Politicians and associates in New York on both sides of the aisle are implicated in alleged involvement of misappropriated money to benefit the launch of a pot business. Two Rudy Giuliani associates—Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—told a Russian millionaire in 2018 they offered a $125,000 straw donation to then-Governor Andrew Cuomo to curry favor in launching a pot business in New York, court filings say.
First reported by New York Daily News, the ongoing scandal continues to reveal a web of corruption in marijuana markets in multiple states.
Cuomo signed legislation on March 31 to legalize adult-use cannabis in New York, but was criticized for dragging his feet in getting the market up and running. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who replaced Cuomo, promised to pick up where Cuomo failed, and get the state’s adult-use cannabis market off the ground.
Political infighting stalled progress in The New York State Legislature—forcing it to end its 2021 session in July without taking action on a core piece of the state’s adult-use cannabis law. New York residents and legal advisors were frustrated about the delays on a control board, among other things.
New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act provides advanced social equity provisions. Like any other state with a legal market, competition is high to obtain licenses and establish dominance in the market.
But allegations of corruption in the approval process could include both the former governor and the former attorney of Donald Trump.
Manhattan Federal Court papers were filed on Tuesday in the criminal case against Parnas, a former associate who helped Giuliani to uncover dirt on President Joe Biden in the Ukraine. Parnas goes to trial in October on charges that he and several others illegally funneled cash from Russian millionaire Andrey Muraviev to U.S. politicians—which violates campaign finance laws that ban donations from foreigners.
The new documents claim Fruman sent Muraviev a list of which politicians had received the Russian millionaire’s money—including the alleged pot business donation. “The list includes $125,000 ‘Paid’ to then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” federal prosecutors wrote. But prosecutors admitted that there’s no solid evidence that Parnas, Fruman “or anyone acting at their behest actually made this payment” to the ex-governor.
Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi, who resigned last month amid sexual misconduct allegations, said Cuomo’s team had never heard of the donation.
Fruman pleaded guilty earlier this month and admitted that he funneled at least $25,000 from the Russian to Democrats and Republicans to acquire marijuana distribution licenses in several states. Fruman was originally charged with 10 crimes.
Prosecutors involved in the case don’t seem to be able to determine the intentions of the Giuliani associates, and whether the offer was just a ploy. “Although [they] agreed to use Muraviev’s money to fund their joint cannabis business—primarily by donating to U.S. politicians they believed would help the business—they did not in fact use all the money for that purpose,” the federal prosecutors wrote. “Among other things, Parnas and Fruman used a portion of the money to cover expenses for luxurious hotel accommodations and airfare, and other personal expenses.”
Parnas attorney Joseph Bondy said that federal prosecutors are misinformed, and doesn’t expect the case to go far.
It’s doubtful that Giuliani himself has any interest in investing into the pot business. When Giuliani was mayor of New York City, marijuana possession arrests in the city ballooned to more than 40,000 annually, and the former mayor stated in 2014 that “marijuana can deteriorate your brain.”
Neither former governor Andrew Cuomo nor the associates of former Trump attorney Giuliani appear to be committed to fair policies in New York’s marijuana market.
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.