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Giuliani associate Igor Fruman pleads guilty in campaign-finance case

Igor Fruman, center, leaves federal court in Manhattan with his attorney Todd Blanche, left, after entering a guilty plea on Friday.
Igor Fruman, center, leaves federal court in Manhattan with his attorney Todd Blanche, left, after entering a guilty plea on Friday. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

NEW YORK — A Soviet-born businessman who assisted Rudolph W. Giuliani in his Ukrainian political efforts on behalf of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Friday to violating campaign finance laws, as others charged in the case prepare to stand trial.

Igor Fruman, 56, who was arrested with co-defendant Lev Parnas at Dulles International Airport in 2019, entered a guilty plea to one count of soliciting foreign campaign contributions and is expected to be sentenced Jan. 21 by U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken.

Prosecutors previously said there were two wire transfers from a Russian national totaling $1 million — in September and October 2018 — given with the expectation that the money would be donated to politicians in states where Fruman and his business associates believed they could get retail marijuana licenses.

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In federal court in Manhattan, Fruman admitted to knowing he could not make donations to candidates in U.S. elections on behalf of a foreign national. In a statement he drafted with his attorney, Fruman called the straw donor “an experienced investor in the cannabis space” and said the business plan involved making donations to “government officials” in states where marijuana was legalized.

One of his partners, whom Fruman didn’t name, made a list of Democratic and Republican candidates they should donate to, according to the prepared admission.

“At that time I had little experience in the rules surrounding political donations,” Fruman said, reading a statement while masked in the courtroom. “But I generally understood that foreign nationals and individuals who were not American citizens were not allowed to make political donations in the United States.”

Fruman’s attorney, Todd Blanche, said in a statement after the court appearance that his client “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.”

Per his agreement with prosecutors, Fruman had to plead only to one count out of several charges in the indictment. He faces a maximum of 46 months in prison.

Parnas and another man, Andrey Kukushkin, are slated to go on trial next month on several charges stemming from efforts to influence U.S. elections on behalf of foreign interests through donations.

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Parnas and Fruman’s ties to Giuliani played prominently in Trump’s first impeachment proceeding, in which the president was accused of abusing his authority by threatening to withhold $400 million in military aid from Ukraine if officials there did not announce a criminal investigation into candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Giuliani worked with Parnas and Furman to search for intelligence overseas that would incriminate Biden in advance of the 2020 election.

Giuliani has not been charged in connection to the alleged scheme but is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, whose office is prosecuting the Parnas-Fruman case.

The former New York mayor and prosecutor, who once headed the prestigious office that now has him under a microscope, has vehemently maintained his innocence. Investigators are evaluating whether Giuliani violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act in his interactions on behalf of his presidential client.

In April, a search warrant was executed at Giuliani’s home and law offices in Manhattan and FBI agents collected a number of electronic devices.

Oetken has appointed a special master to sort through the contents of the phones and computers for any communications that may be protected by attorney-client privilege.