Donor to Trump Inauguration Sentenced to 12 Years in Federal Inquiry

A California venture capitalist was sentenced on Thursday to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that included obstructing a federal investigation into a nearly $1 million donation to former President Donald J. Trump’s inaugural committee.

The businessman, Imaad Zuberi, was sentenced by a federal judge in California and ordered to pay $1.75 million in criminal fines and $15.7 million in restitution.

Mr. Zuberi, 50, had pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice charge last year. It stemmed from a federal investigation into the source of $900,000 he had donated through his company, Avenue Ventures, to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.

A lawyer for Mr. Zuberi declined to comment on Friday. He has acknowledged that his political donations were intended to gain access to politicians, public officials and business executives.

“To open doors, I have to donate,” he told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Mr. Zuberi had donated heavily to Democrats, including committees supporting President Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, before abruptly pivoting to Republicans after Mr. Trump’s victory. In Washington political circles, he was notable less for the scale of his giving than for its transactional nature.

Mr. Zuberi said in 2019 that his donation to Mr. Trump’s inaugural fund was at least partly intended to give him access to inaugural events where he hoped to talk business with Trump-backing investors and executives. But he said his attendance at the inaugural events did not yield any business — and backfired after his company’s donation was cited in a subpoena.

Mr. Zuberi was also sentenced on Thursday on a range of other charges to which he had pleaded guilty in 2019, and for which he could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Some of those charges relate to nearly $1 million in illegal campaign donations made from April 2012 through October 2016 as part of a scheme to gain access to American politicians for foreign clients. Some of those donations were funded by foreign sources.

Others related to his lobbying work in Washington for the government of Sri Lanka, whose image he was trying to repair in Washington amid concerns about the country’s treatment of Tamil minority groups.

Mr. Zuberi falsified records filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to conceal his lobbying for Sri Lanka, the Justice Department said in a statement on Thursday. That act, known as FARA, requires Americans to disclose detailed information about any lobbying or public relations work they do on behalf of foreign governments and political entities.

In addition, Mr. Zuberi failed to report and pay taxes on $5.65 million that he was paid for the Sri Lankan lobbying campaign, and diverted most of the money “to the benefit of himself and his wife,” the Justice Department’s statement said.

“This sentence should deter others who would seek to corrupt our political processes and compromise our institutions in exchange for foreign cash,” John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in the statement.

Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics

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