MANHATTAN (CN) — Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani while the latter was the personal attorney for then-President Donald Trump, was sentenced to 20 months in prison on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken sentenced Parnas on seven counts, most of which stem from his trial conviction last year on election donation conspiracy charges. Parnas later pleaded guilty to a severed count in connection with misleading investors in his company, the aptly named Fraud Guarantee.
Explaining why Parnas got a longer sentence than the year and a day that his three co-defendants received, Oetken said Wednesday that “none of them had as significant role overall in all three schemes as Mr. Parnas."
The Ukraine-born Parnas, 50, asked to serve out his bid at Otisville Correctional Facility, the medium-security prison located in Orange County, New York, requested by other Jewish, white-collar criminals like Michael Cohen and Sheldon Silver.
Before finding his way into the inner circle of lobbyists and fundraisers in Trump’s Washington. Parnas had never even made a political donation in the U.S. before.
His weeklong federal trial in October 2021 described a scheme through which Parnas and co-defendant Andrey Kukushin, 49, facilitated and concealed illegal political donations in U.S. elections that were funded by wealthy Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev.
On Wednesday, defense attorney Joseph Bondy lobbied Judge Oetken to give Parnas a sentence of time served out of respect to the contributions Parnas made to Trump’s first impeachment inquiry.
“It was a matter of national importance that impacted all of us,” Bondy said proudly. “It was of great significance to the American public, it was of great significance to this nation — and it was scary.”
Downplaying the defendant's contributions, however, prosecutors noted that Parnas was compelled to testify by a subpoena from Congress, making his conduct “far short” of the extraordinary cooperation that can earn individuals leniency at sentencing.
The Obama-appointed Oetken appeared to agree. “I don’ think it was extraordinary cooperation,” the judge said Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski meanwhile emphasized the scope and extent of Parnas’ convicted conduct, saying it “calls out for a substantial term of imprisonment.”
“He didn’t make a momentary bad decision," she said at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday. "He didn’t lie once. He lied over and over again."
Parnas choked up at the courtroom lectern while apologizing directly to victims of his various frauds. “I never knew that I was doing wrong ... I always thought I was going to do the right thing.”
Tearfully, he described recent soul searching aided by Gamblers Anonymous and counseling from his rabbi.
The court also heard Wednesday from a Republican donor and Long Island personal injury attorney who said the "gregarious" Parnas duped him out of $500,000 to pay Giuliani. In a brief but fiery speech that hit a Long Island-accented crescendo, Charles Gucciardo called for significant punishment against the man he once prayed with at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
“I swindled by a guy who I thought was my friend,” Gucciardo told the court. “He is one of the best, finest conmen that I have ever seen.
“Am I supposed to feel bad that, in some way or another, his name is being besmirched,” he barked. “That’s not how it works in this country.”
The government’s six-count superseding indictment accused Parnas and Kukushikin of funneling $1 million of foreign funds from Muraviev in two $500,000 political contributions as part of an effort to expand his foothold on legal marijuana businesses in the United States.
While somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000 was actually used for campaign contributions, Judge Oetken noted on Wednesday the amount relevant to the conspiracy conviction was the plan to receive $1 million to influence and obstruct American elections.
Southern District of New York prosecutors unsealed a superseding indictment in March that charges Muraviev with making illegal political contributions as a foreign national, and conspiring to make illegal political contributions as a foreign national in the names of straw donors. Muraviev is believed to be in Russia and remains at large.
The government says Muraviev and Parnas sought to buy up marijuana retail licenses in states that had legalized recreational use but were nervous about attaching Muraviev’s name to political donations because of “his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it” amid special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The October 2019 arrest of Parnas and his business partner Igor Fruman at Dulles airport — they were heading out of the country with one-way tickets to Vienna — occurred in the thick of Mueller’s investigation, just days after reports emerged that Giuliani sought profits for Soviet-born real estate entrepreneurs in Ukraine.
Parnas pleaded guilty in March to the additional fraud charge that was severed from the campaign finance indictment. This count accused Parnas and David Correia of misleading potential investors to invest in Fraud Guarantee, the same company Parnas used to hire Giuliani in a relationship that has drawn scrutiny from federal prosecutors.
The bombshell charges instantly reverberated on Capitol Hill. House Democrats had issued subpoenas to Parnas and Fruman in connection with Trump’s then-ongoing first impeachment inquiry.
The two men were both represented at the time by John Dowd, Trump’s former lawyer, who told Congress they would refuse to comply with the depositions.
Parnas, Kukushkin, Fruman and Correia all pleaded not guilty initially in October 2019.
The businessmen’s past connections to Giuliani did not net last-minute relief for any of the four during Trump’s slew of pardons during the final week of his presidential term.
Judge Oetken gave Correia and Fruman sentences of a year and a day, but each are eligible for good-time credits that could potentially shave off 54 days for a sentence actually under one year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos, who previously landed a three-year sentence for Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen, was the lead prosecutor on the case.
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