Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have been under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and are expected to make an initial court appearance later Thursday in Alexandria, Va.
The indictment, packed with allegations of political donations being made in secret for the benefit of foreign interests, only adds to the growing legal and political pressure on President Trump and his attorney as they try to fend off Democrats’ efforts to impeach him over his efforts to spur a Ukraine investigation of Biden.
According to the indictment unsealed in New York, Parnas, Fruman and other defendants “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 the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.” The indictment does not mention Giuliani or suggest that he was part of the alleged crimes.
Prosecutors say Fruman and Parnas schemed to donate money to an unidentified U.S. congressman, at the same time they were asking that congressman to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her job.
In the spring of 2018, Parnas met with the congressman seeking his “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U. S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” the indictment alleges. “Parnas’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Political donations to the congressman and other details described in the indictment match former Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who lost his reelection bid last year.
John Dowd, an attorney for Parnas and Fruman, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The 21-page indictment also alleges a separate scheme stretching from June 2018 to April of this year in which Parnas, Fruman and two other defendants, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, conspired to make political donations that were secretly funded by an unidentified Russian businessman in the hopes of winning support for a marijuana business.
The plan, according to prosecutors, was to acquire retail marijuana licenses in Nevada and other states. In September 2018, Parnas, Fruman, Correia, Kukushkin and the foreign national met in Las Vegas to discuss the venture, the indictment charges. However, the group made efforts to hide the foreign national’s role because of what Kukushkin allegedly described as the businessman’s “Russian roots and current political paranoia about it.”
To fund the effort, the Russian businessman allegedly gave the others two payments totaling $1 million, and the American partners set out to try to win political support for their business plan. The four defendants “used those funds transferred by Foreign National-1, in part, to attempt to gain influence and the appearance of influence with politicians and candidates,” the indictment charges.
In October 2018, Parnas, Fruman and Kukushkin attended a campaign rally for an unidentified political candidate in Nevada, an event also attended by a different Nevada state politician, according to the indictment. They sent their Russian moneyman photographs of themselves posing with the second candidate, officials said. After the event, Fruman donated $10,000 to that second candidate, but authorities say it was actually the Russian’s money.
The planned marijuana business faltered, however, when the men did not apply in time for a recreational marijuana license, missing a September 2018 deadline. Kukushkin told the Russian that they were “2 months to late to the game unless we change the rules” and suggested a particular Nevada state official’s support was needed to take it further.
Parnas and Fruman are charged with falsification of records and false statements to the Federal Election Commission; all four defendants are charged with conspiracy.
Parnas and Fruman have little history of political involvement but emerged suddenly in a circle of elite Trump donors after Parnas gave $50,000 to support Trump’s election in 2016, and a pro-Trump super PAC reported receiving $325,000 last year from a company the two men incorporated.
Prosecutors say Parnas and Fruman began scheming in March 2018 “to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working. To advance that scheme, they made a $325,000 contribution to an independent expenditure committee and a $15,000 donation to a second such committee,” according to the indictment.
A Justice Department official said Attorney General William P. Barr was first briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. He received more briefings in recent weeks, and was informed Wednesday evening that the men would be charged and taken into custody, the official said.
“He believed it was an important case, and so has been supportive of SDNY’s work on it,” the official said.
It was not immediately clear whether Barr had discussed the case with President Trump.
Parnas made his first large political contribution in 2016, when he gave $50,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Republican National Committee, the Trump campaign and GOP state parties, campaign finance records show.
Parnas has told The Washington Post that he decided to get involved politically because he was a passionate supporter of Trump’s candidacy after growing up in New York and selling Trump condos in the city when Trump’s late father, Fred Trump, was still running the Trump Organization.
In May 2018, about six months before the men began working with Giuliani on his Biden investigation, a Florida business established by Parnas received a $1.26 million wire transfer from an account whose owner was represented by a real estate lawyer who specializes in assisting foreign buyers of U.S. property, court documents and corporate filings show.
Two days later, America First, the main pro-Trump super PAC, reported receiving $325,000 from a company that Parnas and Fruman had incorporated the previous month called Global Energy Producers.
Last year, the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center filed a still-pending complaint with the FEC over the donation, alleging that it appeared to be a straw donation that masked the identity of the original contributor.
Parnas told the Miami Herald last week that the money for the super PAC donation was from proceeds from the sale of a Miami-area condominium. Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for the super PAC, has declined to comment on “ongoing legal matters.”
“I can tell you that we scrupulously adhere to all laws and regulations,” she said.
The real estate lawyer involved in the transfer, Russell S. Jacobs, did not respond to requests for comment.
House committees have asked Parnas and Fruman to turn over all documents and communications related to the donations and have sought depositions from both men.
Since late 2018, the two Florida-based business executives have been assisting Giuliani’s push to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden and his son, as well as Giuliani’s claim that Democrats conspired with Ukrainians in the 2016 campaign. They have also been pursuing opportunities in Ukraine for a new liquefied natural gas venture.
Parnas, a 47-year-old former stockbroker who was born in Ukraine, has told The Post that Giuliani is an attorney for the two men but declined to say what services he is providing them.
Parnas said he and Fruman helped set up a Skype call for Giuliani in late 2018 with Viktor Shokin, who was Ukraine’s prosecutor general from 2015 to 2016, and an in-person meeting in New York in January 2019 with Yuri Lutsenko, then Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.