NEW YORK — Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born former associate of Rudy Giuliani, was sentenced to 20 months in prison Wednesday for defrauding investors in a sham company and illegally making donations to U.S. political candidates on behalf of a Russian oligarch.
Parnas and co-defendant Igor Fruman made headlines for weeks after they were arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport and charged with backing U.S. candidates with a Russian businessman’s money in 2018 and making other illegal campaign donations. Fruman pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to a year in prison. Andrey Muraviev, the Russian oligarch, was also charged but has not been brought to the United States to face his indictment.
U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken said federal sentencing guidelines suggested a sentence of at least 6½ years for Parnas. He gave Parnas credit for what he and his lawyer have described as ongoing voluntary rehabilitation efforts, including helping Ukrainian victims of the Russian invasion. But the judge noted that campaign finance violations like those committed by Parnas can “corrupt our system,” adding that Parnas “told repeated lies” to win the trust of his victims.
“Not content to defraud investors in his business, Fraud Guarantee, out of more than $2 million dollars, Parnas also defrauded the American public by pumping Russian money into U.S. elections and lying about the source of funds for political contributions,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement after the hearing.
Parnas said he’s been attending counseling and Gamblers Anonymous sessions in addition to weekly visits with a rabbi who offers him spiritual guidance.
“I have not been a good person,” he told the judge tearfully. The victims of his fraud scheme, he added, “are all people who were my friends. These are all people who trusted me.”
Parnas was convicted at trial on campaign-finance related charges last year and pleaded guilty separately to stealing investment funds through the bogus start-up enterprise. He was ordered to surrender to federal custody Aug. 15 to begin the prison sentence.
Oetken ordered Parnas, who pocketed at least $2 million from the fraud scheme, to pay $2.3 million in restitution. It is unclear if he will be able to do so. Defense lawyer Joseph Bondy said at the sentencing that Parnas — who appeared in court with his wife and infant daughter — has “most recently” been working as a nighttime DoorDash delivery person.
Bondy asked Oetken to treat his client with leniency because he complied with congressional subpoenas, but the judge declined to do so. “What’s exceptional is that other people refused to comply,” he said.
Parnas’s victims said in court that his crimes cannot be erased by his recent attempts to better himself.
Charles Gucciardo, a personal injury lawyer who lost $500,000 that he invested in Fraud Guarantee, said he trusted the venture in part because Giuliani was a consultant and spokesperson for it. The 65-year-old Long Island resident said he is a longtime fan of Giuliani and his tough-on-crime policies as mayor.
The fact that Giuliani was Trump’s attorney at the time Gucciardo made the investment also gave him confidence. “I don’t care what your politics are — he’s still the president of the United States,” he said. “What more do I need to believe my money was safe?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski said Wednesday that Giuliani’s firm, Giuliani Partners, “did in essence a Google search” while retained by Fraud Guarantee, which purported to offer software that would protect other companies from exposure to fraud. For that work, it was paid a $500,000 consulting fee.
Giuliani has denied knowing Fraud Guarantee was a fraud. He has not been charged in the case.
In his statement in court, Gucciardo said he still trusts the former mayor, who has been largely discredited over his relentless embrace of Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 elections, among other things.
“My bet is that he’s going to give me that money back, because he knows he didn’t use it for Fraud Guarantee,” Gucciardo said.
Donaleski said Parnas lied to investors, telling them he used millions of his own money to get the company off the ground. Really, he was transferring other people’s funds to himself to buy jewelry and furniture and to pay for expenses like stays at luxury hotels.
“He wanted to feel important,” she argued. “He wanted to seem powerful [and] rich.”