- Associated Press - Thursday, October 10, 2019

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Contributions to Republican candidates for Nevada governor and state attorney general in 2018 were attempts by businessmen with ties to President Donald Trump’s lawyer and the Ukraine investigation to influence U.S. politics, federal prosecutors in New York alleged Thursday.

A failed bid to open a retail marijuana business in Nevada also is detailed in an indictment made public in U.S. District Court against four men, including Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Parnas’ business partner, David Correia, and Andrew Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, also are charged in the case. It alleges federal campaign finance violations including the funneling of foreign money to candidates and campaigns in the U.S.

The four men and an unnamed foreign national with what Kukushkin termed “Russian roots” missed a September 2018 deadline to apply for a pot sales license in Nevada and decided they would need the governor to change rules to let them apply, the indictment said.

Fruman contributed $10,000 each to the Republican campaigns of Adam Laxalt, then the state attorney general who lost his bid for governor, and Wesley Duncan, Laxalt’s former top deputy who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general.

The indictment filed in New York does not refer to Laxalt or Duncan by name. It calls them Candidate 1 and Candidate 2.

State contribution records show both contributions. Laxalt’s were in two $5,000 payments.

Laxalt issued a statement through spokesman Robert Uithoven noting the indictment says the defendants concealed their scheme from candidates, campaigns, federal regulators and the public.

“Until this morning, like everyone else, Adam was unaware of the illegal activity and he intends to return the donation,” Uithoven said.

Duncan, in a statement through Mike Slanker, his former campaign chief, said his campaign refunded Fruman’s contribution on Thursday.

“I had no idea Mr. Fruman was acting unlawfully,” Duncan’s statement said.

The indictment alleges that while donations were in Fruman’s name, they were funded by the foreign person whose identity was hidden “due to, in Kukushkin’s words, ‘his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it.’”

Nevada marijuana regulators and a representative for Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to questions about the indictment.

Democratic State Attorney General Aaron Ford was “monitoring the situation, and will review facts as they become available,” said his spokeswoman, Monica Moazez.

The process for licensing lucrative retail cannabis outlets in Nevada has been beset by legal battles since state tax officials approved 61 new licenses last December from among 462 applications.

Losing bidders have sued, arguing the process was riddled with mistakes and bias, while attorneys for the state and some companies that won retail dispensary licenses say tax officials fairly enforced a voter-approved initiative that legalized recreational pot sales to adults.

The indictment alleges the unnamed foreign person and Fruman, Parnas, Correia and Kukushkin met in Las Vegas in September 2018, and that Parnas, Fruman and Kukushkin also attended a political fundraiser at which they posed for photographs with Duncan.

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