Feds charge California investor who donated $900K to Trump inaugural committee

Imaad Zuberi pleaded guilty to making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to various presidential election campaigns and other candidates for elected office.
Image: President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania Trump dance at the Liberty Ball at the Washington D.C. Convention Center following Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the U.S. on Jan. 20.
President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania Trump dance at the Liberty Ball at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center following Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Andrew Blankstein, Tom Winter and Rich Schapiro

A California venture capitalist who donated $900,000 to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee has admitted to falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. officials, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Imaad Zuberi, 49, has agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion, filing bogus foreign agent registration records and providing almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to various presidential election campaigns and other candidates for elected office, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

The charging documents do not specify which candidates received the illegal money funneled from foreign entities between September 2011 and November 2016. Federal prosecutors also did not reveal the source of the $900,000 that Zuberi donated to the Trump inaugural committee in December 2016.

A longtime political donor, Zuberi has supported candidates on both sides of the aisle. But he threw his support to Trump following the 2016 election.

He previously donated to a host of Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton in 2015, Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham in 2014, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2015, and Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2011.

Efforts to reach Zuberi, who is expected to make his first court appearance Oct. 30, were not successful. His spokesman, Steve Rabinowitz, declined comment.

Prosecutors say Zuberi solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments, claiming he could use his influence in Washington, D.C., to alter U.S. foreign policy and open up business opportunities for his clients.

Zuberi went to great lengths to pull off his scheme — hiring lobbyists, retaining public relations professionals and making campaign contributions — and in the process gained access to high-level U.S. officials, according to federal prosecutors.

Some U.S. officials agreed to take action on issues Zuberi presented to them, prosecutors said, but most of his efforts were unsuccessful and his clients lost large amounts of money.

"Mr. Zuberi’s multifaceted scheme allowed him to line his pockets by concealing the fact that he was representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions, and skimming money paid by his clients," United States Attorney Nick Hanna said.

"Mr. Zuberi circumvented laws designed to insulate U.S. policy and our election process from foreign intervention. This investigation has halted his illegal conduct, will result in several felony convictions, and could send him to prison for a lengthy period of time."

Zuberi's name surfaced last February amid reports that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was questioned about Zuberi in the process of providing information to federal prosecutors investigating the Trump Organization and the Trump Inaugural Committee.

Zuberi issued a $100,000 check to Cohen as part of a consulting agreement in February 2017, Zuberi's spokesman told NBC News. That was two months after he made the almost $1 million donation to the Trump inaugural committee, federal records show.

But Zuberi's spokesman said the check was never cashed. Zuberi and Cohen never spoke again after March 2017, Rabinowitz said.

“Imaad [Zuberi] did not pursue Cohen; it was the other way around," Rabinowitz said. "And their would-be relationship fell apart when Zuberi didn’t sign the contract, not when Cohen didn’t cash the check. And how could he? They didn’t have a deal.”

Cohen, who pleaded guilty on charges related to tax evasion and campaign finance fraud in a case spun out from the Russia probe, is serving a three-year prison sentence.

Emily R. Siegel contributed.