Major donor who played both sides of the aisle charged with campaign violations and fraud
A wealthy Los Angeles venture capitalist who flip-flopped his way into political prominence with large donations to Democratic and then Republican campaigns has been charged with concealing his lobbying efforts for foreign entities, secretly using foreign money for political contributions and fleecing clients of millions of dollars.
Imaad Zuberi, 49, is expected to plead guilty to charges of violating registration laws for foreign agents, tax evasion and making illegal campaign contributions as part of a deal he struck with prosecutors in Los Angeles, according to court filings made public Tuesday. He faces as much as 15 years in prison, prosecutors said in a statement.
A resident of Arcadia who operated a firm called Avenue Ventures, Zuberi is accused of shopping his largely bogus services to representatives of foreign governments and individuals, claiming he could influence top elected officials to alter United States foreign policy and create business opportunities.
Zuberi collected millions of dollars for consulting fees, erstwhile investments and campaign contributions, but simply pocketed much of the money, prosecutors said.
“American influence is not for sale,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “Mr. Zuberi lured individuals who were seeking political influence in violation of U.S. law, and in the process, enriched himself by defrauding those with whom he interacted.”
A spokesman for Zuberi, Steve Rabinowitz, said Zuberi had no comment and an attorney for Zuberi could not be reached.
The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, compounds Zuberi’s legal woes. In February, his name surfaced in a separate probe that federal investigators are conducting into President Trump’s inaugural committee.
Zuberi and his company were named in a subpoena that investigators served on the committee, which raised more than $100 million and has been dogged by questions over whether foreign donors used contributions to buy influence with the president.
The subpoena sought a broad range of records, including information about foreign contributions as well as any communications related to Zuberi, the Washington Post reported at the time.
Zuberi came under scrutiny following an unabashed pivot he made from being a major Democratic donor to a top supporter of Trump and Republican causes.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Zuberi funneled more than $600,000 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, according to campaign finance records. It was the culmination of years of stalwart, high-level support for Democratic candidates, including President Obama, the records show.
Internal Democratic emails made public by WikiLeaks showed Zuberi was on the party’s radar as a top donor who hosted a fundraising event with Clinton.
But in the wake of Trump’s victory, Zuberi did an abrupt about-face, giving $900,000 to the president’s inaugural committee and a six-figure check to help settle debts from the Republican National Convention. He has continued to give generously to Republican candidates since, according to campaign finance records.
That money earned him access to the president’s inner circle. Not long after making the donations, Zuberi posted a photo of himself at a restaurant with then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and has acknowledged discussing business opportunities with the president’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen, the Post reported.
Rabinowitz, Zuberi’s spokesman, told the Post in February that the money Zuberi gave toward Trump’s inauguration was his own and denied there was anything inappropriate about the contributions.
The charges unveiled Tuesday stem from an array of illicit schemes Zuberi allegedly ran over several years. A charging document filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, for example, lists scores of campaign contributions Zuberi made between 2012 and 2016 in the name of family and friends but paid for with credit cards in his and his wife’s names.
At least one of the contributions was made after a relative died, according to the allegations. In all, Zuberi admitted as part of his agreement to making or soliciting more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions between 2012 and 2016, the court documents show.
Zuberi also is accused of pocketing $1.1 million he took from two foreign companies over the same time period. Zuberi allegedly assured executives at the companies the money would be used to contribute to political campaigns, the court documents show. Prosecutors concealed the names of the people, companies and political campaigns Zuberi allegedly duped in court records.
A deal Zuberi struck with the Sri Lankan government led to the charge of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires anyone doing political or public relations work on behalf of a foreign entity to disclose their work to U.S. officials.
In 2014, Sri Lankan officials hired Zuberi to improve the country’s image in the United States, which had been damaged badly by the government’s brutal military campaign against the minority Tamil population. Zuberi concealed his efforts from U.S. officials and lined his pockets with $5.6 million of the $6.5 million Sri Lanka paid him, according to the court records.
Zuberi is expected to appear in court on Oct. 30.
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