By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK -A prosecutor on Thursday urged jurors in federal court to hold former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas “accountable” for campaign finance violations, in a trial over allegedly illicit efforts to conceal donations.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagan Scotten said the government had demonstrated that Parnas used funds from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev to contribute to U.S. candidates in various state and federal elections. Scotten said Parnas was trying to obtain licenses to operate cannabis companies.
“You saw the wires from Muraviev,” Scotten told the jury. “You saw how that money came out on the other side, finding its way into American elections, where the defendants thought they had bought influence to further their business.”
A Muraviev associate, Andrey Kukushkin, is being tried alongside Parnas.
Defense attorneys also made closing arguments in the trial’s ninth day in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
In his closing statement, Parnas’ attorney, Joseph Bondy, characterized his client as a passionate proponent of marijuana legalization who was “in well over his head.” He argued that Muraviev’s money funded business operations, not campaign contributions.
Parnas and Kukushkin face two counts of conspiring to make donations from a foreign national, and making the donations. Parnas alone faces four other counts, including making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
Parnas, a 49-year-old Florida resident, and Kukushkin, who lives in California, have both pleaded not guilty. Both men are Ukraine-born U.S. citizens.
Prosecutors also accused Parnas of making two contributions through a shell company to conceal that his onetime business partner Igor Fruman was the true source of the funds, and of lying to the FEC about the funds.
Bondy characterized Fruman’s funding as a “bona-fide capital investment” in an energy company that Parnas and Fruman started together.
“There was no effort to make a contribution in the name of another, whatsoever,” Bondy told jurors.
Fruman, a Belarus-born U.S. citizen who lives in Florida, pleaded guilty in September to one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21.
The trial has drawn attention because of the role Parnas and Fruman played in helping Giuliani – former President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney – investigate Democrat Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Biden won the November election, denying Trump a second term in the White House.
Giuliani’s attorney has said the Parnas case is separate from a probe into whether the former New York City mayor violated lobbying laws while representing Trump.
Giuliani, a former New York mayor, has not been charged with any crimes and denies wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)