Meet the Big-Time Mystery Donors Behind the Trump-Allied PAC
07.25.18 5:07 AM ET
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE DAILY BEAST
A mysterious company that made a huge contribution to a pro-Trump political group this year is run by two Soviet-born businessmen, one of whom was feted at a donor retreat at Mar-a-Lago in March.
Global Energy Producers LLC donated $325,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, in May, according to the group’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. That made the company one of America First’s top 20 donors, alongside big Republican names and allied businesses, such as disgraced former GOP fundraiser Steve Wynn and coal giant Murray Energy.
But unlike those prominent contributors, GEP was a virtual unknown. The group had just one other political contribution to date: a $50,000 donation to a PAC supporting Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis’ Florida gubernatorial campaign. It had virtually no paper trail identifying the individuals behind it because the company appears to have been incorporated in Delaware, a state that grants near-total anonymity to corporations formed there.
What can be gleaned about the company’s staff comes from the fact that two of its executives made personal donations to other federal candidates and listed GEP as their employer. Both individuals are Eastern European businessmen, one with considerable financial interests abroad and the other a troubled domestic legal history.
A month after GEP’s donation to America First, Igor Fruman wrote four-figure checks to the campaigns of Reps. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Joe Wilson (R-SC). Both campaigns listed Fruman as GEP’s president in FEC filings. Sessions also got a contribution from a Florida resident named Lev Parnas, who listed his occupation as a GEP “executive.” Neither he nor Fruman responded to requests for comment.
Fruman was born in Belarus and lived for years in Ukraine before immigrating to Miami. He maintains extensive business operations in Ukraine by way of the company F.D. Import & Export Corp. That firm’s subsidiaries have operations in the country’s produce, dairy, coffee, and luxury goods sectors.
The exact reasons for Fruman and Parnas’ interests in American politics are not entirely clear. Nor is it possible to know, definitively and exhaustively, who GEP’s investors are, what sort of business it’s engaged in, or the sources of its revenue. The group is able to make anonymous donations to organizations like America First Action because of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC—a decision that lawmakers of both parties have warned could lead the way to illicit political contributions from, for instance, non-U.S. citizens.
“LLCs have become attractive vehicles to move funds through different ‘shell’ companies and other groups spending on U.S. elections without ever disclosing the source behind the money,” Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told a Senate committee last month. “This leaves open the possibility that foreign interests may secretly funnel political spending using limited liability companies and other non-disclosing entities.”
What’s clearer is that Fruman has made a bet on Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress.
Fruman has been more active this cycle, personally donating $100,000 to Protect the House, a House Republican joint fundraising committee, and two other joint fundraising accounts benefiting the Trump campaign and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign.
FEC filings revealing those contributions contain two different spellings of his name; some say Fruman, and others Furman. But all of them list one of two addresses: a Miami condo owned by Fruman, and a property in Woodmere, New York, owned by Steven Fruman, who appears to be Igor’s brother. The Woodmere property is listed as Fruman’s alternate mailing address in Dade County property records, and as GEP’s address in reports of its contribution to the DeSantis PAC.
In FEC filings, the company listed a different address: a Boca Raton house owned by a Russian-born man named Victor Imber. It’s not clear that Imber has any relationship to Fruman or Parnas, but the latter listed that same address in FEC disclosures of his donation to Sessions, as well as on an $11,000 contribution to Protect the House last month.
Like Fruman, the Russian-born Parnas supported Trump’s 2016 campaign, and donated $2,700 to the campaign, $50,000 to a Trump joint fundraising committee, and $33,400 to the Republican National Committee last cycle.
Parnas runs a company called FraudGuarantee, which also goes by Strategic Global Assets, that says it has operations in New York, Florida, North Carolina, California, Russia, India, and the U.K. The company provides risk analysis and research products designed to prevent financial fraud, according to its website.
The website says that Parnas himself was a victim of such fraud, and set up the company in keeping with his sterling career in finance. “As a licensed financial professional for over twenty years, Mr. Parnas is proud of the fact that he enjoyed that tenure without a single professional complaint against his license or business.”
That glowing testimonial appears to overstate the case.
Though Parnas has not been personally sanctioned for his work in the finance industry, he has worked for three firms that were, after his departure, permanently expelled by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private financial watchdog group.
In 2015, a federal judge ordered Parnas to repay more than $500,000 to a friend who loaned Parnas money to invest in a film project four years earlier. Parnas lured the investor, in part, with a meeting he arranged at the Carlyle Hotel in New York between the would-be investor, the film’s producer, and actor Jack Nicholson, according to the court’s findings in the case.
An agent for Nicholson declined to comment on the meeting, recounted in federal court documents.
Parnas never repaid the money, according to recent court filings in Florida, and the investor is currently seeking redress in a court in Florida, where Parnas is set to be deposed next month.
In the meantime, Parnas has also been sued by his landlord, who is seeking to evict him and his wife and children over $11,000 in unpaid rent.
Despite those outstanding debts, Parnas now appears to be involved with a financial venture that is pouring huge sums into political campaigns.