Giuliani associates face trial in campaign finance scheme

Monday, October 11, 2021
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In this Feb. 3. 2020, file photo, Lev Parnas, a businessman who once pitched himself as someone who could expose corruption in the Trump Administration over its dealings in Ukraine, speaks with the media outside federal court in New York. AP PHOTO

NEW YORK (AP) — Lev Parnas once pitched himself in TV interviews and through an unorthodox publicity campaign by his lawyer as someone who could expose corruption in the Trump Administration over its dealings in Ukraine.

Less than two years later and with less fanfare, the 49-year-old is going on trial in a federal case that makes him out to be more of an ordinary grifter than a whistleblower who would bring down former President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a trial in which Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman, and a codefendant, Ukraine-born investor Andrey Kukushkin, are accused of making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. politicians in order to further their business interests.

Parnas and another Sovietborn Florida businessman who has already pleaded guilty in the case, Igor Fruman, initially caught the attention of journalists and investigators after making big donations through a corporate entity to Republican political committees, including a $325,000 donation in 2018 to America First Action, a super PAC supporting Trump.

The pair then became middlemen in Giuliani’s effort to discredit then-candidate Joe Biden. They connected Giuliani with Ukrainian officials as the former New York City mayor tried to get that country to open an investigation into the future president’s son, Hunter. Ukrainian tycoons and officials, meanwhile, sought Giuliani’s help connecting with the Trump administration.

Federal prosecutors in New York City, however, have made it clear that anyone looking for the trial to produce new, damaging information about Trump or Giuliani will be disappointed.

They told U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken last week that while jurors will likely hear about how Parnas and Fruman tried to tout their influence as international fixers by sharing photos of themselves with Trump and Giuliani, the Republican ex-president and his former personal lawyer “will come up very peripherally” at the trial.

Prosecutors have 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 Ukrainian figures to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who later became a central figure in impeachment proceedings against Trump.

When the charges were announced in 2019, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman highlighted the Yovanovitch allegations, saying the defendants “sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official – a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.”

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