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“Ukraine-gate” Hits Home: How Is Nevada Involved in Trump’s Latest Geopolitical Scandal?

Late last month, we did our best to explain not only the history of Ukraine and Russia, but also how Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and American foreign policy fit into the current fight over Ukraine’s future. 

Last week, we learned that Trump’s “Ukraine-gate” scandal not only reaches to various ends of the earth, but also very close to home. Why on earth did a group of shadowy “businessmen” with Russian ties make a last minute power play in our election, and how does this story fit into the larger story of transnational crime syndicates wreaking havoc around the world?

First, who are the two guys who were arrested, and how’s Rudy Giuliani involved in this?

Until last week, Ukraine and its fights against Russian aggression and endemic corruption seemed so distant. After all, how do the battles of Donbass affect life in Vegas? Apparently, quite a bit.

Since 2018, The Daily Beast and the (non-profit and non-partisan) Campaign Legal Center have been investigating how an entity called “Global Energy Producers LLC” was being used to illegally launder foreign money into American elections, conceal the identities of the real donors, and curry the favor of the Trump administration by boosting the fortunes of pro-Trump Republican candidates across the nation. At the center of the “Global Energy Producers LLC” shell corporation were Soviet-born “businessmen” Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two Ukrainian-Americans who always seem to advocate a pro-Russian agenda in Ukraine and the U.S.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas happen to have a very close “working relationship” with one Rudy Giuliani (the former New York City Mayor turned Trump personal lawyer), especially when they served as “unofficial envoys to Ukraine” and connected Giuliani with former and current law enforcement officials who could help him “get dirt” on Trump’s political opponents. Fruman and Parnas were arrested last Wednesday on charges relating to their use of “Global Energy Producers” to funnel Russian money into last year’s U.S. midterm election, and New York federal prosecutors are now investigating Giuliani for his work with Fruman and Parnas, along with his efforts to obstruct then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch when she acted on behalf of the U.S. to assist Ukraine in combating the exact kind of corruption that Fruman and Parnas reveled in.

From Kiev to Las Vegas, here’s how Trump’s “Ukraine-gate” scandal hits home (literally).
Photo by Andrew Davey

Around this time last year, we took a closer look at then Nevada Attorney General and Gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt (R), how his calls for “law and order” didn’t seem to apply to himself, and why some shady outfit dropped transphobic attack ads targeting his opponent Steve Sisolak (D). Even with all this swirling around the Republican nominee, we didn’t realize at the time that there was an even bigger scandal looming right under our noses.

In July 2018, Fruman and Parnas worked with Andrey Kukushkin and David Correia to start a marijuana business right here in Nevada. In September Kukushkin told Fruman and Parnas that they were “two months too late to the game unless they change the rules” and elect a governor who’d give them the “green light to implement this”, because they had just missed a state-issued deadline to apply for one of the 61 recreational marijuana business licenses up for grabs. Correia then developed a multi-state plan to raise $1 to $2 million to aid their favored politicians, and a Russian national wired two $500,000 deposits to a bank account controlled by Fruman.

Photo by Andrew Davey

On October 20, 2018, Fruman, Kukushkin, and Parnas all attended a campaign rally, and that happens to be the same day when President Donald Trump held a rally in Elko on the first day of early voting for Adam Laxalt and Attorney General candidate Wes Duncan (R). On November 1, 2018, Fruman donated $10,000 each to Laxalt’s and Duncan’s respective campaigns. And that same week, Fruman and Parnas joined Giuliani for a campaign rally in Las Vegas for then congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian (R). 

Their proposed marijuana business never panned out, and their preferred candidates lost here in Nevada, but the five men did succeed in other ways. They did manage to sneak Russian money into American elections. They did convince Trump to oust Marie Yovanovitch as America’s Ambassador to Ukraine. They did “get dirt” in the form of the (false) claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. And thus far, Trump continues to reorient American foreign policy to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s liking everywhere from Ukraine to Syria.

“The Mueller we know,” continued
Photo provided by the FBI, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.

Amidst all the pundits decrying and/or mocking the “lack of fireworks” when former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress in July, he repeatedly stressed the same message he delivered in his written report (as in, the actual Mueller Report, not U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr’s attempted cover-up), which is also the same message Mueller has been delivering since his 2011 “Iron Triangles” speech.

Since 2011, Mueller has consistently warned his fellow law enforcement leaders and our elected leaders about the rise of a new organized crime network, one that goes beyond the mafia operations we see in history books and the Mob Museum. As Mueller declared in his “Iron Triangles” speech, “This is not The Sopranos, with six guys sitting in a diner, shaking down a local business owner for $50 dollars a week. These criminal enterprises are making billions of dollars from human trafficking, health care fraud, computer intrusions, and copyright infringement. They are cornering the market on natural gas, oil, and precious metals, and selling to the highest bidder.”

And maybe, just maybe, we may have to add marijuana to the list in the future. Here at home, “Ukraine-gate” has become the latest in a series of scandals shining a bright light on the dark underbelly of Nevada’s marijuana industry. We can only wonder how Fruman, Parnas, Kukushkin, and Correia could have furthered their marijuana endeavour had they hired a locally connected super-lobbyist like Jay Brown to “fix it” for them.

And of course, this highlights the bigger problem here: These transnational crime syndicates quickly identified our weak spots and found points of entry into our marketplace and our government. Think about that for a moment. And then, ask what the hell we’re actually going to do about it.

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