A Los Angeles-area businessman and political fundraiser who obstructed a federal investigation into donations to former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and falsified records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars.
Imaad Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, also was ordered by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips to pay nearly $16 million in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million. He is to report to prison on May 25.
In November 2019, Zuberi pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by making false statements on a FARA filing, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions. In June, Zuberi pleaded guilty in a separate case to one count of obstruction of justice. His sentence pertains to both cases.
“Mr. Zuberi flouted federal laws that restrict foreign influences upon our government and prohibit injecting foreign money into our political campaigns,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “He enriched himself by defrauding his clients and evading the payment of taxes. 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.”
Zuberi operated Avenue Ventures LLC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, and solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims that he could use his contacts in Washington, D.C., to change U.S. foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself.
Clients gave Zuberi money for consulting fees, to make investments, or to fund campaign contributions. As part of his efforts to influence public policy, Zuberi hired lobbyists, retained public relations professionals and made campaign contributions that gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom acted in support of his clients.
As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials.
While Zuberi had a limited degree of success with some U.S. officials, most of his business efforts failed and his clients suffered significant financial losses, prosecutors said. Many of the lobbyists, public relations consultants and other subcontractors also suffered losses when Zuberi refused to pay them. Meanwhile, Zuberi became wealthy, largely through his theft of client funds and unlawful lobbying on behalf of foreign interests.
“As Mr. Zuberi’s greed and wealth increased, his elaborate influence-peddling scheme collapsed,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “By lending a veneer of credibility through name dropping and flashing photos with high-level government officials, Zuberi was able to con foreign donors. Now that he’s been sentenced, he will be held accountable by the United States government which he so recklessly misrepresented.”
Zuberi also siphoned money invested in U.S. Cares, a company set up to export humanitarian aid to Iran. In 2013 and 2014, investors deposited about $7 million into U.S. Cares, but Zuberi used more than 90% of the investor funds for his personal benefit, which included purchasing real estate, paying down debt such as mortgages and credit card bills, remodeling properties, investing in brokerage accounts, and donating $250,000 to a non-profit organization established by a former high-ranking elected official, court papers show.
Zuberi’s crimes are “multi-faceted but boil down to four primary aspects,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
“First, defendant used foreign money to fund illegal campaign contributions that bought him political influence. Second, using this influence, defendant secretly lobbied United States officials for policy changes on behalf of foreign principals. Third, defendant reaped huge profits for himself by defrauding clients, investors, subcontractors, and the IRS. Fourth, defendant obstructed the government’s investigation by paying millions of dollars to procure the silence of witnesses and by destroying evidence.”
The obstruction charge stems from a federal investigation into the source of nearly $1 million that Zuberi donated through Avenue Ventures to Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016.
Zuberi also violated the Federal Election Campaign Act in 2015 by making conduit contributions in the names of other people, reimbursing contributions made by others, and being reimbursed for contributions he made. Over a five-year period — 2012 through 2016 — he made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
“An opportunist at his core, Zuberi worked with political figures across the aisle, depending on who was in power, to lend an appearance of credibility to his political charades,” said Ryan Korner, the IRS-Criminal Investigation L.A. field office special agent in charge.
“At the end of the day, IRS Criminal Investigation worked closely with our partner federal agencies to ensure Zuberi’s criminal behavior would not pay off, and that he was held accountable for paying himself rather than using the funds he solicited for their original intended purpose,” Korner said.
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