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Ex-Giuliani associate Parnas pleads not guilty as trial looms, politics weigh By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: Lev Parnas (Ukrainian-American Businessman) speaks out in front the Manhattan Federal Court. This is New York’s Manhattan borough, U.S.A. on February 3, 2020. REUTERS/ Bryan R Smith/File Photograph

Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Lev Parnas was a former Rudy Giuliani lawyer who collected damaging information on Joe Biden prior to Donald Trump winning the 2020 election. Parnas pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced indictment that alleges campaign finance and other criminal offenses.

Parnas made his plea to U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken at Manhattan a week before the scheduled trial. Oetken signaled that he will work hard to ensure jurors are focused on the evidence without any bias, regardless of what their opinions were about Giuliani, Trump, or both.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born woman, was charged with hiding a $325,000 illegal donation in support of Trump’s failed re-election campaign.

Parnas, along with his codefendant Andrey Kukushkin were also accused of illegally using U.S. politicians’ donations from a Russian businessman in order to get legal, recreational cannabis distribution licenses. Kukushkin also plead not guilty.

Igor Fruman (a former co-defendant) pleaded guilty to soliciting foreign money in connection to the marijuana business on September 10. He will be sentenced in January.

Jury selection could take place on Oct. 12, and may last for two days. It is a reflection of what Gerald Lefcourt (Kukushkin’s lawyer) called the “polarized political climate”.

Oetken was told by Hagan Scotten, Assistant U.S. attorney, that the case of the government could be continued into the second week of the trial and that Trump and Giuliani would be mentioned “peripherally.”

Additionally, he stated that Trump’s feelings did not influence his trial last July when Stephen Calk, former Chicago bank chief was convicted for authorizing dangerous loans to Paul Manafort as part of an attempt to get a high-ranking administration position.

“I do not think it is appropriate to ask the question, “Do you hold strong opinions about Donald Trump?” In some way, who doesn’t? Scotten said.

Adam Laxalt (a Republican nominee for the 2020 Republican Senate nomination in Nevada), is expected to testify in government that he was deceived into thinking $10,000 worth of Fruman-related donations to his 2018 unsuccessful run for governor were genuine.

Oetken stated that Parnas cannot ask Laxalt his opinion on Trump’s victory over Biden, and it would be a “real distraction.”

Communications regarding Parnas’ possible guilty plea broke down several years ago.

Kukushkin was seeking a deferred prosecutor agreement, and the prosecution never made Kukushkin a plea offer.

Parnas had been charged in the case with conniving investors to make investments of more than 2 million dollars into a fraudulent insurance company called Fraud Guarantee. The indictment was dropped by the prosecutor in August.

Fruman did not agree to cooperate with prosecutors examining Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, including whether the onetime New York City mayor violated lobbying laws while serving as Trump’s personal lawyer.

Giuliani had engaged Parnas, Fruman and others to find dirt about Biden in Ukraine and Hunter prior to the 2020 election.

Prosecutors allege that Parnas as well as Fruman helped in the effort to expel then-U.S. Marie Yovanovitch was the Ambassador to Ukraine, which Trump dismissed in May 2019.

Giuliani is not being charged but has denied any wrongdoing.