A California businessman who was a top fundraiser for Democratic and Republican campaigns was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for schemes to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns and take millions of dollars for himself.
“To open doors, I have to donate,” he told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s just a fact of life.”
Zuberi used the name of his dead mother and was secretly reimbursed by foreigners trying to disguise fundraising efforts to sway American police, the LA Times reported.
He also made personal gains by cheating his foreign clients and evading taxes.
“All of these are serious offenses,” U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said at his hearing.
The Los Angeles judge fined him $1.75 million and ordered him to pay $15.7 million to the government for unpaid taxes, interest and penalties.
“Obviously, I have no one else to blame but myself for this conduct,” Zuberi told Phillips.
“I’m deeply sorry, and of course I’m humiliated as I stand in front of you.”
He made over $950,000 in unlawful donations, nearly all from undisclosed foreign donors, to former President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, the late Sen. John McCain and other political campaigns.
He also donated to failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign before he pivoted to backing Republicans following former President Donald Trump’s victory.
Zuberi admitted in June that his donation to Trump’s inaugural fund was partly intended to give him access to inaugural events where he hoped to talk business, but his business plans backfired after his donation was cited in a subpoena, The Times reported.
Assistant U.S. attorney Daniel O’Brien said Zuberi was “purely a mercenary, funneling money to whomever he believed would do his bidding,” in a November court filing, according to the LA Times.
In 2016, the businessman went from attending Clinton’s election night party in New York City to being co-chair of the Trump Presidential Inauguration Committee.
The Times reported that Zuberi and his firm also received $5.65 million in unlawful payments from Sri Lanka as part of an attempt to influence the U.S. government.
“Mr. Zuberi flouted federal laws that restrict foreign influences upon our government and prohibit injecting foreign money into our political campaigns. He enriched himself by defrauding his clients and evading the payment of taxes,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California said in a Thursday news release from the Department of Justice.
“Today’s sentence, which also accounts for Mr. Zuberi’s attempt to obstruct an investigation into his felonious conduct, underscores the importance of our ongoing efforts to maintain transparency in U.S. elections and policy-making processes.”
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