At least one of the South Florida businessmen who was arrested last week on campaign finance violations was an attendee of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ watch party on Election Night in November 2018, according to a Tampa Bay Times photo and a video posted to Twitter by a Reuters reporter Monday afternoon.
In a photograph by Times deputy director of photography Chris Urso, Lev Parnas is shown across from DeSantis, the two apparently looking at each other, as DeSantis smiles broadly as he greets the crowd at his Election Night watch party. It appears that the second arrested South Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, is taking a photo of Parnas and DeSantis with his phone.
In the video, Parnas is seen in the left of the frame, his top buttons undone, smiling amid the chaos of the watch party. DeSantis had just finished speaking on stage to give his victory speech, and was answering questions before a mass of TV cameras and reporters about his comeback win.
Parnas, along with Igor Fruman, helped President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, look into Trump’s political opponents in Ukraine and have been subpoenaed as part of the impeachment inquiry against the president.
The businessmen were charged by federal prosecutors in New York with attempting to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns. The alleged scheme included straw donations in which the pair hid the true source of their political contributions by sending them through a Delaware corporation.
That corporation donated $50,000 to DeSantis’ campaign for governor, money which DeSantis announced he would “return” to the federal government following the news of the pair’s arrest. Parnas also hosted two fundraisers for the future governor in the summer and fall of 2018.
In response to a question about whether Parnas was invited by the campaign, Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said the Election Night event was “open to the public.”
“The governor knows Parnas through Republican campaign events in 2018,” she said. “Governor DeSantis has not met one-on-one with Parnas and has not seen or spoken to him since taking office.”