Giuliani ally Lev Parnas pleads guilty to fraud fundraising for 'Fraud Guarantee'

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A Florida man who worked closely with Rudy Giuliani on former President Donald Trump's drive to get Ukraine to open an investigation that would be politically damaging to President Joe Biden pleaded guilty Friday to wire fraud in connection with a business scheme.

Lev Parnas, 50, admitted in a federal court hearing that he deceived investors in the ironically named business venture, "Fraud Guarantee," which was ostensibly aimed at helping vet business opportunities for potential fraud.

"Between 2012 and 2019, I agreed with another person to give false information to individuals regarding the financials to a start-up project called, 'Fraud Guarantee,'" Parnas told U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken. "I'm extremely sorry for my actions, your honor."

Giuliani, who was an attorney for and close adviser to Trump, took a $500,000 consulting fee to work on the project. He has not been charged and has said he was not aware of any impropriety related to the firm.

Parnas entered his guilty plea without any plea agreement with the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said during the Friday hearing, held via videoconference.

Oetken accepted the plea and set sentencing for Parnas for June 29.

Parnas' attorney, Joseph Bondy, said after the hearing that his client is seeking to move on with his life.

"He accepts responsibility for his conduct, and remains proud of his efforts to bring issues of national significance into the halls of Congress and the living rooms of all Americans. He looks forward to moving ahead," Bondy wrote on Twitter.

Last October, a jury in Manhattan convicted Parnas of six campaign-finance related felonies, including a scheme to funnel money from a Russian oligarch, Andrey Muraviev, into U.S. political campaigns in a bid to get licenses for legal cannabis businesses. Prior to the trial, Oetken agreed with Parnas' attorneys that the "Fraud Guarantee" charge should be handled separately.

One co-defendant in the case, Andrey Kukushkin, was found guilty on three felony counts at the same trial. Two other co-defendants, Igor Fruman and David Correia, had previously pleaded guilty in the case.

The initial indictment alleged that Parnas and Fruman were part of a scheme to persuade U.S. officials to oust U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from her post at the urging of an unnamed Ukrainian government official, and hid the source of political donations they made in order to further that goal. Prosecutors quietly dropped that claim from a later version of the indictment and it was not mentioned at the trial last year.

During the trial, prosecutors identified the Russian oligarch behind much of the political donations as Muraviev. Last week, amid dramatically increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, prosecutors announced that Muraviev was indicted more than a year ago in connection with the illegal donations.

The prosecutions are tied to an FBI investigation of Giuliani's activities related to Ukraine, including potential violations of laws regulating lobbying of U.S. officials on behalf of foreign nationals. That probe led to a raid of Giuliani's home and office last April, where electronic devices were seized. Giuliani has denied violating any laws and has maintained that his client in his work related to Ukraine was Trump, not any foreigner.

Oetken has overseen aspects of that investigation, but aside from the mention of Ukraine in the initial indictment of Parnas and his co-defendants, no other charges related to the Ukraine-focused efforts have been filed. Allegations that Trump abused his office by seeking a Ukrainian probe of Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden led to Trump's impeachment by the House in December 2019. The first article, abuse of power, was rejected 48 to 52, and the second, obstruction of Congress, was defeated 47 to 53.