LOS ANGELES (CN) — A California venture capitalist who donated $1 million to former President Donald Trump’s inauguration was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in federal prison for concealing his work as a foreign agent and obstructing a federal investigation into his contribution.
Through his San Francisco-based venture capital firm Avenue Ventures LLC, Imaad Shah Zuberi lobbied U.S. officials for years on behalf of foreign governments such as Turkey and Libya.
Zuberi, 50, also told foreign governments he could use his influence in Washington to affect U.S. foreign policy and even coax favorable business opportunities — for himself and his clients — through his dealings, according to prosecutors.
Using the consulting fees and investment funds his client paid him, Zuberi sculpted an image of himself as an effective, smooth-dealing Washington insider who employed a team of lobbyists and public relations professionals.
As proof of his bona fides, Zuberi distributed images of himself discussing policy affairs with various government officials.
But as his personal wealth surged, his business dealings collapsed and his efforts to affect U.S. foreign policy became increasingly deficient. Investors, lobbyists and consultants suffered losses as the house of cards tumbled, according to court papers.
In an example of his unlawful dealings, prosecutors said Zuberi registered to lobby for U.S. Cares, a company he claimed would export humanitarian aid to Iran.
Investors paid Zuberi $7 million for the project but instead he used 90% of the funds to purchase real estate and pay off his credit card and mortgage debts.
In a separate instance, Zuberi lobbied Bahrain officials to lift sanctions on his client, a Bahraini national, to facilitate investment in a large resort project that Avenue Ventures purportedly had a large stake in.
Zuberi then lobbied Congress to pressure Bahrain to cease its interference in the project that Zuberi — who appeared an honest U.S. investor — was tied to.
A dozen members of Congress sent letters to the government of Bahrain requesting relevant action.
But the effort was part of a scheme to aid the Bahraini national who paid Zuberi consulting fees for orchestrating the ruse, according to prosecutors.
In November 2019, as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, Zuberi pleaded guilty to tax evasion and violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act for failing to register as an agent of the Bahraini national.
As part of the plea agreement, Zuberi also pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Election Campaign Act for making or soliciting more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
In June 2020, Zuberi pleaded guilty in a separate case to obstructing a federal investigation into his nearly $1 million donation to Trump’s inauguration committee.
A bulk of the funds Zuberi donated to the committee came from other donors, including a $50,000 check from a man identified later by Bloomberg as the political operative Sam Patten.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York had informed Zuberi as early as 2018 that he was the subject of an investigation into his contributions, according to court papers.
The 144-month sentence handed down Thursday by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips pertains to both cases.
In the sentencing hearing, Phillips also ordered Zuberi to pay $15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement the federal investigation and resulting prison sentence for Zuberi would improve U.S. election transparency.
“Mr. Zuberi flouted federal laws that restrict foreign influences upon our government and prohibit injecting foreign money into our political campaigns. He enriched himself by defrauding his clients and evading the payment of taxes,” Wilkison said. “Today’s sentence, which also accounts for Mr. Zuberi’s attempt to obstruct an investigation into his felonious conduct, underscores the importance of our ongoing efforts to maintain transparency in U.S. elections and policy-making processes.”
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