Michael Cohen-Linked Fundraiser Made Illegal Campaign Contributions

Edvard Pettersson

(Bloomberg) -- A Southern California venture capitalist who contributed $900,000 to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee agreed to plead guilty to making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions from 2012 to 2016.

Imaad Shah Zuberi, 49, also admitted he hid his work for foreign nationals while he lobbied U.S. government officials and evaded paying taxes, according to the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

The charges don’t appear linked to contributions made to the Trump campaign, but Zuberi has been linked to numerous people in Trump’s orbit who have come under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors, including the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, and Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy.

Zuberi, who ran the venture capital firm Avenue Ventures, solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments for money, which he used to hire lobbyists and public relations people and to make campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats, according to prosecutors. He also pocketed money from foreign sources for his personal use, prosecutors said.

“Mr. Zuberi’s multi-faceted scheme allowed him to line his pockets by concealing the fact that he was representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions, and skimming money paid by his clients,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in the statement. “Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention.”

Zuberi’s plea agreement with prosecutors doesn’t include a cooperation clause. Zuberi’s lawyer, Thomas O’Brien, declined to comment.

Read more on Trump inaugural committee here

Zuberi made campaign contributions that gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom took action to help his clients, according to prosecutors.

The $900,000 to the Trump inaugural committee came through Avenue Ventures, according to a person familiar with the case. For that, Zuberi got a table at the president’s candlelit dinner, next to a table where Broidy and Vice President Mike Pence were seated.

In February, prosecutors in New York served a subpoena on the inaugural committee, demanding records of its finances, according to a person familiar with the matter. Zuberi and Avenue Ventures were the only donors named in the subpoena, the New York Times reported at the time.

Prosecutors asked Cohen about his dealings with Zuberi after the president’s former lawyer pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes, the newspaper reported.

Zuberi took about $6.5 million from the government of Sri Lanka as part of a 2014 contract to help to rehabilitate that country’s image in the U.S., prosecutors said. Of that money, less than $850,000 went to lobbyists and public relations firms, while more than $5.65 million went to Zuberi and his wife, they said.

He also pocketed the bulk of the money investors put in U.S. Cares, a company created to export humanitarian goods to Iran, according to the Justice Department. Of the $7 million invested in 2013 and 2014, Zuberi allegedly used more than 90% to buy real estate, pay down credit cards, remodel properties and make charitable donations.

He faces as long as 15 years in prison.

(Adds response from Zuberi’s attorney in fourth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Caleb Melby.

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Joe Schneider, Peter Blumberg

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