Lev Parnas found guilty on campaign finance charges
By Lauren del Valle
(CNN) -- Rudy Giuliani's former associate Lev Parnas was convicted on six counts related to "influence buying" campaign finance schemes.
A jury of eight men and four women found Parnas guilty of scheming with co-conspirators to use a Russian backer's money to fund political contributions they hoped to trade for political favor for their budding joint cannabis venture.
The Ukrainian businessman was also convicted for using money from Igor Fruman - who previously pleaded guilty -- and a fake company to funnel hundreds of thousands in political contributions to GOP and pro-Donald Trump committees and then lying about it to the Federal Election Commission.
A $325,000 donation to the America First Action Super PAC at issue in the case was first flagged in a 2018 FEC complaint.
Parnas faces up to five years in prison for each of five counts and a sixth count for falsifying records to the FEC carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
Co-defendant Andrey Kukushkin was also found guilty on two counts connected to his role in facilitating the campaign donations paid for with his Russian boss's money.
Kukushkin's charges each carry a five-year maximum prison sentence.
Parnas spoke outside court on Friday afternoon, saying, "Obviously I'm upset, but at this time I just want to get home to my wife and kids and deal with it. I want to thank (my) lawyers, Joe and Stephanie. They put out an incredible fight, I mean, incredible. We got to reassess what happened in there and figure out what the next steps are."
Judge J. Paul Oetken denied a prosecution motion to remand both defendants into custody, saying he does not believe either is a flight risk.
Sentencing for Parnas will likely be deferred given his pending second trial on one count related to the Fraud Guarantee allegations, the judge said. Kukushkin is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-February.
Parnas stared straight ahead at the jury as the jury foreman read the verdict. Kukushkin shook his head as they read guilty on each count against him.
Arrested at airport
The verdict comes two years after Parnas and Fruman were arrested at a Washington-area airport as they were boarding a flight to Vienna. The arrest came amid the House Democrats' investigation -- and eventual impeachment trial -- of then-President Trump and launched two unknown Florida businessmen with shaky track records onto the global stage.
Parnas ultimately did not testify but he appeared to seriously consider the move in his own defense. Prosecutors were hoping to question Parnas on his quid pro quo propositions to Ukrainian politicians for Trump Giuliani's behest -- a situation he openly discussed with Anderson Cooper on CNN.
Oetken also said Parnas' alleged "Fraud Guarantee" scheme to defraud investors in his fake company would have been fair game to an extent. Parnas still faces a trial related to those allegations and a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit.
Kukushkin attorney Gerald Lefcourt told jurors in his closing argument that his client was nothing more than an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur working for a wealthy Russian businessman and they were duped by Parnas and Fruman who scammed them out of $1 million.
"Parnas and Fruman represented themselves as associated with the President, the president's lawyer and all these important people," Lefcourt said. "It looked good on the surface, even though it was all baloney."
Kukushkin declined to testify. His counsel did not call any witnesses in his defense and often declined to cross examine several prosecution witnesses. Oetken denied a previous request for a separate trial from Parnas ahead of the trial.
Connection to GOP politics
During the trial, jurors didn't hear about Parnas' life crisscrossing Europe with Giuliani to compile what he claimed to be damaging information on then-presidential-candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter -- but Trump and his personal attorney were not absent from the case.
Prosecutors showed jurors several photos of Parnas and Fruman grinning next to Trump, Giuliani and other high-profile Republican figures like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
On Tuesday, America First Action Financial Director Joseph Ahearn testified with immunity as the only witness called in the defense case by Parnas' counsel.
Ahearn placed Parnas in the room at several exclusive events and intimate donor dinners with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and California GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy at Mar a Lago and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
Ahearn testified that he first met Parnas in person at a "pre sale" joint financing committee event for potential deep-pocketed GOP donors in February 2018.
Ahearn said former New York Assemblyman Stephen Katz put Parnas on his fundraising radar, advertising Parnas as wealthy and politically connected. He invited him to that first exclusive event understanding Parnas to have a history of big donations to Trump in 2016, Ahearn testified.
During the trial, jurors also saw text messages from Ahearn pushing for Parnas to make good on large donation commitments to America First Action and the Protect the House committee to secure VIP access to GOP candidates and events.
Parnas' defense argued that he didn't want to wait to start the GEP bank account for the "start-up" company to send the $325,000 to the Super PAC because Ahearn pushed him for the money so Parnas wouldn't lose out on "swanky VIP events," defense attorney Joseph Bondy reasoned during his closing argument.
"You don't get to those events without paying the piper," Bondy said.
Ahearn said he confronted Parnas in July 2018 about media articles questioning the legitimacy of Global Energy Producers and its donation to America First Action but acknowledged he continued to work with Parnas for months despite the FEC complaint flagging the $325,000 donation.
Parnas' former assistant Deanna Janse Van Rensburg also testified under immunity that she helped Parnas and Fruman transact more than $500,000 in campaign contributions and tickets for political events for GOP politicians and committees often coordinating with Ahearn and other campaign staffers.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
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