An L.A. Businessman Who Peddled Political Influence Gets 12 Years in Prison

Imaad Zuberi sold access to powerful people for millions in foreign cash

An internationally connected L.A. businessman and political donor who made fast friends by padding campaign coffers on both sides of the aisle was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $18 million in fines and restitution Thursday, after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion, campaign finance violations, and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips to throw the book at Imaad Zuberi, 50, for what they described as an unprecedented scheme to funnel donations to both Democrats and Republicans in order to gain influence, which he then peddled in lobbying pols on behalf of countries like Turkey and Sri Lanka, as well as for a shadowy Ukrainian oligarch tied to Vladimir Putin, Politico reports.

Though none of the politicians who took Zuberi’s money have been accused of wrongdoing, the Pakistani-American with a multitude of foreign business contacts has made donations to Lindsey Graham, the Obama/Biden 2012 campaign, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid, and to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.

In what law enforcement officials called one of the most “wide ranging” campaign finance cases they’ve ever prosecuted, Zuberi reportedly masterminded a straw donor scheme in which he would pay for other people’s donations to funnel nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions over the course of five years.

A report by the Associated Press revealed that within days or weeks of making a donation to a politician, Zuberi would follow up by requesting special consideration for the foreign interests that bankrolled his illegal lobbying services. In 2013, for instance, he gave $5,200 to Democratic California Rep. Tony Cardenas around the same time the congressman’s office sent an official letter to the National Archives supporting a Zuberi associate who wished to do business with it.

“This is why you are getting the letter,” Zuberi wrote to his client. “Just want to make sure you realize it.”

Prosecutors also allege that Zuberi made $9.8 million in Qatar oil money to secretly lobby the Trump White House and Congress on the monarchy’s behalf, and that he even had business ventures with former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark. Emails obtained by the AP show Zuberi wanted Clark’s assistance in work he was doing for Dmitry Firtash, a billionaire Ukrainian oligarch and Putin pal fighting extradition to the United States on federal bribery and racketeering charges, who prosecutors say paid the fixer $1 million for his unregistered lobbying.

Cardenas and Clark declined to comment to Politico.

The sentencing comes on the heels of the release of hundreds of pages of previously sealed court filings at the request of several media outlets, but much of the information has been redacted because Zuberi is cooperating with the feds on other corruption cases.

Zuberi’s lawyers say he was even “preparing at an FBI office for a recorded conversation” in an investigation targeting an unnamed California mayor. That plan had to be scrapped, however, when it came out that federal prosecutors in New York were looking into a $900,000 contribution Zuberi made to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. Zuberi admitted he obstructed that investigation.

Zuberi—who was also accused of offering six witnesses $6 million in exchange for their silence before pleading guilty to the current charges in 2019—told the judge on Thursday, “I’m deeply sorry and, of course, humiliated. I have no excuse for what I’ve done.”

He reports to prison on May 25.

RELATED: A Key Figure in the ‘Whitey’ Bulger Case Has Been Released from Prison

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.