When it rains it pours is a cliche, but an apt one today.
As if Donald Trump hadn’t had enough bad news today after acting ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor confirmed the existence of the quid pro quo — one that the president denies — over his holdup of military aid in exchange for an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, now comes the news of a fresh indictment of one of the top donors to his inaugural committee.
Federal prosecutors announced today that Los Angeles financier Shah “Imaad” Zuberi — who funneled $900,000 to the committee that was raising money for the events surrounding the Trump inaugural activities — admitted to falsifying records in order to conceal his role as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials.
The prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California say that Zuberi and his legal team have negotiated a guilty plea on three counts of criminal activity in relation to illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and improper lobbying activities.
“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,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna announced in a press release Tuesday detailing the charges.
“Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention,” Hanna continued.
The guilty pleas confirm the suspicions that first came to light in February when New York Federal prosecutors issued a broad subpoena aimed at Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.
According to an article in The Daily Beast:
“Prosecutors in California now allege that under the guise of his venture capital firm, Avenue Ventures, Zuberi ‘solicited foreign nations and representatives of foreign governments’ with claims he could change U.S. foreign policy with his ‘influence in Washington D.C.’”
“His clients, according to the the criminal information, gave him money for consulting work, investments, and to fund various campaigns. Zuberi then allegedly used the money to hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions—’which gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom took action in support of his clients,’ prosecutors said.”
“’As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials,’ the court documents allege.”
Among the lobbying efforts involved in Zuberi’s scheme were an attempt to influence the government of Bahrain to lift sanctions on one of its citizens in order to facilitate the development of a large resort, and efforts on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka to help promote and “rehabilitate” that country’s reputation in the U.S.
As it turns out, Americans weren’t the only victims of Zuberi’s criminal activities.
“Of the $6.5 million Sri Lanka paid for a rehabilitation campaign, Zuberi allegedly used less than $850,000 on the actual project—telling some subcontractors the country ‘had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices, court documents state,” according to The Daily Beast.
In the financier’s plea agreement, he admits to evading taxes by failing to report the money that he skimmed for his “own personal benefit” from his clients’ payments for what prosecutors describe as his mostly unsuccessful lobbying efforts that led to “significant losses” for his clients, consultants, and other lobbyists.
Zuberi also allegedly made many illegal contributions to American political campaigns with illicit cash while siphoning more than $1.1 million meant for political donations that originated from two foreign companies. Prosecutors said that he admitted making or soliciting “more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions” between 2012 and 2016.
With his guilty plea, Zuberi now faces a prison sentence of a maximum of 15 years.
Although Zuberi has pleaded guilty, other investigations surrounding the activities surrounding Trump’s inaugural events and the fund-raising behind them remain open, making it difficult to argue that Donald Trump hasn’t helped make America great again, at least for defense attorneys.
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Original reporting by Erin Banco and Pilar Melendez at The Daily Beast.