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FBI can't open indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas' phones

Federal prosecutors told the judge that the FBI was trying to still access the devices that were seized when Parnas and Igor Fruman were preparing to board an overseas flight.
Image: Lev Parnas
Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani associate with ties to Ukraine, looks at his phone as he waits in Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer's office during President Donald Trump's the impeachment trial on Capitol Hill on Jan. 29, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file

Federal prosecutors in New York told the judge overseeing the case against former Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman that there are seven phones tied to them that the FBI still cannot access.

The disclosure was made at an arraignment held earlier this week on a superseding indictment that was filed in September of this year. Parnas, Fruman and another man, Andrey Kukushin, all pleaded not guilty to the new indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos told the judge that the FBI was trying to still access the devices that were seized when the duo were preparing to board an overseas flight over a year ago and that “at this time, there’s no expectation that they will be opened in the near term without an advancement of technology or a password.”

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were carrying one-way tickets to Vienna when they were arrested at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington in October 2019.

An indictment unsealed the next day accused the pair of making illegal straw donations, including $325,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee. Federal prosecutors accused the two men and a third, Kukushin, of participating in a scheme that involved making political donations funded by an unidentified foreign national who was nervous about "his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it,” according to the indictment.

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The purpose of those donations, which were allegedly made in 2018, was to help gain access to recreational marijuana licenses so that they could form a marijuana business in Nevada, the indictment said. The venture never came to fruition, according to prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors say the two also engaged in a scheme to force the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in the original indictment but not in the superseding indictment filed in September.

The delay in accessing Parnas and Fruman’s devices is not the only delay facing the case. The coronavirus pandemic has forced all in-person operations in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan to be postponed until Jan. 15.

The chief judge wrote earlier this week, “this temporary curtailment of operations is required to preserve public health and safety in light of the recent spike in coronavirus cases, both nationally and within the Southern District of New York.”

Telephonic and video hearings and conferences can still occur, same with arraignments, so new cases can be brought.

But it could be the summer or next fall before a Parnas' trial, which had been slated for March 1, takes place.