Manhattan federal prosecutors charged Trump inauguration donor and Los Angeles businessman Imaad Zuberi with one count of obstruction of justice on Tuesday.
The charge came via a criminal information, a legal instrument which typically suggests that a defendant has agreed to plead guilty. Zuberi has yet to plead guilty; no hearing in his New York case has been scheduled, according to a spokesperson for the Federal Courthouse for the Southern District of New York.
Zuberi contributed $900,000 to the Trump inaugural committee after the President was elected, marking a shift from the businessman’s prior fundraising for top Democrats.
Those contributions landed Zuberi with a separate guilty plea last year in federal court in Los Angeles, in which he admitted to charges of tax evasion, campaign finance violations, and failure to register as a foreign agent.
For the obstruction charge brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Manhattan federal prosecutors say that Zuberi backdated a $50,000 check and deleted emails.
Prosecutors also say that Zuberi reimbursed one source of funds used “to make a substantial donation to” President Trump’s inaugural committee.
Zuberi was named in a February 2019 subpoena issued by Manhattan federal prosecutors to the Trump inaugural committee. The committee came under scrutiny in part for taking in and spending more money than any other while also putting on fewer events than previous inaugurals.
But, according to the information, the February subpoena prompted Zuberi to take steps to conceal the true origin of the $900,000 that he contributed to the committee. In fact, prosecutors say, Zuberi served as a straw donor for other contributors who gave the Los Angeles-based businessman money in return for “exclusive access to certain inaugural events.”
One donor, who allegedly gave Zuberi $50,000 to funnel into the committee, demanded a refund after deciding not to attend the inaugural. The document says that Zuberi initially refused to return the money.
But after news of the subpoena broke on February 5, prosecutors say, Zuberi arranged an “in-person” meeting with the unnamed donor. At the meeting, Zuberi allegedly agreed to refund the $50,000 after the donor reminded him that “Inauguration 17” was written on the check itself.
Zuberi then allegedly backdated the date of the refund check to February 1 — days before Manhattan federal prosecutors issued the subpoena to the inaugural committee.
Prosecutors also accuse Zuberi of deleting emails “with individuals who provided money” to him around the time of his contribution to the inaugural, including correspondence with a foreign national “who transferred approximately $5.8 million to the account Zuberi to fund the [inaugural] donation at and around the time the donation was made.”
Federal campaign finance law prohibits foreign contributions to inaugural committees.
The pattern of alleged obstruction continued, prosecutors say, even after the government intensified scrutiny of Zuberi.
In July 2019, after prosecutors told Zuberi through his lawyers that they believed he had “intentionally deleted pertinent emails” with the foreign donor, the Los Angeles businessman asked his email service provider “how to ensure that copies of his emails were not stored on a server.”
Trump’s inaugural committee took in a record-setting $106 million, nearly double more than than the next most-expensive inauguration on record. Along the way, it failed to disclose key financial data to the Internal Revenue Service.
Federal prosecutors reportedly opened an investigation into campaign finance violations, wire fraud, money laundering, disclosure violations, and conspiracy.
A spokesman for Zuberi declined to comment.
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