The criminal campaign finance fraud prosecution of several associates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears to be on the verge of netting its first guilty plea, as a federal court in Manhattan set a change-of-plea hearing for Thursday morning for Florida businessman David Correia.
Correia, 45, is one of four men charged last year with a scheme to make illegal campaign contributions — including at least $500,000 from a foreign donor — in a bid to build support for a legal cannabis venture.
Prosecutors also allege that the scheme involved efforts to urge the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in May 2019.
Giuliani has not been charged in the case and has denied any wrongdoing. However, he was deeply involved in the effort to oust Yovanovitch. Legal sources and witnesses have said that Giuliani’s interactions with the defendants have come under scrutiny by federal investigators. Giuliani did not respond to messages seeking comment on the development Wednesday.
Prosecutors say part of the scheme involved Lev Parnas and Correia seeking to lobby a congressman, who is unnamed in the indictment but appears from other indications to be Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who posed for photos with the men on Capitol Hill in May 2018. Sessions has not been charged and has said the meeting concerned energy independence for Ukraine.
It is unclear how closely Giuliani interacted with Correia, but the former mayor and adviser to President Donald Trump had extensive dealings with two other co-defendants in the case: Parnas and Igor Fruman. All three men managed to get photos with Trump at political fundraising events.
Parnas and Igor FrumanCorreia, a self-described former pro golfer who was arrested in October 2019 as he returned from overseas, currently faces six felony charges in the case. The entry in the court’s docket announcing the change-of-plea hearing Thursday did not indicate what charge or charges Correia plans to admit to, but such a shift is typically part of a deal with the government where a defendant agrees to cooperate in exchange for the dismissal of some charges.
Correia’s attorney, William Harrington, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The case, being overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken, is currently set for a jury trial on March 1. However, it stands a strong chance of being delayed further as a result of a backlog of trials due to coronavirus-related limits on court activity.
Another complication may be an effort by defense attorneys to a deposition overseas from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev, who reportedly provided the funds for the marijuana venture. He hasn’t been charged in the case and was left unnamed in the indictment, but his name emerged in other court filings.
After defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt mentioned Muraviev at a court hearing earlier this month, he was scolded by a federal prosecutor, who indicated that the name was contained in discovery materials the government turned over under court order limiting their disclosure.