NEW YORK (AP) — Jury selection began Tuesday for the trial of Lev Parnas, a onetime associate of Rudy Giuliani who is accused along with a co-defendant of making illegal campaign contributions.
U.S. prosecutors said Parnas, a Florida businessman, ingratiated himself with influential Republicans through big campaign contributions, including a $325,000 donation in 2018 to a super PAC supporting President Donald Trump.
An indictment said some of those donations were improperly funneled through a company that Parnas co-owned in ways that disguised the origin of the money and evaded limits on personal donations.
Parnas initially came to public attention in 2019 as he assisted Giuliani’s effort to get the government of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of then-presidential-candidate Joe Biden. Giuliani is not charged in the case and prosecutors haven’t alleged that he knew anything about illegal campaign contributions.
Parnas and a co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, are also accused of arranging donations on behalf of a Russian financier, Andrey Muraviev, as part of an effort to expand his legal marijuana businesses in the United States. Prosecutors said Muraviev put up $1 million dollars for the venture.
U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken introduced the case Tuesday to 35 prospective jurors spaced apart from one another in a New York courtroom because of coronavirus concerns.
He described each of six counts and said the jury was being selected for a trial expected to last two weeks after opening arguments likely to occur Wednesday.
The judge said he wanted jurors who could decide the case “fairly and impartially” based solely on the evidence.
Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, has argued that he had no intention of making illegal donations on Muraviev’s behalf and that the $1 million was a personal loan that went to another man who has already pleaded guilty in the case, Igor Fruman.
Kukushkin’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, has said his client, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur with longstanding ties to legal marijuana businesses in California, was “duped” by Parnas and Fruman and also had no inkling they were doing anything illegal.