NEW YORK – An associate of Rudy Giuliani’s told a federal judge on Friday that he solicited campaign contributions from a wealthy foreigner as part of a bizarre plot to get political juice for a marijuana business.
Igor Fruman, 56, who spent part of 2019 attempting to dig up dirt on the Bidens on Giuliani’s behalf, told U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken for the Southern District of New York that he had asked a foreigner to contribute $1 million during the 2018 midterms as part of an effort to secure cannabis licenses.
Red in the face and speaking through a thick Ukrainian accent, Fruman pleaded guilty only to one count of an October 2018 indictment that charged he and ex-Giuliani buddy Lev Parnas with crimes relating to a marijuana scheme and to an alleged plot to have the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed at the direction of a Ukrainian official. Parnas maintains his innocence and is headed to trial next month.
Fruman only pleaded guilty to a solicitation of foreign contribution count related to the pot plot, saying that he asked a foreign national to contribute $1 million to a series of state-level campaigns during the 2018 midterms. The scheme was part of what Fruman described as a “business venture” to buy cannabis licenses in a series of western states.
“I deeply regret my actions and I apologize to the court and the United States government for this conduct,” Fruman said at the change-of-plea hearing.
Fruman did not sign any cooperation agreement with prosecutors. He agreed to a maximum sentence of 46 months behind bars as part of the agreement.
The Ukraine-born businessman found himself in the national spotlight after he and Parnas were indicted on the campaign finance charges. The duo had spent the preceding months paling around with Giuliani as the former mayor, while attorney to President Trump, sought to coerce the Ukrainian government into manufacturing dirt on Joe Biden and announcing investigations.
Fruman and Parnas, both fluent in Russian and with ties to local business and political figures, presented odd but useful companions to Giuliani in the quest for a piece of post-Soviet dirt that could cast a pall over Biden’s candidacy.
That effort involved removing Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, who Giuliani suspected of trying to thwart his efforts. Texts released by Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy suggest that Ukraine’s chief prosecutor at the time, Yuriy Lutsenko, helped sic the Trump team on Yovanovitch as he faced criticism over his anti-corruption record from the U.S. Embassy.
Apart from playing a bit part in Yovanovitch’s removal, Fruman and Parnas succeeded only in enraging a Ukrainian oligarch in April 2019. The quest ended for the duo in October 2019, after Congress had opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions, when Manhattan federal prosecutors accused the pair of a series of campaign finance violations related both to the Yovanovitch removal an to the unrelated pot plot.
At the Friday plea hearing, Fruman admitted to a narrow range of conduct related to the weed imbroglio, but did not address the allegations that went to the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
“Mr. Fruman is not cooperating with the government and has determined that this is the fairest and best way to put the past two years of his life behind him,” Todd Blanche, an attorney for Fruman, said in a statement following the hearing.
Prosecutors will try Parnas on the rest of the allegations – involving Yovanovitch – in October. Parnas is pleading not guilty, though spent much of the impeachment inquiry taking emails and documents released to him through the case’s discovery process and transmitting it to the House Intelligence Committee, which then released the communications to the public.
What’s left is a bizarre situation in which Parnas appears to have released documentation of a scheme, the allegations from which he maintains his innocence.
Judge Oetken scheduled Fruman’s sentencing for January 21, 2022. Prosecutors asked for sentencing to take place after the conclusion of the Parnas trial to ensure that evidence from the case could be taken into consideration.