NEW YORK, Oct 22 (Reuters) - A federal jury on Friday convicted Lev Parnas, a one-time associate of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, of violating U.S. campaign finance laws during the 2018 election cycle.
Parnas, a Ukraine-born American businessman and his former associate Igor Fruman were accused of soliciting funds from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev to donate to candidates in states where the group was seeking licenses to operate cannabis businesses in 2018.
Parnas concealed that he and Fruman, who pleaded guilty in September, were the true source of a donation to a group supporting then-President Donald Trump, prosecutors said.
Parnas was charged with violating federal laws prohibiting foreigners from contributing to U.S. election campaigns and barring donors from making contributions in the names of others.
The trial has drawn attention because of the role Parnas and Belarus-born U.S. citizen Fruman played in helping Giuliani, who was Republican Trump's personal attorney while he held office, to investigate Democrat Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Biden won the election, denying Trump a second term.
The case in federal court in Manhattan provided a glimpse into the inner workings of political fundraising in the United States.
"You saw the wires from Muraviev," Assistant U.S Attorney Hagan Scotten told the jury during closing arguments on Thursday. "You saw how that money came out on the other side, finding its way into American elections, where the defendants thought they had bought influence to further their business."
Parnas' defense lawyers countered that Muraviev's funds went toward business investments, not campaign contributions, and that the donation to the pro-Trump group was from a company founded by Parnas and broke no laws.
In his closing statement, Parnas' attorney, Joseph Bondy, characterized his client as a passionate proponent of marijuana legalization who was "in well over his head." He argued that Muraviev's money funded business operations, not campaign contributions.
Muraviev associate, Andrey Kukushkin, a California resident who was tried alongside Parnas, was found guilty of campaign finance violations.
Deliberations in the trial began on Friday morning.
Giuliani's attorney has said the Parnas case is separate from a probe into whether he violated lobbying laws while representing Trump.
Giuliani, a U.S. prosecutor before he became New York mayor in 1994, has not been charged with any crimes and denies wrongdoing.
Fruman, who lives in Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21.
Parnas and Kukushkin faced two counts of conspiring to make donations from a foreign national, and making the donations. Parnas also faced four other counts, including making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
Prosecutors also accused Parnas of making two contributions through a shell company to conceal that Fruman was the true source of the funds, and of lying to the FEC about the funds.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool)