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What’s up with Giuliani’s associates and Florida? 5 things to know

One takeaway: there are still unanswered questions.
This combination of Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, photos provided by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office shows booking photos of Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman. The associates of Rudy Giuliani, 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 men had key roles in Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Biden and his son, Hunter. (Alexandria Sheriff's Office via AP) [AP]
Published Oct. 15
Updated Oct. 15

It’s been less than a week since two South Florida businessmen and associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — were arrested on charges of campaign finance violations after allegedly using a front company to illegally funnel foreign money into U.S. elections. The men are both U.S. citizens but have deep ties to the Ukraine, and were helping Giuliani in his efforts to gather information on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the country.

In this short time since their arrest, information about these men — and their many Florida connections — has been spilling out in a deluge of news stories, with new information being revealed almost every day: Their political donations to Florida candidates. Their business headquartered in Boca Raton. The trails of lawsuits in Florida and elsewhere that follow them.

RELATED: Florida businessmen with ties to Giuliani, Ukraine arrested

Here are top things to know (so far) about Parnas and Fruman’s crossovers into the world of Florida politics, plus big remaining question yet to be answered:

CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

1. They financially supported the campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Through their Delaware corporation, Global Energy Producers, the two men donated $50,000 to DeSantis’ campaign for governor in June 2018. After news of their arrest broke, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said they would give the money to the federal government.

RELATED: DeSantis to return $50,000 he received from arrested Florida businessmen

But Parnas also helped host two fundraisers for DeSantis’ campaign in the summer and fall of 2018, one of which was in an intimate affair that had fewer than 30 people, including the future governor.

Additionally, as a Tampa Bay Times photo from Election Night 2018 makes evident, both Parnas and Fruman were at DeSantis’ watch party where he gave his victory speech on November 6 at a hotel in Orlando. The photo shows DeSantis smiling across from Parnas while Fruman takes a photo of the interaction with his iPhone.

Ferré has said repeatedly that to her knowledge, DeSantis has never had a one-on-one meeting with the men. As donors to his campaign, it’s likely they were invited to the event, which is standard procedure.

2. They received payments from a powerful lobbying firm based in Florida and Washington.

According to multiple reports, Ballard Partners, a firm with major clout in both Tallahassee and Washington that played a definitive role in DeSantis’ campaign, paid Parnas $45,000 for client referrals. It is unclear who Parnas referred to the firm, but Ballard Partners has said the clients were unrelated to the Ukraine.

3. They lobbied a Florida Congressman.

Former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Miami, said recently on MSNBC that Parnas and Fruman lobbied him while he was a member of Congress on marijuana issues.

"They had an air of flamboyance to them,” Curbelo said during his TV appearance, adding that they boasted of White House ties and being “frequent guests at Mar-a-Lago.”

The indictment against the men revealed that they unsuccessfully tried to set up a recreational marijuana business funded by an unidentified foreign national, and needed recreational marijuana licenses “in particular states, including Nevada.”

Sen. Rick Scott | AP

4. They donated to other Florida politicians.

In addition to the DeSantis donation, Fruman, Parnas, and their companies donated $20,400 to Sen. Rick Scott, whose office said he would donate the money to Shriners Hospital, a network of nonprofit hospitals for children headquartered in Tampa.

They also gave $2,400 to U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican who represents the area east of Lake Okeechobee, who has since said he would also return the funds.

Finally, they also gave a total of $35,000 to former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who lost against DeSantis in the primary. Putnam, who now works for Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands conservation group, has not made any public comments about the donation.

5. We still don’t know why they sought a foothold in Florida.

While the indictment against Parnas and Fruman lays out some of their motivations in other states, such as their efforts to set up a marijuana business in Nevada, it does not mention their political donations in Florida or elaborate on why they were so interested in the state.

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