When Lev Parnas was arrested in 2019, he was known mainly as a minor presence in Republican political circles: someone who traded on connections with allies of Donald J. Trump, including the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to gain access to other Republican candidates.
But prosecutors say Mr. Parnas had broader — and illegal — aims: He conspired to funnel money from a Russian oligarch to candidates as part of an influence-buying scheme to benefit a cannabis business, according to charges that led to his conviction last year on campaign finance offenses.
On Wednesday Judge J. Paul Oetken of Federal District Court in Manhattan sentenced Mr. Parnas to 20 months in prison.
“Mr. Parnas was at the center of three criminal schemes,” Judge Oetken said, adding that Mr. Parnas had behaved in ways that “erode confidence” in the electoral system.
Just before being sentenced, Mr. Parnas sobbed and apologized, saying he would repay people he had stolen from and would be an “upstanding human being.”
“I have made mistakes, I lied,” he said. “I’m going to be a different person.”
After his arrest, other details of Mr. Parnas’s life emerged. He acknowledged participating in an effort by Mr. Giuliani to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate President Biden while he was a leading Democratic presidential candidate. And he admitted to conspiring to defraud investors in an anti-fraud company he created called Fraud Guarantee.
In a statement, Damian Williams, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said: “Not content to defraud investors in his business, Fraud Guarantee, out of more than $2 million dollars, Parnas also defrauded the American public by pumping Russian money into U.S. elections and lying about the source of funds for political contributions.”
Mr. Parnas’s lawyers had requested that he be sentenced to time served, writing to Judge Oetken that their client had already spent over nine months under 24-hour home confinement and another 18 months under curfew.
“Mr. Parnas’s remorse, public humiliation, shame and hard work to turn his life around all weigh in favor of a nonjail sentence,” those lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six and a half to eight years, writing that Mr. Parnas had “lied and swindled and corrupted for his own benefit.”
“Parnas put himself above this country, his investors, and the public,” they wrote.
In many ways, Mr. Parnas’s story can be seen as a parable of the Trump years, even if the offenses he was sentenced for did not involve the former president. A Ukrainian immigrant who grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Mr. Parnas used his proximity to power — and selfies with Trump-world figures — to advance his business interests.
He dined on cheeseburgers with Mr. Trump in a two-level luxury suite in the president’s Washington hotel, and he became close with Mr. Giuliani, helping him make connections in Ukraine.
Eventually, however, feeling abandoned by Mr. Trump after his arrest, Mr. Parnas renounced him. He then provided information to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.
Mr. Parnas’s lawyers, Joseph A. Bondy and Stephanie R. Schuman, cited that assistance as justifying a more lenient sentence, writing to the court that Mr. Parnas had given nearly 700 pages of documents to the House committee.
Mr. Bondy added that prosecutors in Mr. Parnas’s case apparently “did not want to hear” information he was willing to share, had kept him “at bay” before hearing what he had to offer, then had used that information to “thwart his potential trial testimony, rather than to consider his attempt to provide substantial assistance in good faith.”
Prosecutors countered that Mr. Parnas did not deserve special credit for complying with a subpoena from the House committee.
In addition, prosecutors wrote to the court that they had made “extraordinary” efforts to facilitate Mr. Parnas’s cooperation but had serious concerns about his candor. Information he offered “was not fully credible and in material respects was plainly contradicted by the evidence the government had gathered to date,” the prosecutors wrote.
Mr. Parnas’s immersion in Republican politics reached its peak in 2018. That year he and a business partner, Igor Fruman, began attending political fund-raisers and making contributions. Prosecutors said they wanted to ingratiate themselves within political circles and promote an energy company they had formed, Global Energy Producers.
The Trump Investigations
Numerous inquiries. Since Donald J. Trump left office, the former president has been facing civil and criminal investigations across the country into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at the notable inquiries:
A $325,000 contribution to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, Inc., was falsely reported as coming from that company, prosecutors said. They added that the money really came from a loan Mr. Fruman had taken out on a condo he owned and was meant in part to “obtain access to exclusive political events and gain influence with politicians.”
Mr. Parnas and his business partners, including the Russian oligarch, Andrey Muraviev, had also planned a legal cannabis business and hoped that political donations could help elect allies who would then provide them with permits to launch that business, according to evidence introduced at trial.
Financial records introduced by prosecutors showed that Mr. Muraviev sent $1 million to a company controlled by Mr. Fruman’s brother, and that a $10,000 donation to Adam Laxalt, the 2018 Republican candidate for governor of Nevada, was made with a credit card tied to that company. Mr. Laxalt, a Trump ally, testified during Mr. Parnas’s trial that he was suspicious of the donation and decided to send a check in that amount to the U.S. Treasury.
In addition to mingling at political events, Mr. Parnas began working with Mr. Giuliani, traveling to Kyiv to press officials there to investigate Mr. Biden’s son Hunter. He was also in regular touch with Yuriy Lutsenko, who, as Ukraine’s chief prosecutor at the time, was urging the removal of the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv.
Mr. Giuliani also had a connection to Mr. Parnas’s company, Fraud Guarantee, which advertised insurance to protect against losses resulting from investments in other companies where there was fraudulent conduct.
In the fall of 2018, a Long Island lawyer named Charles Gucciardo sought to invest $500,000 in Fraud Guarantee, prosecutors said, following directions from Mr. Parnas and another man to wire the money to a consulting company owned by Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Gucciardo’s lawyer, Randy Zelin, later said: “He understood that he was investing in a reputable company that Rudolph Giuliani was going to be the spokesman and the face of.”
But Fraud Guarantee itself turned out to be fraudulent, prosecutors said, adding that Mr. Parnas used money from investors for personal expenses.
Mr. Gucciardo sent a letter to Judge Oetken, calling Mr. Parnas “a pompous, conniving, self-centered con artist” who had stolen his money and damaged his reputation.
“My losses from this ordeal will never be sufficiently calculated nor recompensed,” Mr. Gucciardo wrote. “I am sure that the defendant could not care less about any of this.”