NEW YORK – A prosecutor opened the trial of an associate of Rudy Giuliani Wednesday by blaming him for planning to use up to $1 million in money from a Russian financier to infiltrate U.S. elections to further his own business interests.
“That is what secret foreign money infiltrating American elections looks like. That it why we are here. That is what this trial is all about,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aline Flodr told the jury in Manhattan federal court.
Lev Parnas, 49, has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he conspired to make illegal campaign contributions. Prosecutors maintain he was trying to win favor with influential Republicans through hefty donations, including a $325,000 donation in 2018 to a super PAC supporting then-President Donald Trump.
They've said the Florida businessman bragged about his associations with Giuliani and Trump to help him in his business dealings. Flodr, however, did not describe this during her opening statement.
Parnas became known publicly for aiding Giuliani’s effort to convince the government of Ukraine to investigate the son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. That quest, though, is not expected to be part of a trial that is slated to last two weeks. Giuliani is not charged in the case and prosecutors haven’t alleged that he knew anything about illegal campaign contributions.
Prosecutors have said names of famous politicians and others, including Giuliani and Trump, will mainly arise as evidence is introduced to show how Parnas tried to parlay his associations with prominent individuals to boost his own interests.
Also on trial is Andrey Kukushkin. He and Parnas are accused of arranging donations on behalf of a Russian financier, Andrey Muraviev, as part of an effort to expand his legal marijuana businesses in the United States. Prosecutors said Muraviev put up $1 million for the venture.
“You will learn that their crimes were blatant,” Flodr said.
Kukushkin’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, has said his client, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur with longstanding ties to legal marijuana businesses in California, was “duped” by Parnas and Igor Fruman, a co-defendant who pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Attorney Joseph Bondy, representing Parnas, began his opening statement by saying: “Lev Parnas is not guilty. That’s what the evidence in this case will show you. He didn’t knowingly, willfully violate any federal election laws. The government will be unable to bear their burden of proving Mr. Parnas guilty.”