A lawyer for Igor Fruman, one of the men who had been working with Rudy Guiliani in his Ukraine campaign, tried to argue Friday that his client was not a flight risk and didn’t need to be under house arrest, despite the fact that he had been arrested just before boarding a flight overseas on a one-way ticket last month.
“I’m not exactly sure what your ask is here,” Judge Paul Oetken said to Todd Blanche, the lawyer for Fruman.
Blanche sighed and looked down. He was at a hearing at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York Friday, in which he was attempting to petition for modifications to Fruman’s bail agreement: house arrest, a GPS tracker, and a $1 million bond. It was not going well.
Blanche called the allegations that Fruman was “fleeing the country" when he was arrested Oct. 9 on the jetway at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC, "completely false": "There is zero evidence,” Blanche told the court.
“It’s false that he had a one-way ticket?” Oetken aksed.
“No, that is absolutely true,” Blanche responded. It was just cheaper for Fruman and his business partner, Lev Parnas, to get one-way tickets, Blanche said. The one-way ticket to Vienna was $8,000, while the round-trip was $20,000, he said, adding that he had texts from the date of purchase showing that a one-way was cheaper.
Fruman and Parnas have been indicted on four counts of campaign finance violations, including using “straw” accounts and businesses to use the money of an unnamed Russian businessperson to influence US politicians. They also played a key role in a campaign to oust the former US ambassador to Ukraine and dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden for President Donald Trump.
In early October, Congress asked Fruman and Parnas to testify for the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump over his statements to the president of Ukraine. Two days later, the two men were arrested as they were about to board a plane at Dulles. They both had one-way tickets to Vienna, Austria.
Blanche’s mission in Friday’s hearing was to convince Judge Oetken that Fruman was not a flight risk, that the $1 million bond, which Fruman’s son, brother, and sister-in-law are guarantors for, was enough to keep him in the country, and that he was never going to, and never did, attempt to flee the country. Blanche was the sole person speaking on Fruman’s behalf Friday. No other lawyers were present, and Fruman was still under house arrest in Miami.
Blanche continued to argue that traveling with a one-way ticket was typical for Fruman. In Fruman and Parnas’s many trips around the world, as previously detailed by BuzzFeed News, they often didn’t know when they were going to return and regularly bought one-way tickets. This was the case that day, Blanche said, insisting that Fruman was absolutely going to return to the US.
“He just was not fleeing the country,” Blanche repeated.
Fruman wanted his bail agreement to be amended because he was finding it difficult to lead his life under house arrest, stuck in his home alone in Miami with his three children as he was going through a divorce, Blanche said.
“He needs to be able to take them to school, and to just be a dad,” the lawyer said. “He also has a mother with severe health problems who lives nearby,” and he wants to be able to visit her.
When the lawyer for the government, Nicolas Roos, got a chance to respond, he immediately brought up the timeline of Fruman and Parnas’s arrest.
“What is clear is he was subpoenaed by Congress on October 7th, on the 8th he booked a one-way flight to Vienna, and on the 9th he was arrested on the jetway,” Roos said. “What was his reason to leave on such short notice? … Why such a rush to leave the country?”
Roos went on to detail Fruman’s many financial and political connections to Europe, attempting to demonstrate that Fruman could live a very pleasant life abroad if he were able to flee.
“He operates a bar called Buddha Bar” abroad, Roos said. He held up a printout of a glossy hotel brochure for the court to see, saying it listed Fruman as the president and CEO of a “luxury group” that owns a hotel, “restaurants, a beach club, and retail stores,” Roos told the court.
“Without monitoring, he could easily get on a plane and go to the airport,” making his way to Ukraine and sending for his family after settling there, Roos continued.
The weight of the evidence against him in the case is “substantial,” Roos continued, Fruman is not likely to escape conviction and is even facing jail time. He has good reason to flee, he said.
The judge denied the petition. Fruman will stay on house arrest.
On the way out of the federal courthouse in downtown New York, Blanche shook his head, seeming defeated. When BuzzFeed News asked him for his card in order to get the spelling of his name correct, he responded, “I wish you wouldn’t spell my name right. I wish I had one of my colleague's cards to give you instead. Lord.”
Ultimately, he gave BuzzFeed News his business card.
Assistant US Attorney Nicolas Roos's name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.