Two men who were charged alongside two longtime associates of Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer who works for President Donald Trump, pleaded not guilty Thursday to violating federal laws that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to US campaigns.
The two men, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, were two of four people named in an alleged campaign finance scheme, according to a grand jury indictment announced by US Attorney Geoffrey Berman for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and unsealed by the court last week. The indictment accused the two men, as well as Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, of funneling money from an unnamed Russian donor to state and federal candidates through “straw” corporations and donors in order to gain political influence and boost a business venture.
While Parnas and Fruman were charged with four counts of disguising the source of those donations to various US campaigns, as well as attempting to bypass limits on campaign contributions, Kukushkin and Correia were charged with only one count: conspiracy to “defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating” legal restrictions on foreign donations as well as “source and amount restrictions in federal and State elections,” the indictment stated.
In their first court appearance in the Southern District Court of New York on Thursday afternoon, Correia and Kukushkin sat stone-faced with their lawyers, both wearing blue suits with starched white collars. The arraignment was short, the lawyers announced both men were pleading not guilty, and US District Judge Paul Oetken set their next court date for Dec. 2.
Kukushkin, Parnas, and Fruman were arrested last week — Parnas and Fruman were apprehended at the Dulles airport outside Washington, DC, with one-way tickets to Vienna, while Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco. Correia was not apprehended until Wednesday, when he surrendered himself to authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after returning from a trip to the Middle East.
Parnas and Fruman were involved in a yearlong campaign to dig up information from sources in Ukraine that would be helpful to Trump’s 2020 campaign, and they specifically pushed alongside Trump for information that would be harmful to former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign, as BuzzFeed News reported in July.
Correia has spoken publicly about Biden and Ukraine virtually since Trump took office, and he cofounded a business with Parnas that paid Giuliani $500,000. It is unclear if Kukushkin was involved in the effort, and neither Giuliani nor Trump were named in the indictment.
All four men were attempting to start a recreational marijuana business in Nevada, according to the indictment, and were hoping that contributions to the campaign of an unnamed candidate from Nevada would help that business venture.
In October 2018, the indictment said, the men missed the deadline for applying for a license for the business by two months.
We’re “two months too late to the game, unless we change the rules,” Kukushkin wrote to Parnas and Fruman, the indictment stated, noting that they needed the “green light” from a specific Nevada state official to do so. Shortly after that, they donated $10,000 to the candidate running for that official’s seat. So far, the marijuana business venture has not succeeded.
Nicolas Roos, the assistant US attorney, told the court Thursday that they had 10 search warrant applications in, and expected to uncover and review copious amounts of evidence, including emails, digital records, financial records, and records from third parties. It would take several months for both the prosecution and defense to review the evidence, Roos said.
Parnas and Fruman are scheduled to appear for their arraignment on Wednesday, Oct. 23.