WASHINGTON — In the spring of 2018, two associates of Rudy Giuliani made a major donation to a pro-Trump super PAC that eventually landed them in jail.
Now, one of them wants the money back.
Igor Fruman, a wealthy Soviet-born entrepreneur who was arrested in October after waging a campaign to unearth damaging information about Joe Biden in Ukraine, is requesting that a $325,000 contribution he made to America First Action be returned, according to court records.
The money has been a source of controversy since a federal grand jury indicted Fruman and his partner, Lev Parnas, for trying to hide the origins of the funds when they donated to the political organization in May 2018.
The hefty donation came at a key time when both men were mingling with the upper echelons of the Republican Party, dining with President Donald Trump in Washington, meeting with House members, and launching the back-channel effort in Ukraine that would include Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
Months after the donation was sent to the super PAC, a campaign watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, accusing the partners of concealing the source of the funds by listing a company they had founded as the donor.
Then, this fall, impeachment investigators set their sights on the money as well, demanding Parnas and Fruman reveal its origins.
America First, which says it never spent the money, now wants the federal court in Florida to take control of the funds and dole them out as it sees fit. In a court filing on Friday, the political organization revealed that it had received a notice from Fruman's lawyer this month asking that the money be given back.
“On December 3, 2019, America First received a letter dated November 25, 2019, from Fruman’s counsel requesting that the $325,000 contribution from GEP be ‘return[ed]’ to the address of Fruman’s counsel,” America First wrote.
Fruman isn't the only one who wants the money. Florida attorney Tony Andre, who represents a family that won a large court judgment against Parnas in 2016, said his clients have a right to the funds since the contribution came from a company co-owned by Parnas.
Andre said Parnas owes the family of Michael Pues more than $500,000 over an investment in a Hollywood movie that was never made. "It's been a great burden on the family," said Andre, a Miami area lawyer who added the money was to be used to take care of the family's elderly mother.
Andre said Fruman, who has pleaded not guilty to the campaign violations, has argued through his lawyers that the money was donated legitimately from the company he and Parnas cofounded, and "now he wants to say it belongs to him. I guess it's not surprising. That's the kind of gall that they've shown through this whole process."
Representatives for Fruman didn't return a request for comment and America First declined to comment.
Michael Sallah is a senior investigative reporter and editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington D.C. He is a recipient of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting and was twice named a Pulitzer finalist, once for public service in 2012 and the other for local reporting in 2016.