Prosecutors: More Charges Possible In Case Of Giuliani Associates Parnas, Fruman

Dec 2, 2019
Originally published on December 3, 2019 12:02 am

Updated at 4:49 p.m. ET

Prosecutors could bring more charges in the case of two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani — although it wasn't precisely clear when, what or who else might be involved after a conference in New York City on Monday.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman face charges of conspiracy, false statements and falsification of records in connection with two alleged schemes to violate U.S. election laws. But it's their work helping Giuliani dig up dirt in Ukraine that has put the pair under intense public scrutiny.

And a superseding indictment — which could add to or modify the existing charges — is likely, prosecutors said on Monday, but also adding that they're continuing to evaluate the case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and FBI investigators are making their way through what prosecutor Douglas Zolkind called a "voluminous" amount of evidence in the case — around 9 gigabytes' worth.

Clearing their way through that material — which includes electronic devices, phone records, bank records and more — would set the stage for the next steps.

That could include a superseding indictment that changes or adds charges or defendants. It also could be a milestone for Parnas, who has said that he wants to try to cooperate with Congress' investigation of the Ukraine affair.

The U.S. attorney's office would need to produce evidence to Parnas, who could then provide it to congressional investigators in response to a subpoena issued in October.

It isn't clear when that might fit into the House impeachment process.

The House Intelligence Committee is expected to release its report about President Trump and Ukraine early this week; the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled an open hearing about impeachment for Wednesday.

The Ukraine affair

Giuliani and his Ukraine efforts have been front and center in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump. Democrats say Trump abused his power in an effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats.

Igor Fruman arrived for his arraignment on Oct. 23 in New York. He and associate Lev Parnas returned to court for a conference on Dec. 2.
Mark Lennihan / AP

Witnesses have described Giuliani as a major figure in that effort. He has refused to cooperate with the Democratic-led House inquiry — but the former New York City mayor is facing scrutiny in connection with the investigation into Parnas and Fruman.

Investigators have issued subpoenas to a range of companies and individuals who had dealings with the two men.

One of those companies is Ballard Partners, a Florida-based lobbying firm that reportedly made large payments to Parnas. An attorney for the company, William W. Taylor III, said the firm is complying with the subpoena.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, also is cooperating with prosecutors after receiving a subpoena for records and other information related to his interactions with Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani.

Parnas and Fruman made campaign donations to Sessions in 2018 and asked him for help getting the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, removed from her post. According to the indictment, Parnas and Fruman were working, at least in part, in coordination with a Ukrainian official.

After meeting Parnas and Fruman, Sessions wrote a letter to the State Department sharply criticizing Yovanovitch and her work.

Sessions lost his seat in the 2018 midterms.

Andrew Favorov, an executive with Ukraine's state-controlled gas company, Naftogaz, has agreed to a voluntary interview with prosecutors, according to his attorney, Lanny Breuer.

Parnas and Fruman approached Favorov at an energy conference this spring in Houston with a proposal that involved removing Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch was recalled from her post weeks later amid a smear campaign by Giuliani and others on conservative media outlets.

The pro-Trump political action committee America First Action says it, too, is cooperating with federal investigators. The group says it contacted prosecutors with the Southern District of New York and offered voluntarily to cooperate.

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We turn now to the criminal case against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. They are the two associates of Rudy Giuliani who have been charged with campaign finance violations. Their case was back in federal court today in Manhattan. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was as well. He joins me now from New York.

Hi, Ryan.


KELLY: So you were in the courtroom this afternoon. Were Parnas and Fruman there?

LUCAS: Parnas was in court. Fruman was not, but Parnas walked in with his wife on his arm. Fruman was not there, as I said. He's been excused, as have the other two men who have been charged as part of this case. In court today, the government said that it is working its way through what it called a voluminous amount of material. We're talking things that the government has acquired through subpoenas - so phone and bank records, information from Internet service providers, witness statements. Prosecutors said that that totaled to, you know, thousands of pages worth of material.

The government is also still working through materials seized through search warrants. Prosecutors said that they had 14 electronic devices in total that they had taken off of Lev Parnas, another 10 or so from Fruman. The government said it was working to access the information on those devices. The FBI is involved to get information off of those because prosecutors don't have passwords to access this information. The big headline here, though, is that the government says it is still investigating and that it is likely that more charges will be brought in connection with this case.

KELLY: OK - more charges likely. What might that mean for Rudy Giuliani?

LUCAS: So remember, Parnas and Fruman were working with Giuliani to set up meetings and collect information in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats. And we know that Giuliani, in his ties to Parnas and Fruman, are being scrutinized. Giuliani has said that he was paid some $500,000 by a company set up by Parnas for consulting work.

Now, Giuliani was not implicated in the indictment against Parnas and Fruman, but a person familiar with the case tells me that subpoenas that have been issued in connection with this case have mentioned things like wire fraud, money laundering and possible foreign lobbying violations. That suggests that investigators may be looking very directly at Giuliani. For his part, of course, though, Giuliani has repeatedly said he has done nothing wrong.

KELLY: Meanwhile, Ryan, how does this play in with the House impeachment inquiry, which, of course, is moving full steam ahead? Does Parnas and Fruman's work for Giuliani in Ukraine - has that been an issue in court?

LUCAS: Well, it came up today in the sense that Parnas' attorney, Joseph Bondi, said that Parnas would like to comply with a subpoena that the House has issued for documents and testimony. The materials that the House wants were seized by federal agents, though, here in New York as part of this investigation. Prosecutors said today that they will return those items when they're done with them. They don't have an objection to Parnas providing them to Congress. The presiding judge in the court - in the case said he doesn't have a problem as well.

KELLY: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas in New York. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.