legal

Giuliani Ukraine associate had checkered past even before indictment

Lev Parnas’ track record is punctuated with alleged death threats and partnerships with fraudsters.

Courtroom sketch

On Oct. 25, 2008, the owner of a property in Florida in which Lev Parnas had been living told Parnas to leave. When the men began to argue and the owner told Parnas he would call the police, Parnas told the man, "If you call the cops, they are not going to find you ever," according to a petition for a restraining order filed by the landlord in Miami-Dade county court and obtained by POLITICO.

Three days later, the men met to discuss the matter again. According to the petition, Parnas held a gun to the man’s head and said, "This is my last warning to you," then got into his car, a dark blue Porsche Cayenne, and drove off. Three days after that, on Halloween, the police seized from Parnas a .38 revolver, a 9mm pistol, an automatic pistol, and a .40-caliber Glock pistol, according to a court motion filed later by Parnas seeking return of the firearms.

The condo at the heart of the dispute was on the 42nd floor of Trump Palace in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

Parnas denied threatening his landlord, and the man’s petition was dismissed without prejudice for lack of evidence, but the allegations represent just one of several odd links between the man now facing federal criminal charges and the president of the United States — and just one of several disturbing chapters from Parnas’ past.

Before he accompanied Rudy Giuliani to the National Cathedral for George H.W. Bush’s funeral and posted online about dining at the White House with President Donald Trump, Parnas lived a checkered life, often working with fraudsters and others tied to organized crime. As Parnas and one of his alleged co-conspirators head to arraignment next Wednesday on charges of manipulating the American political system at the behest of foreigners, the ease with which he was able to buy his way into Trump’s inner circle provides an alarming indicator of the integrity of that system.

A lawyer for Parnas, John Dowd, did not respond to a request for comment. On Saturday, Dowd told a POLITICO reporter he was “not going to respond” to any future questions about Parnas, who faces a slew of campaign finance charges. This account was pieced together through interviews, Florida public records, long-forgotten news stories and press releases.

Born in Ukraine in 1972 and raised in Brooklyn, Parnas has told the New Yorker that he worked for a realtor selling units in Trump buildings as a teenager. He’s spent his adult life in Florida, where over a 20-year period he provided 21 different business addresses for at least 16 different ventures. One of them, the PC Edge Foundation, registered to the same Trump Palace address as the episode involving the gun, proclaimed its mission was “to raise funding and awareness to various charity organizations. Our main focus is to eliminate illiteracy.” It was shut down after 17 months.

It was also just one of many obscure forays in Florida business that now are getting a second look as Parnas heads to court on federal criminal charges while also serving as a central figure in the House-led Trump impeachment investigation. In 1999, Parnas appeared in the state’s corporate records listed with a Boca Raton address as a director of Program Trading Corp. Among the other four directors was a Staten Island man, Mitchell Reisman, who remained in business with Parnas through at least 2003. Parnas also named Reisman as a director of one of his own businesses, Aaron Investment Corp. But in 2004, Reisman pleaded guilty in New Jersey to theft by deception and securities fraud for activities that were unrelated to Program Trading Corp., nonetheless dating to the period of his business partnership with Parnas. Later, Resiman was sentenced to 51 months in prison for another fraud scheme that dated back to 2003 and was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.

Some of Parnas’ escapades were relatively harmless. In 2002, he was among a group of Miami Heat ticket-holders sued by the basketball team for failing to pay on multi-season, six-figure contracts for premium seats. At the time, Parnas told the Miami Herald he had stopped paying because the team wasn’t living up to its end of an agreement that included a verbal promise to have a player hand him a signed team basketball at center court during halftime of a game in 2000. When that did not happen, Parnas told the paper, “It made me look like a fool in front of my clients.”

Other Parnas ventures had him dealing with associates involved in serious criminal enterprises. By 2006, Parnas was listed in Florida filings as the chairman of Edgetech International. A Nevada-registered corporation that marketed itself as a seller of computer gadgets, Edgetech brought Parnas into business dealings with unsavory characters.

The firm described itself in one press release as selling “the PocketSurfer, a new handheld wireless Web access device” to an international audience from Russia. The company was also promoting a product called “The Edge, the world's first ultra-mobile handheld computer with a built-in modem operating at DSL-type speed,” which it planned to plug in an appearance at the Sundance film festival in Park City, Utah.

More big announcements kept coming. In September 2006, Edgetech rolled out a partnership with the producer for the pop music band NSYNC, Lou Pearlman, in which a musician signed to Pearlman’s record label inserted lyrics about “The Edge” into a song, which he then performed at the Glass Lounge, “one of the hottest night clubs on South Beach.” In a press release, Parnas said, “Pearlman's accomplishments are legendary within the industry, having reached a level of success not often duplicated.”

