use of straw donors … who purported to make legal campaign contributions in their own names, rather than in the name of the true source of the fund,” according to the document.

Federal prosecutors said that Parnas and Fruman had one-way tickets to leave the U.S. when they were arrested by the FBI at Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night.

The two men had no known plans to return, officials said.

A law enforcement official says it would not be accurate to say the two were “fleeing” because there’s no indication that they knew they were going to be indicted. However, multiple people familiar with the matter say the timing of the indictment was moved up because of Parnas and Fruman’s tickets to travel.

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco on Wednesday. Federal investigators said Thursday that Correia is still at large.

Image: Rudy Giuliani Lev Parnas
Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, on Sept. 20, 2019.Aram Roston / Reuters

Parnas and Fruman are alleged to have started making illegal campaign contributions in March 2018. The purpose of these donations, the indictment claims, was to enhance their political influence and gain access to politicians so they could advance the “personal financial interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.”

Additionally, the indictment alleged that the men conspired to make political donations funded by an unidentified foreign national who was nervous about “his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it” to politicians and candidates. The purpose of those donations was to help gain access to recreational marijuana licenses so that they could form a marijuana business in the United States, according to the document, but that venture did not ultimately come to fruition.

Fruman and Parnas are charged with making $325,000 in illegal straw donations to a Trump super PAC, according to the indictment, as well as giving $15,000 to a second committee.

Image: Igor Fruman Lev Parnas
Booking photos of Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas after their arrest by U.S. federal authorities in connection with a campaign finance case that was released by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in Alexandria, Va. on Oct. 10, 2019.Alexandria Sheriff’s Office / via Reuters

In May 2018, the two men gave $325,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action through an LLC, Global Energy Producers, the group confirmed to NBC News. That same month, Parnas posted photos on Facebook of himself and Fruman with Trump, and with the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

Jay Sekulow, the president’s outside counsel, told NBC News: “As the indictment states, neither the President nor the campaign were aware.”

While the indictment did not name Trump or his campaign, it did not explicitly state they were unaware.

The Trump campaign declined to comment, while John Dowd, an attorney for the two men, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reached by NBC News, Giuliani said he could not yet comment.

A spokesman for America First Action said Thursday that it had “placed that contribution in a segregated bank account, it has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved.”

“We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false,” the spokesman said.

The indictment also details a push by Parnas and Fruman to oust then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump recalled from her post earlier this year. The indictment alleges that Parnas met with a congressman identified in the charging document as “Congressman-1” in mid-2018 to get assistance in the effort.

According to the document, the efforts to oust Yovanovitch were at least partially on behalf of an unnamed Ukrainian official.

Multiple senior U.S. law enforcement officials told NBC News that “Congressman-1” is former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. The two men committed to raising $20,000 for the then-lawmaker, the indictment alleged.

Sessions lost his re-election bid last year. While he was still in office, Sessions wrote a “private” letter in May 2018 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Yovanovitch, he confirmed to NBC Dallas/Fort Worth’s “Lone Star Politics” show last week.

The Associated Press and the Journal previously reported that Sessions’ letter, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News Thursday, asked for Yovanovitch to be removed.

The letter, written on congressional letterhead and date May 9, 2018, was addressed directly to Pompeo. The short, three-paragraph missive asks Pompeo to “consider terminating her ambassadorship and find a replacement as soon as possible” because, Sessions wrote, he had received “concrete evidence from two close companions that Ambassador Yovanovitch has spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current Administration in a way that might call for the expulsion of Ms. Yovanovitch as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine immediately.”

In an interview with the Journal, Sessions said he did not follow up with Pompeo after sending the letter.

Image:  Lev Parnas
From left, Donald Trump, Jr., Tommy Hicks, Jr., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.The Campaign Legal Center via AP

House committees involved in the recently launched impeachment inquiry sought documents and depositions from Parnas and Fruman. Parnas was requested to appear before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees Thursday, while Fruman was requested to appear Friday.

Following the indictment, the Democratic chairmen of those committees issued subpoenas for the two men to provide testimony and documents.

Dowd, who served as an attorney for Trump during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, said earlier this week that the men would not comply with requests for documents or testimony.

A senior administration official said Attorney General William Barr has been aware of the investigation into Parnas and Fruman since shortly after he came into office in February. The official said Barr has received regular briefings and was told Wednesday that the two would be arrested that evening.

“He has fully supported the Southern District of New York’s investigation,” the official said.

This article was originally published on NBC News.

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