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If you’re in the mood for some political intrigue today, we direct you to a new Associated Press report on Imaad Zuberi, a political fundraiser, philanthropist, venture capitalist and socialite from Arcadia who got caught playing both sides of the aisle for personal gain.
Last year, Zuberi pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, failing to register as a foreign agent and tax evasion. He’ll be sentenced on Jan. 7. Federal prosecutors are hoping for at least 10 years, a $10 million fine and $16 million in restitution to the IRS.
Zuberi would contribute to lots of political efforts. He fundraised for President Barack Obama in 2012, as well as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Donald Trump, and contributed $900,000 to Trump’s presidential inaugural committee in 2017. Thanks to his donations, Zuberi secured access to U.S. and foreign diplomats and politicians, including, according to an investigation by the AP, Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who have both declined to comment. According to prosecutors, Zuberi would give money to anyone he thought could further his extensive network — a network so vast that a CIA officer once called him the “best-connected person I know.”
However, some of those donations were part of an illegal “straw donor” scheme. That’s when someone makes a donation in another person’s name or with someone else’s money. This might be done to get around campaign limits.
Zuberi would pay for other people’s donations with his credit cards. Some of those people were made up, and one of them was dead. His illegal campaign donations amounted to almost $1 million over five years, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors say Zuberi often used money he garnered from foreign sources as he promised to influence U.S. leaders on their behalf. He also charged fees for this service. Investigators have said there is no evidence that U.S. politicians knew that Zuberi donated to their campaigns using foreign funds.
Zuberi also worked as an unregistered foreign agent for numerous countries and shared the information he gathered through his close ties to foreign officials. He would also connect people for political meetings. In 2015, he invited a Turkish ambassador to have dinner in L.A. with two House Foreign Affairs Committee members when Turkey wanted to kill a House resolution concerning the nation. He’d also donate to lawmakers he was trying to get to do favors for him on behalf of foreign clients. Prosecutors say Zuberi made over $9 million from the government of Qatar through illegal lobbying efforts.
Zuberi’s schemes involved both Republicans and Democrats and helped him become a very wealthy man worth over $30 million. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien via a sentencing memo, “the Zuberi case explicitly verifies, through evidentiary proof, pervasive, corrupt foreign interference with our elections and policy-making processes.”
You can read the whole, fascinating report here. If this doesn’t become a dramatic, episodic podcast in 2021, I’ll be truly shocked.