Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that his political committee will return a $50,000 donation received last year from two South Florida businessmen who were arrested Wednesday and accused of funneling illicit contributions into state and federal campaigns.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who helped President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, look into his political opponents in Ukraine — were charged by federal prosecutors in New York with attempting to funnel foreign money into U.S. politics. The alleged scheme included straw donations in which the duo masked the source of their political contributions by sending them through a newly formed Delaware corporation.
In June of 2018, they gave the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee $50,000 through a company called Global Energy Producers. They made the contribution one day before Trump endorsed DeSantis for Florida governor.
“The allegations regarding Global Energy Producers to the governor’s affiliated political action committee in 2018 are troubling,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferré wrote in an email Thursday. “Therefore, Governor DeSantis is directing the political action committee to return the money to the federal government.”
The indictment does not mention contributions to any Florida campaigns.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s victory fund — a political committee assisting his run last year for U.S. Senate — also received a $15,000 donation last year from Fruman. A spokesman for Scott did not respond to requests for comment.
The men were scheduled to appear before congressional committees this week to testify in Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump. Their lawyer told the Miami Herald this week that they would not comply. They had also failed to meet a Monday deadline to supply documents to the committees.
They were subpoenaed after their arrests.
Parnas and Fruman were cited — although not by name — in the government whistle-blower complaint that sparked the impeachment effort. The complaint alleged that in a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pressured his counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The FBI picked up the two men as prosecutors say they were trying to leave the country on a one-way flight out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Prosecutors say Fruman and Parnas made donations to federal political committees through Global Energy Producers that were, in fact, funded by “a private lending transaction between Fruman and third parties.”
DeSantis announced his plans to return the money after the Miami Herald published a story Wednesday detailing that Parnas, a Giuliani associate, raised money for DeSantis’ campaign last year.
Parnas hosted two fundraisers for DeSantis in the summer and fall of 2018, the Miami Herald reported. One of the events was an exclusive affair held at a South Florida residence with fewer than 30 people attending, including the governor. The other gathering was headlined by Donald Trump Jr.