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NYC jury hears closing arguments in Giuliani associate’s fraud trial

FILE — In this Feb. 3, 2020 file photo, Lev Parnas, a businessman who once pitched himself as...
FILE — In this Feb. 3, 2020 file photo, Lev Parnas, a businessman who once pitched himself as someone who could expose corruption in the Trump Administration over its dealings in Ukraine, speaks with the media outside the federal court in New York.(Mariela Lombard | AP Photo/Mariela Lombard, File)
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 7:14 AM HST
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NEW YORK (AP) — An associate of Rudy Giuliani hatched a scheme to funnel $1 million in funds from a wealthy Russian financier into U.S. elections knowing full well he was breaking campaign finance laws, a prosecutor said Thursday during closing arguments at a federal trial.

A defense attorney countered by telling the New York City jury that the government failed to prove its case against Lev Parnas.

In his closing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagan Scotten accused Parnas and a co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, of using “lies and tricks” to conceal the source of the money.

Parnas made a series of straw donations despite being “told again and again that he couldn’t donate somebody else’s money,” Scotten said.

The defendant lied to the financier, Andrey Muraviev, about how much he was actually donating, the prosecutor said. He also failed to come through on pledges he was making to candidates, he added.

“Put simply, Parnas is ripping everybody off,” he said.

Defense attorney Joseph Bondy called the allegations against Parnas “absurd.” The lawyer said his client was a legitimate businessperson trying to use loans from Muraviev to launch an energy company that would be involved in exporting natural gas to Europe.

“There was no effort to hide anything, whatsoever,” Bondy said. He told jurors his client “doesn’t want your sympathy. He wants a verdict based on the facts and the law.”

Kukushkin’s lawyer was to give his closing later Thursday.

Florida businessperson Parnas and Kukushkin have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use the investment from Muraviev to contribute to politicians they thought could advance their business interests, including the energy company and legal marijuana industry startups. Giuliani is not charged in the case.

Parnas and another Soviet-born Florida businessman who has already pleaded guilty in the case, Igor Fruman, initially caught the attention of journalists and investigators after making big donations through a corporate entity to Republican political committees, including a $325,000 donation in 2018 to America First Action, a super PAC supporting Donald Trump.

The pair then became middlemen in Giuliani’s effort to discredit then-candidate Joe Biden. They connected Giuliani with Ukrainian officials as the former New York City mayor tried to get that country to open an investigation into the future president’s son, Hunter. Ukrainian tycoons and officials, meanwhile, sought Giuliani’s help connecting with the Trump administration.

Though Giuliani is not part of the case, he is under investigation in New York for whether he was required to register as an agent of a foreign government for actions he said he took in his capacity as a private attorney for then-President Trump.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.