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Soviet-born crony of Giuliani pleads guilty to straw-donor offense

Igor Fruman's change-of-plea hearing in Manhattan federal court came Friday amid an ongoing criminal probe of his onetime business partner in the White House.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Weeks ahead of an October criminal trial in New York federal court for some of the former partners with whom he was charged, a second businessman linked to Rudy Giuliani pleaded guilty Friday to a campaign finance crimes.

Along with fellow Giuliani-linked businessmen Lev Parnas and Andrey Kukushkin, Soviet-born Igor Fruman was indicted in October 2019, accused of funneling political donations through a limited liability company and employing straw donors to build support for their legal cannabis business. Their arrest occurred only days after reports that Giuliani, who was then-President Donald Trump's personal attorney at the time, sought profits for the men in Ukraine.

Fruman, 56, pleaded guilty on Friday morning to a single count of the government’s superseding indictment, which charged him with solicitation of a contribution by foreign national. He faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, with a guidelines maximum at 46 months incarceration.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos, who previously landed a three-year sentence for Trump's ex-fixer Michael Cohen, said on Friday that Fruman “willfully and knowingly” solicited the transfer of $1 million from a foreign national to a bank account located in the Southern District of New York.

Fruman’s guilty plea was not part of a cooperation agreement, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken noted at Friday’s hearing, which was held in-person with limited seating capacity at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in Lower Manhattan.

Briefly reciting a prepared allocution, Fruman explained that he solicited political donations from an “experienced investor in the cannabis space” who was going to make donations to Democrat and Republican politicians to try to win support for Fruman's new recreational marijuana business with Parnas and Kukushkin.

“I deeply regret my actions and apologize to the court and the United States government for this conduct,” Fruman said at the 30-minute hearing. He is set to be sentenced on Jan. 21, 2022.

This Facebook screen shot provided by The Campaign Legal Center, shows from left, Donald Trump, Jr., Tommy Hicks, Jr., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, posted on May 21, 2018. (The Campaign Legal Center via AP)

Fruman was represented by Manhattan-based attorney Todd Blanche, who previously won the dismissal of criminal charges against former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort.

“Mr. Fruman is not cooperating with the government and has determined that this is the fairest and best way to put the past two years of his life behind him,” Blanche wrote in a statement Friday. “He intends to continue to work hard, as he has his entire life, and raise his family in this country that he love,” the attorney added.

Parnas and Kukushkin have pleaded not guilty. Just last week, Judge Oetken refused to delay their Oct. 12 trial date on charges that they made illegal campaign contributions to U.S. politicians.

Fruman and Parnas were arrested together on Oct. 9, 2019, at Washington’s Dulles Airport, where the men held one-way tickets to Vienna, Austria. Their indictment said that the men created a limited liability corporation called Global Energy Producers to conceal their funding and capital from creditors and other third parties, then made large political contributions in that entity's name.

For over a year leading up to the arrests, reports had emerged about super-PACs supporting Trump receiving mysterious donations from Global Energy Producers. As Giuliani’s work in Ukraine became a pivot point of President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, that trail of money came into sharper relief.

In recent months, defense attorneys sought dismissal of Fruman, Parnas and Kukushkin's superseding indictments for what they called "a gross violation of the defendants’ attorney-client privilege,” arising from an email chain with attorneys and advisers related to their joint cannabis business venture. 

Amid those talks, federal investigators executed a search warrant in late April of Giuliani’s Manhattan apartment and office, seizing electronic devices in a predawn raid that coincided with the search warrant executed in the Washington area against Victoria Toensing, another Giuliani ally and onetime Trump attorney.

The 77-year-old former New York City mayor has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.

Parnas was, for a few short years, a mover and shaker among the elite donors, lawyers and lobbyists surrounding Trump. With his then-friend Giuliani, he was a key player in efforts to gin up political dirt in Ukraine, which led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives and then acquittal by the Senate earlier in 2020.

But during the impeachment investigation, Parnas flipped, supplying House investigators with thousands of files on the scheme he advanced to pressure Ukraine’s president to open investigations into Trump’s rival, Joe Biden. Despite this, he was never invited to testify.

Fruman refused to cooperate with House Democrats’ investigation.

Meanwhile, a review of electronics materials seized in raids on Giuliani continues before prosecutors decide whether his dealings with Ukrainian officials while he worked as a personal lawyer for then-President Donald Trump required him to register as a foreign agent.

A decision on whether to charge Giuliani with a crime is unlikely to occur before the court-appointed special master completes the task of separating privileged materials from other data pulled from 18 electronic devices taken during raids of Giuliani’s home and law office earlier this year.

Some phones belonged to employees of Giuliani’s law firm.

A fourth co-defendant linked to Parnas, David Correia, was sentenced in February to a year and a day in prison on separate counts for his involvement in a $2 million investor fraud scheme and lying to the government.

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