Longtime Rudy Giuliani pals Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman lived a life of luxury while participating in one of the most audacious political extortion campaigns imaginable.
The pair are set to be arraigned on criminal campaign finance charges in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, as federal prosecutors continue to examine the district’s former top attorney — Rudy Giuliani — as part of the inquiry.
But amid coverage and Instagram photos that have put Parnas at the fore, a record emerges which suggests that it’s Fruman who made money for the pair and who, court documents suggest, played the key role in directing the duo’s alleged crimes.
It’s easy to confuse the two.
And, after all, it’s a grinning Parnas that appears in the vast majority of the pictures with Giuliani, President Trump, and GOP éminences grises. Their indictment has been embarrassing for a White House already besieged by an impeachment investigation whose predicate — withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for political help — could also be potentially incriminating for the President’s personal lawyer.
And yet, a review of Fruman’s businesses and court documents — and conversations with those who have studied the pair — suggest that the duo’s activities occurred at the direction and financing of Fruman, and not Parnas.
The indictment, for example, portrays a relationship between the two in which Parnas acted as a funnel for Fruman and his money.
Prosecutors allege that the pair conspired to violate federal limits on political contributions. But the details of the indictment allege that it was Fruman who had the money, and Parnas who stood in for his partner’s cash, allowing Fruman to contribute undeterred by legal limits.
Prosecutors allege that the 2018 scheme was committed as part of an effort to have a member of Congress lobby for the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
“After FRUMAN had already made a maximum $2,700 contribution,” the indictment reads, “FRUMAN paid for another maximum $2,700 contribution” which “was made and reported in PARNAS’s name.”
Another example comes in June 2018, when the pair needed to meet a financial commitment to “gain access to an exclusive political event.” To do that, the pair made an $11,000 contribution in Parnas’s name, which Fruman actually funded, putting him “in excess of legal contribution limits.”
Beyond the four corners of the indictment, evidence suggests that Fruman was in the driver’s seat when it came to the pair’s private business activities.
Business and corporate records support that thesis.
There is scant evidence to suggest that Parnas’s business — Fraud Guarantee — engaged in significant activity. It paid Giuliani $500,000 last year for cybersecurity consulting, but the reason why remains unclear.
Fruman, however, has a well-documented series of businesses in the United States and Ukraine. He has an import-export firm registered in New York State that has been doing business moving products in and out of Ukraine since at least 2001.
Within Ukraine itself, Fruman has held stakes in a number of companies owned both directly and via his New York-registered firm.
Those businesses encompass investments in the entertainment industry in the Black Sea port city of Odessa. Fruman, along with a local city council member named Sergey Dyablo, managed a luxury brand called Otrada, which counted a beach club called Mafia Rave and a Kyiv bar called Buddha Bar among its assets.
Local press reports (featuring an image of Fruman with his ex-wife Yelizaveta Naumova) accused the pair of involvement in bankruptcy fraud around a milk factory in the Odessa area.
Naumova spends most of her time in Miami, where both Fruman and Parnas reside.
Parnas initially attracted scrutiny for a $325,000 contribution to a pro-Trump Super PAC that he marked down as coming from a firm called Global Energy Partners. But that money, too, appears to originate from Fruman.
The contribution set off alarm bells at the Campaign Legal Center, a D.C. watchdog on money in politics. The nonprofit group filed a complaint with the FEC.
Separate litigation in Florida revealed that the contribution came from a separate firm, called Aaron Investments. Aaron Investments had received a $1.26 million transaction from the client trust account of a Miami real estate lawyer. A lawyer suing to recover a $500,000 judgment against Parnas that stemmed from separate fraud allegations told TPM that reporting suggested Fruman appeared to be in the driver’s seat.
Buzzfeed, which received access to information documenting the pair’s financial relationship and spending, reported that the $1.26 million stemmed from a mortgage that Fruman took out on a luxury condo that he owns.
That money went to Aaron Investments — and the political contribution — as well as to a Kyiv strip club visit by the duo, and gourmet dinners around the world.
The indictment refers to the transaction as a “private lending arrangement” involving a third party. It’s not clear from the Buzzfeed report, or from the available documentation, what third parties may have been involved.