Imaad Zuberi — a venture capitalist who gave significant money to Democrats and Republicans over the years — was accused by federal prosecutors in New York of trying to hide from investigators that a $900,000 donation he made to Trump’s inaugural committee was actually funded by others, court records show.
Zuberi already had pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Los Angeles to an array of charges stemming from a lobbying scheme in which he arranged illegal campaign contributions, hid his work from the government and cheated on his taxes.
David Kelley, Zuberi’s attorney, said he had reached an agreement with federal prosecutors in New York to transfer the new matter to Los Angeles, where Zuberi intends to plead guilty. Provided the arrangement is approved by the court, he would presumably be sentenced on the West Coast in connection with both matters.
Kelley said Zuberi had reached “a plea agreement. It’s not a cooperation agreement.” He said the agreement “brings closure” for Zuberi’s part of the investigation involving the Trump inaugural committee.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Zuberi, who ran the Los Angeles-based firm Avenue Ventures and gave millions to various politicians over the years, once seemed a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, backing her campaign with more than $600,000. But after Trump won the election, Zuberi seemed to change course — giving $900,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee and $100,000 to pay off debt from the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The new charges center on the $900,000 contribution. Prosecutors allege that although Zuberi made it in the name of his firm, Avenue Ventures, it was actually funded by other sources, including a man they identified only as Donor-1.
Prosecutors allege that Zuberi deleted emails to and from people who gave him money around the time he made the donation, including messages with a foreign national who transferred about $5.8 million to the account Zuberi used to pay out the $900,000. When investigators confronted Zuberi about the deletions, he contacted his email service provider to ask how he could ensure that copies of his messages were not stored on a server, prosecutors allege.
The foreign national is identified in court records only as Donor-2.
Prosecutors allege that Zuberi asked Donor-1 to make a donation to the committee in exchange for exclusive access to inaugural events, and that the donor gave Zuberi a $50,000 check. Zuberi, they allege, did not tell the committee or the Federal Election Commission that money was a part of his $900,000 donation.
The donor ultimately decided not to attend the inaugural festivities and asked for his money back, federal prosecutors allege. Zuberi, they allege, initially did not do so.
Then, in early February, news broke that prosecutors had issued a subpoena to the Trump inaugural committee and were investigating the source of its funds, including Zuberi’s donation. Zuberi, prosecutors allege, requested an in-person meeting with the donor, asking whether he had been contacted by investigators.
The donor, prosecutors allege, asked for his money back, and Zuberi refused, relenting only when the donor reminded him that the phrase “Inauguration 17” was written on his $50,000 check. Zuberi then wrote his own $50,000 check, prosecutors allege, calling it a “refund” in the memo line and backdating it to make it seem as though he wrote it before learning of the investigation.