At the time, investigators were closing in on Pearlman for running one of the largest ponzi schemes in history. In February 2007, Florida authorities seized control of some of Pearlman’s businesses amid fraud accusations. Four months later, a federal grand jury indicted Pearlman and after his conviction he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Pearlman died in federal custody in 2016.

In 2008, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York indicted Arthur Dozortsev, his brother Nikolai Dozortsev, and Ricardo Fanchini for their roles in an organized crime enterprise that trafficked in cocaine, heroin and MDMA.

When Nikolai Dozortsev — who has been described by law enforcement as a “high-ranking member of Russian organized crime” — pleaded guilty to some of the counts, he agreed to forfeit a variety of assets. Among them were 100,000 shares of EdgeTech stock registered under the name “Arthur Dozortsen” with an 'n,' and seized from the home of his brother, Arthur, according to court records.

Reached by phone, Arthur Dozortsev said that Parnas had induced him to invest $20,000 by promising him that the value of EdgeTech stock was guaranteed to rise, but that it ended up being worthless. “He screwed me, bro,” Arthur Dozortsev said.

Florida officials in June 2009 revoked EdgeTech’s license to operate in the state after a Fort Lauderdale lawyer that Parnas had long used as his registered agent resigned the position. The attorney, Jay Valinsky, did not respond to requests for comment.

More ventures followed. In 2010, Parnas solicited a $350,000 bridge loan from an investor for the financing of a movie, “Anatomy of an Assassin,” that never got made, and then failed to pay the money back, according to court records. By 2016, a judge had awarded a $500,000 judgment against Parnas, which the investor is still trying to collect.

Another Parnas venture — one of several he launched in conjunction with David Correia, an alleged co-conspirator in the campaign finance crimes — was Fraud Guarantee.

According to John Cardillo, a conservative radio host and former New York City police officer who did consulting work for Parnas on the venture, Fraud Guarantee was “originally going to do something with data” but then “morphed into an insurance type play.”

It was this entity, Fraud Guarantee, that Giuliani now says retained him for legal advice, for which he told Reuters he received $500,000, bringing him into association with Parnas.

Cardillo, who said his involvement with the firm was short-lived, said he knew Parnas socially, and viewed him as a sober family man. "He wasn’t throwing cash around with women all around him," Cardillo recalled. (That appears to have changed, judging by bank records obtained by Buzzfeed that show Parnas spending lavishly at luxury hotspots and a Kiev strip club.)

Another investor in Fraud Guarantee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Parnas as “a great father,” and “not a bad person.”

Still, the investor is wondering what happened to their money. “I’m afraid myself,” the person said. “I invested money. I never got anything back. And now I’m sitting cold. It’s a bit scary. That’s it.”

Despite this past, when Trump mounted his run for president, Parnas had no problem entering the future president’s inner circle. He attended fundraisers for Trump in Florida and the campaign’s election night victory party in New York. A photo posted on Facebook days after the January 2017 inauguration by Republican mega-donor John Catsimatidis shows Parnas at a gala in a tuxedo, standing just feet from Trump, Catsimatidis and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

By last year, Parnas and his alleged co-conspirator Igor Fruman were working with Giuliani, who was photographed with Parnas at former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. last December. Jeb Bush told Buzzfeed this week that he thought Giuliani bringing Parnas to his father’s funeral was “disappointing.” Giuliani did not respond to a question about the invitation.

In a since-deleted Facebook post from last May, Parnas published a photo of himself with Trump, tagging the location as the White House, and captioned it “incredible dinner and even better conversation,” according to an investigation published this summer by Buzzfeed and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment about the post.

In March, a Jewish group, National Council of Young Israel, honored Parnas and Fruman with a “Lovers of Zion” award at a New York gala attended by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Giuliani.

At the event, public relations executive Josh Nass spotted the two men behind the scenes in a VIP section and, curious about the unfamiliar faces in the small world of New York’s pro-Israel Orthodox event circuit, greeted them in Russian. "These are two typical Brighton Beach thugs,” Nass recalled. “That's what they look like. That's what they talk like. I was talking to them in that sort of slang. That's why they liked me.”

The conversation did not get very far before Parnas’ phone began to ring, and Nass glanced down to see that the caller ID was flashing Giuliani’s name. “I was aghast,” he said, unable to fathom how the man knew the president’s personal lawyer. “You should have seen my face.”