Two Rudy Giuliani associates and big supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both wearing American flag lapel pins, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges they used foreign money to make illegal campaign contributions to politicians and committees to advance their business interests.
Parnas and Fruman, both Soviet-born but now residents of South Florida, were arraigned in federal court in Manhattan in a case that has cast a harsh light on the business dealings of Giuliani, who is President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and a former New York City mayor, and on the successful gubernatorial election campaign of DeSantis.
“Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently,” Parnas told reporters after the hearing. “I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court, and I’m certain that in time, the truth will be revealed and I will be vindicated.”
Fruman and his lawyers had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors say Parnas, 47, and Fruman, 53, U.S. citizens who were born in Ukraine and Belarus, respectively, made the donations while lobbying U.S. politicians to oust the country’s ambassador to Ukraine. Giuliani, who at the time was trying to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of Trump’s potential Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, has said he knew nothing about the donations.
Parnas and Fruman also were big boosters of DeSantis during his gubernatorial run in 2018, funneling $50,000 into his campaign and showing up at enough DeSantis events to be photographed at several, including hugging DeSantis. DeSantis has acknowledged knowing Parnas but has denied any significant relationship with either. DeSantis denied Parnas a seat on a his gubernatorial transition committee, but refused to discuss him at length in public.
DeSantis instructed his political committee to return the money it received from Parnas and Fruman. Democrats now are calling for the Governor to return all campaign money that may have come from fundraisers involving Parnas and Fruman.
Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine for an investigation of the Bidens, with Giuliani as his point man, are now the subject of a U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski told a judge Wednesday that a dozen search warrants had produced a “voluminous” amount of evidence in the case, including emails and other electronic communications.
A lawyer for Parnas, Ed MacMahon, responded by suggesting some of the communications could be protected by attorney-client and even executive privilege, since his client was doing work for Giuliani while Giuliani was representing the president.
Prosecutors allege that Parnas and Fruman also worked with two other men, David Correia of West Palm Beach and Andrey Kukushkin, in a separate scheme to make illegal campaign donations to politicians in several states in an attempt to get support for a new recreational marijuana business. Correia and Kukushkin pleaded not guilty last week.
All four defendants are free on bail.