What do a businessman preserving the image of a notorious drug lord, a fundraiser tied to the first Donald Trump impeachment, and a former local official who once faced conflict-of-interest accusations have in common? They were the top donors to a fundraising committee supporting congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna.
The APL Victory Fund, a PAC established to help Luna’s ambitions and raise money for the National Republican Congressional Committee, reported raising more than $323,000 since last May. That came from a variety of sources, but three individuals gave the maximum allowable donation of $15,800, and each has seen their own activities come under outside scrutiny.
Olof Gustafsson is CEO of a company managing the likeness of deceased Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Harry Sargeant III, a billionaire closely connected to Trump, reportedly bankrolled a trip by Russian Lev Parnas to pressure the Ukrainian government to criminally investigate Hunter Biden. Charlie Tokarz, a Manatee County politician, faced calls for his removal from the County School Board.
Luna won the Republican nomination for an open seat representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. She faces Democrat Eric Lynn on Nov. 8.
Her committee saw donations come in from 119 individuals between May 1 and June 30, including another 10 who wrote five-figure checks. No one except Gustafsson, Sargeant and Tokarz maxed out giving.
Gustafsson’s association remains the most unusual. A 29-year-old Swedish entrepreneur based in Beverly Hills, he served as CEO for Escobar, a company founded in 1984 to manage all intellectual property relating to Pablo Escobar.
He recently traveled to Colombia and shared a photograph of himself with Roberto De Jesús Escobar Gaviria, identified on Escobar Inc.’s website as the older brother of Pablo Escobar and former accountant and chief of assassinations for the Medellín Cartel.
That’s the cartel Escobar founded in the 1970s and led until his death. While estimates of Escobar’s wealth vary, Britannica describes him as “arguably the world’s most powerful drug trafficker in the 1980s and early ’90s.” His life became the subject of the Netflix series Narcos. The drug lord died during a gunfire exchange with Colombian authorities in 1993, the year Gustafsson was born.
Of note, the actual IP control of Escobar Inc. on anything related to Escobar has been called into question before. The company sued Narcos Productions, the company behind the Netflix series, for $1 billion for violating intellectual property rights on Escobar’s life and Escobar Inc.’s trademarks on the words “Narcos” and “Cartel Wars,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The dispute gained significant attention after the death of a location scout killed outside Mexico City. The website for Escobar Inc. offers products including cell phones and a form of cryptocurrency named for Escobar.
Gustafsson’s politics may be hinted at through his Twitter picture, which features him in a familiar red hat with the words “Make Sweden Great Again” stitched on the front.
Then there’s Sargeant, an oil and shipping magnate based in Boca Raton who founded the International Oil Trading Company. The company came under fire after it won a defense contract in 2004 to provide fuel for operations in Iraq.
A 2011 audit showed the Pentagon may have overpaid Sargeant by as much as $204 million, according to The Washington Post. Congress also conducted a probe in 2008 into Sargeant’s relationship with Jordan’s royal family.
But connections to Trump, who has endorsed Luna, may have brought the greatest attention to his political activities. Mother Jones reported Sargeant funded a trip for Parnas, an associate of former New York City Mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to lobby Ukraine’s government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of now-President Joe Biden.
The effort ultimately led to a phone call in which Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to announce an investigation. That prompted a Democratic-controlled Congress to impeach Trump in 2019.
During impeachment proceedings, a text message became public that showed Parnas voicing news about Maria Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and her apparently impending removal from her post. “She’s gone,” Parnas texted, roughly a month before her removal. On the receiving end? Sargeant. “AWESOME!!!” he texted back.
Notably, Gustafsson has also publicized his thoughts on Ukraine and Zelenskyy’s leadership as the nation wars with Russia. He posted a series of images of Zelenskyy in front of a green screen that critics incorrectly touted as evidence the Ukrainian President was secretly filming messages to the public from outside the Eastern European nation.
— Olof Gustafsson (@olof_gustafsson) October 12, 2022
Tokarz’s history may not be so colorful, and looks like a friendly neighborhood megadonor compared to fellow donors involved in international pressure campaigns. Still, he’s come under fire in local politics for his close connection to Medallion Home and its owner, Carlos Beruff, a former U.S. Senate candidate.
Tokarz, a former member of the University of South Florida (USF) Board of Trustees, has served for years as vice president of finance for Medallion Home. He served in 2018 on a Manatee County financial oversight committee, but Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy called for him to be removed from that position due to his association with Beruff.
The relationship also came up a year prior when he applied to fill a vacancy on the School Board. Then-Gov. Rick Scott, a close ally of Beruff, did not choose Tokarz for the role, but he did appoint him to a post on the USF Board of Trustees.
Tokarz was also named in a 2016 lawsuit against Medallion Home, Mandarin Development and Sun Coast Title for violating portions of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The case remains unresolved in Manatee County circuit court. He operates all three businesses with Beruff and business partner Peter Logan.