Jury selection begins in trial of Giuliani associate
New York – Prosecutors and defense lawyers are set to make their opening arguments Wednesday in the trial of Lev Parnas, a onetime associate of Rudy Giuliani who is accused along with a co-defendant of making illegal campaign contributions.
Twelve jurors and three alternates were picked Tuesday to sit on the trial.
U.S. prosecutors say 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 then-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 J. Paul Oetken introduced the case Tuesday to 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 trial was expected to last two weeks.
The judge said he wanted jurors who could decide the case “fairly and impartially” based solely on the evidence.
Parnas and Kukushkin, along with their lawyers, were each introduced to the pool of prospective jurors. Each stood and pulled a mask down so their faces could be seen.
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.