U.S. Rep. Brian Mast joined Gov. Ron DeSantis in announcing he had received, but will return, campaign contributions from two Soviet-born South Florida businessmen arrested last week on federal campaign finance charges.
According to their indictments, Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born resident of Boca Raton, and Igor Fruman, a naturalized citizen from Belarus and Sunny Isles Beach resident, used wire transfers from shell corporations to illegally funnel $325,000 in foreign “straw donations” to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action committee in 2018.
The two may also face charges linked to Congressional allegations of abuse of executive power for allegedly assisting President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani to investigate the Bidens in Ukraine and successfully lobbying to remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from office.
Parnas and Fruman refused to testify about their actions with Giuliani in the Ukraine last week before U.S. House committees. Parnas was requested to appear before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees Thursday. Fruman was to do so Friday.
They were arrested at Dulles Airport in Washington DC Wednesday night by the FBI as they prepared to fly to Germany with one-way tickets.
According to the Miami Herald, Parnas also hosted two fundraisers for DeSantis in 2018, including a small gathering attended by the governor himself and one highlighted by Donald Trump, Jr.
The four-count indictment, filed in the Southern District of New York and unsealed Thursday, claims Parnas and Fruman siphoned money – from a single Russian donor, according to the Wall Street Journal – through Global Energy Producers to Trump’s America First Action PAC to advance “their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official for whom they were working.”
The pair face charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records.
The indictment and supporting documents allege the two created an elaborate scheme to help an unnamed Ukrainian government official and a person they describe as having "Russian roots" gain access to U.S. politicians and government officials.
"This investigation is about corrupt behavior," William Sweeney, a top official in the FBI's New York office said at a Thursday press conference. "Deliberate law breaking."
Following the formal filing of federal charges Thursday against Parnas and Fruman, the Florida Democratic Party called on DeSantis to return the money.
“From lobbyists paying tens of thousands of dollars to dine or play golf with DeSantis, to taking money from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, it is alarming how he conducts himself,” State Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said. “DeSantis should take the $50,000 in donations he received from Parnas and Fruman and donate it to charity immediately.”
DeSantis directed his political action committee Thursday to do just that with spokesperson Helen Aguirre Ferré telling the Miami Herald the Governor “does not have a relationship with these individuals nor has he had a one-on-one meeting with them. They may have attended some political events in 2018. Of course, the governor does not condone any illegal activities."
"Gov. DeSantis is directing the political action committee to return the money to the federal government,” Ferré later announced in a written statement.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in Washington, D.C., called for Mast to follow DeSantis’ example in an email blast highlighting the donations late Thursday.
On Friday, Mast’s office said he will return the $2,433 his PAC received from “Igor Fruman” — via Protect The House PAC, a GOP funding platform for House incumbents — between March and June of 2018.
“The money came from Protect The House, not directly from Fruman,” A Mast For Congress spokesperson told the Associated Press. “Brian has never met or talked to Fruman and didn’t solicit the money.”
John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.