Two South Florida businessmen who worked this year to help President Donald Trump’s personal attorney pursue dirt in Ukraine on his political foes pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a Manhattan federal courtroom to campaign finances charges.
Appearing with their attorneys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman said they will fight allegations in a grand jury indictment that they used a shell company to secretly steer hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of it foreign money — into congressional campaigns and political committees.
They are facing two counts of conspiracy, and one count each of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. Parnas promised to vigorously fight the charges.
The indictment filed this month in the Southern District of New York does not mention Trump, or refer to the ongoing impeachment investigation of the president over his actions in regard to Ukraine. But an attorney representing Parnas, Edward MacMahon, said he was concerned that documents sought by the federal government in their prosecution of Parnas and Fruman could run afoul of executive privilege due to their efforts to help Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in his efforts to represent the president.
Parnas, 47, and Fruman, 53, were arrested by the FBI Oct. 9 at Dulles International Airport, where prosecutors say they were catching a one-way flight out of the country. Two of their business associates, Andrey Kukushkin and David Correia, were arrested in San Francisco and New York, respectively, and charged with conspiracy.
Kukushkin, 46, and Correia, 44, pleaded not guilty last week.
Prosecutors accused the four men of secretly steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal foreign money last year to federal and state campaigns through a shell company. According to a grand jury indictment, the men hoped to purchase political influence while pursuing marijuana licenses in multiple states and while lobbying at least one member of Congress on behalf of a Ukrainian government official to remove the U.S. ambassador to the country.
The arrest of Fruman and Parnas drew national attention due to their already controversial work in Ukraine this year as unofficial emissaries for Giuliani.
The naturalized U.S. citizens — Parnas is from Ukraine, Fruman from Belarus — were helping to push the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and to pursue a debunked theory that Russian elections interference was actually a conspiracy that began in Ukraine. They were subpoenaed this month after refusing to voluntarily cooperate with three U.S. House committees leading an impeachment investigation into Trump.
Meanwhile, Fruman, Parnas, and their two associates are also being investigated for campaign finance fraud. A grand jury indictment alleges that the men used a shell company called Global Energy Producers to funnel foreign and personal money into campaigns and political committees around the country.
Investigators said last week during an arraignment hearing for Correia and Kukushkin that they’ve culled details on the men’s activities from more than 50 bank accounts after serving search warrants. Parnas agreed to file a financial affidavit in order to be freed Monday from federal jail in Virginia, and his wife, Svetlana Parnas, agreed to turn over bank records.
BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday that a grand jury subpoena issued in Florida last week sought information related to money transfers worth millions of dollars to and from accounts belonging to Parnas and Fruman.
It’s unclear how much overlap there is or will be between the ongoing criminal prosecution and Congress’ impeachment investigation.
Pictures posted by Fruman and Parnas on their social media accounts show the South Florida socialites attended occasional events with Trump, going back to before he became a presidential candidate. Their interactions with Trump appear to have increased once he launched his campaign, after which they began attending GOP fundraisers and showing up in pictures with the president, his eldest son, and Giuliani.
Parnas also raised money for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pushed his political committee to disgorge a $50,000 donation contributed last year by Global Energy Producers. The donation was not mentioned in the indictment.
DeSantis said last week that he knew Parnas as “one of the top supporters of the president in Florida.” Their home state is not mentioned in the indictment, but the men were pursuing a medical marijuana license in Florida as well, according to sources.
Miami Herald reporter David Smiley reported from Miami. Kelsey Neubauer reported from New York.