Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman are accused of conspiring to ‘funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office’.
Igor Fruman, who tried to find damaging information in Ukraine about then-US presidential candidate Joe Biden before the 2020 election, pleaded guilty on Friday to one criminal count in a campaign finance case.
Fruman, 56, a former associate of former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, admitted at a US District Court hearing in New York City to soliciting money from a foreign national.
Fruman becomes the latest person associated with Trump to face criminal charges. Eight others have been charged or pleaded guilty to crimes including lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, conspiracy, witness tampering, and bank and tax fraud.
The Belarus-born Fruman and his former business partner, Ukraine-born businessman Lev Parnas, were charged in October 2019 with concealing an illegal $325,000 donation to support Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
They and another defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, were also charged with illegally using donations to US politicians from a Russian businessman to obtain legal recreational cannabis distribution licences.
Fruman’s plea relates to that business. In a statement to the court, Fruman said he had envisioned making donations to Democratic and Republican officials in US states where he wanted to operate and sent a list of those officials to the foreign national.
“At that time, I had little experience in the rules surrounding political donations,” Fruman said.
“But I generally understood that foreign nationals and individuals who are not American citizens were not allowed to make political donations in the United States.”
“I deeply regret my actions and apologize to the court and the United States government,” he added.
A federal prosecutor said $1m was wired as part of the scheme.
Lawyers for Parnas and Kukushkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Reuters news service.
Parnas and Kukushkin have pleaded not guilty and face an October 12 trial.
Fruman’s plea does not include an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors examining Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, including whether the one-time New York City mayor violated lobbying laws while serving as Trump’s personal lawyer.
Giuliani had enlisted Fruman and Parnas to help uncover dirt about then-presidential candidate Biden and his son, Hunter.
Prosecutors said Fruman and Parnas also aided an effort to remove then-US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who Trump fired in May 2019.
Giuliani has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Federal agents seized cell phones and computers in searches of his home and office in April.
Giuliani’s New York law licence was suspended in June after a court found he lied by arguing that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
The case against Parnas had included a charge he conned people into investing more than $2m in a fraudulent insurance company, Fraud Guarantee, but prosecutors last month removed that charge from an amended indictment.
A fourth defendant, David Correia, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge related to Fraud Guarantee and was sentenced in February to one year and one day in prison.