A Florida businessman who helped Rudy Giuliani’s effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine was convicted Friday of campaign finance crimes, including funnelling a Russian entrepreneur’s money to U.S. politicians.
Lev Parnas was on trial for more than two weeks as prosecutors accused him of using other people’s money to pose as a powerful political broker and cosy up to some of the country’s star Republicans.
One part of the case alleged that Parnas and an associate made illegal donations through a corporate entity in 2018 as they tried to jump-start a new energy company, including a $325,000 US donation to America First Action, a super PAC supporting former president Donald Trump.
Another part said he used the wealth of a Russian financier, Andrey Muraviev, to donate to Republicans in Nevada, Florida and other states, ostensibly in support of an effort to launch a legal, recreational marijuana business.
Parnas, 49, was convicted on all six counts after about five hours of jury deliberations.
Vows to appeal
The Soviet-born businessman had insisted through his lawyer that he never used the Russian’s money for political donations. He briefly closed his eyes and shook his head as the verdict was read.
“I’ve never hid from nobody. I’ve always stood to tell the truth,” Parnas said as he emerged from the courtroom. His lawyer, Joseph Bondy, promised an appeal, and Parnas said it was “not the end of the story.”
“I’m sad. But at this time, I just want to get home to my wife and kids,” he said.
A co-defendant, Ukraine-born investor Andrey Kukushkin, was convicted of being part of the effort to use Muraviev’s money for political contributions. He had also denied any wrongdoing. Kukushkin and his attorney left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
The case had drawn interest because of the deep involvement of Parnas and a former co-defendant, Igor Fruman, in Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden’s son during Biden’s campaign for president.
Giuliani remains under criminal investigation as authorities decide whether his interactions with Ukrainian officials required him to register as a foreign agent, but he wasn’t alleged to have been involved in illegal campaign contributions and wasn’t part of the New York trial.
Big campaign donations
The case did, though, give an up-close look at how Parnas entered Republican circles in 2018 with a pattern of campaign donations big enough to get him meetings with the party’s stars.
“In order to gain influence with American politicians and candidates, they illegally funnelled foreign money into the 2018 midterm elections with an eye toward making huge profits in the cannabis business,” U.S. attorney Damian Williams said in a statement following the verdict.
“Campaign finance laws are designed to protect the integrity of our free and fair elections — unencumbered by foreign interests or influence — and safeguarding those laws is essential to preserving the freedoms that Americans hold sacred.”
In addition to the $325,000 US donation to America First Action, prosecutors said Parnas and Fruman orchestrated donations to U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas, and to other committees supporting House Republicans.
Giuliani and Trump were sparsely mentioned during the trial, although a photograph featuring Parnas with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was one of the first exhibits shown to jurors during closing arguments.
Links to Russian financier
DeSantis was among those who received campaign contributions that prosecutors said were traced to $1 million US that Parnas and Fruman received from Muraviev, who has been involved in several U.S. cannabis ventures.
About $100,000 US of Muraviev’s money went toward campaign contributions in what assistant U.S. attorney Hagan Scotten called a conspiracy to secretly bring his “wealth and corruption into American politics” in violation of laws barring foreign donations to U.S. political candidates.
“The voters would never know whose money was pouring into our elections,” Scotten said.
WATCH | Lev Parnas’s media campaign to take down Trump:
Former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt, now a candidate for U.S. Senate, testified during the trial that a blustering Parnas suggested he could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for him in 2018. He eventually came through only with a $10,000 US cheque that Laxalt’s lawyers told him to reject.
Bondy, representing Parnas, had called the allegations against his client “absurd.”
He insisted in his closing argument that Muraviev’s money went toward supporting legal marijuana businesses looking to expand. Muraviev was not charged in the case.
Kukushkin’s lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, sought to portray his client as an unknowing dupe who was mocked behind his back by other participants as mentally challenged.
Following the verdict, prosecutors asked for immediate incarceration of Parnas and Kukushkin, citing a risk of flight, but the judge allowed them to remain free on bail while awaiting sentencing.
Awaiting 2nd trial
The charges against Parnas collectively carry the potential for decades behind bars, but any prison sentence would likely be measured in years, rather than decades.
Fruman pleaded guilty earlier this year to a single count of solicitation of a contribution by a foreign national. He awaits sentencing.
Another co-defendant, David Correia, also pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to a year in prison for crimes including defrauding investors in an insurance company that had paid Giuliani a $500,000 US consulting fee.
Parnas awaits a second trial in connection with that scheme.
Giuliani barely factored in the trial, though a video of him with Parnas was among exhibits jurors could view during deliberations.
The former New York mayor insisted he knew nothing about potentially illegal campaign contributions and has said everything he did in Ukraine was done on Trump’s behalf and there is no reason he would have had to register as a foreign agent.
Giuliani’s company and attorney didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the verdict.