(NEW YORK) — Two men who reportedly have assisted Rudy Giuliani in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s family have been arrested and were charged Thursday in connection with an alleged scheme to circumvent federal laws against foreign campaign donations
The two men were arrested Wednesday night at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, just outside Washington, as they attempted to leave the country, an official said.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born businessmen based in Florida, have been charged with four counts by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud, false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and falsification of records. Both Parnas and Fruman have been tied to the work done by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in Ukraine where Giuliani has had significant business interests.
The indictment outlines a “foreign national donor scheme” alleging the men “conspired to circumvent the federal law against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates ….” The indictment, details how the four defendants allegedly funneled “$1-2 million” from a Russian donor into the U.S. political system between June 2018 and April of this year.
“The defendants, and others known and unknown, conspired to make political donations – funded by Foreign National-1 – to politicians and candidates for federal and state office to gain influence with candidates as to policies that would benefit a future business venture,” the indictment says.
The group partnered in this effort by concealing the origins of their money and laundering the Russian national’s funds through a recreational marijuana business. According to Kukushkin’s words quoted in the indictment, the group wanted to hide the source of the money due to “his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it.”
Additionally, Parnas and Fruman allegedly made a series of illegal straw donations that included a $325,000 donation to the pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action, and prosecutors allege that the two violated the law by falsely reporting the origin of those funds as under the name of “Global Energy Producers.”
That donation was initially the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint last year accusing the two of making an illegal straw donation by disguising the original source of the contribution.
In the indictment, prosecutors also outline an alleged scheme by Parnas and Fruman to raise $20,000 for a “then-sitting U.S. Congressman,” who “had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million” from America First Action during the 2018 midterms. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” Marie Yovanovitch.
The indictment doesn’t name the congressman, but the description matches ABC News’ reporting that Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, had benefited from $3 million in backing from the super PAC during the 2018 cycle, and that during the same month that Parnas raised funds for Sessions, Sessions wrote a letter calling for Yovanovitch’s immediate removal.
An aide to Sessions did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sessions’ relationship with Parnas and Fruman.
“These contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working,” the indictment said.
The super PAC, America First Action, wrote in a statement to ABC News that it takes its legal obligations seriously, and has not used the $325,000 donation in question because it is involved in a separate case.
“In May 2018, America First Action received a $325,000 contribution and donor form from Global Energy Producers. In July 2018, a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission concerning this contribution,” The statement reads. “There is also separate litigation pending in Florida that concerns these funds. Accordingly, America First Action placed that contribution in a segregated bank account, it has not been used it 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.”
According to a court document in a separate case filed by an investor in Global Energy Producers, the investor’s legal team wrote that Parnas and Fruman had bragged to him about their close relationships with key allies of the president, including Giuliani, former Trump-aide-turned Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard and Nick Ayers, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence.
Parnas and Fruman, who have been sent a letter from House Democrats last week requesting documents and deposition, along with Giuliani, recently hired President Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd. Dowd earlier this week announced in a statement that his clients won’t be able to comply with House Democrats’ request for documents and deposition, which are due this week.
Attempts to reach Dowd Thursday for comment were not immediately successful. The news of the arrests was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
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