DeSantis campaign hasn’t returned $213k from man charged in illegal donor scheme

Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja is considered a fugitive and is fighting extradition to the U.S.
Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja, described in court filings as a fugitive, currently lives abroad and is fighting extradition.
Ahmad "Andy" Khawaja, described in court filings as a fugitive, currently lives abroad and is fighting extradition. [ AL DIAZ/ADIAZ@MIAMIHERALD.COM | Miami Herald ]
Published Oct. 27, 2022|Updated Oct. 27, 2022

Gov. Ron DeSantis has millions at his disposal, yet his campaign has not returned $213,000 in contributions from a fugitive charged with making illegal straw donations.

The donations came from Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja, the owner of an online payments processing company called Allied Wallet Inc., and one of Khawaja’s companies. Khawaja now faces straw donor and wire fraud charges connected to his California-based business.

Khawaja, described in court filings as a fugitive, currently lives abroad and is fighting extradition.

Khawaja donated to DeSantis during his first run for governor in 2018. At the time, one of DeSantis’ opponents, former Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, called for DeSantis to join other politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who either returned Khawaja’s contributions or donated the money to charity following reports of suspicious activity by Khawaja and his company.

Related: Putnam calls on DeSantis to return donations from California businessman with questionable clients

But campaign finance records indicate that neither the DeSantis campaign nor the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC ever returned or gave away Khawaja’s contributions — even after the Justice Department indicted Khawaja and eight others for conspiracy to conceal excessive campaign contributions, among other related charges.

The DeSantis campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Khawaja originally rose to prominence when he donated over $4 million to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in 2016. But after Donald Trump secured the presidency, Khawaja pivoted his contributions to Republicans, including Trump and DeSantis.

The 2019 indictment claims Khawaja disguised the source of $3.5 million of the donations on behalf of George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman also known for his work in international diplomacy in Russia and the Middle East. Nader often met with officials in the Trump administration and served as a witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Nader pleaded guilty to child pornography and transportation of a minor for sexual purposes in 2020 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He received a prior conviction for similar crimes in 1991, for which he only served six months.

The indictment does not mention candidates who received donations by name, though it does describe one of the recipients as “a candidate for the Office of the President of the United States in the 2016 election.” It references other donations to federal elected officials and campaign committees but not specifically to those in state races.

Prosecutors say Khawaja and Nader used the straw donations to gain political access and advance the interests of the foreign governments associated with their businesses.

In March, a federal jury acquitted two of the men implicated in the scheme, including Mohammad Diab, Khawaja’s cousin and the chief operating officer of his payments company.

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Nader pleaded guilty, along with four others involved in the case.

The Justice Department filed additional charges against Khawaja in 2021 for wire fraud connected to Allied Wallet. The indictment alleges that Khawaja and his associates, including Diab, solicited clients involved in “high risk” behavior and concealed their financial activity through sham businesses, fake websites and shell companies.

A 2018 investigation by The Associated Press found that Allied Wallet serviced debt collectors, offshore gambling companies and phone sex businesses and helped them circumvent bank policies, credit rules and likely some laws preventing money laundering.

Khawaja was arrested in Lithuania in 2019, but he continues to fight extradition. A federal judge has declared him a fugitive.

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