Pair tied to Giuliani, Ukraine probe arrested
Feds say Giuliani associates illegally donated to Trump-allied PAC, other GOP entities
The two Florida businessmen and associates of Rudy Giuliani are accused of illegally donating to a PAC supporting President Trump.
WASHINGTON — Two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump’s lawyer and the Ukraine impeachment investigation were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations.
The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump’s reelection.
Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested Wednesday trying to board an international flight with one-way tickets at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, according to Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. No destination was disclosed.
Fruman and Parnas were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. The pair had key roles in Giuliani’s efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The indictments mark the first criminal charges related to the Ukraine controversy. While they do not suggest wrongdoing by Trump, they raise additional questions about how those close to Trump and Giuliani sought to use their influence.
Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and politically motivated. Trump said he didn’t know Fruman or Parnas and hadn’t spoken with Giuliani about them.
“We have nothing to do with it,” Trump said.
Giuliani said he didn’t represent the men in campaign finance matters.
Records show that Fruman and Parnas used wire transfers from a corporate entity to make the $325,000 donation to the America First Action committee in May 2018. But wire transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show that the corporate entity reported as making the transaction was not the source of the money.
The donation to the Trump-allied PAC was part of a flurry of political spending tied to Fruman and Parnas, with at least $478,000 in donations flowing to GOP campaigns and PACs in little more than two months.
The money enabled the relatively unknown entrepreneurs to gain access to the highest levels of the Republican Party, including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Prosecutors also allege that Parnas urged a congressman to seek the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, at the behest of Ukrainian government officials. That happened about the same time that Fruman and Parnas committed to raising over $20,000 for the politician.
The congressman wasn’t identified in court papers, but the donations match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his reelection bid in November.
Fruman and Parnas appeared in court Thursday and were ordered to remain jailed as a bail package was worked out. They are due in court next week in New York.
Kevin Downing, the lawyer who represented former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on charges that he hid millions of dollars earned in Ukraine advising politicians, was representing the men for an initial appearance.
David Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Andrey Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, were also charged in the case. A federal judge in San Francisco ordered Kukushkin held Thursday pending a bail hearing to determine whether he is considered a flight risk.
Attorney General William Barr had been briefed on the investigation soon after he was confirmed in February, was updated in recent weeks and was made aware Wednesday night that Fruman and Parnas were being arrested, a person familiar with the matter said.
The indictment said Fruman and Parnas “sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working” and took steps to conceal it from third parties, including creditors. They created a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers, and “intentionally caused certain large contributions to be reported in the name of GEP instead of in their own names.”
Prosecutors charge that the two men falsely claimed the contributions came from GEP, which was described as a liquefied natural gas business. At that point, the company had no income or significant assets, the indictment said.
Prosecutors allege the pair conspired to make illegal contributions to try to skirt the limit on federal campaign contributions. The men also are accused of making contributions to candidates for state and federal office, joint fundraising committees and independent expenditure committees in the names of other people.
The commitment to raise more than $20,000 for the congressman was made in May and June 2018. The lawmaker had also received about $3 million in independent expenditures from a super political action committee that Fruman and Parnas had been funding.
As a result of the donations, Fruman and Parnas had meetings with the congressman, and Parnas lobbied him to advocate for removing the ambassador to Ukraine, Berman said.
Trump referred to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was indeed recalled to the U.S., as “bad news” in his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Sessions said in a statement tweeted by a spokesman that he “could not have had any knowledge of the scheme described in the indictment.”
Sessions wasn’t asked to take any action during the meetings with Parnas and Fruman and wrote a letter to the secretary of state about Yovanovitch after colleagues in Congress said she was “disparaging” Trump, he said.
Attorney Kevin Downing, right, represents businessmen Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.