- Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, a bundler for both Democrats and Republicans, was sentenced to 12 years in February for making illegal campaign contributions and tax evasions.
A Pakistani American venture capitalist and political fundraiser sentenced in February for making illegal campaign contributions and tax evasions, allegedly did intelligence work for the U.S. government for over a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported. Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, pleaded guilty to falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials, evading the payment of millions of dollars in taxes, making illegal campaign contributions, and obstructing a federal investigation into the source of donations to a presidential inauguration committee. He was sentenced by the U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips to 12 years in prison, and ordered to pay $15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million, according to a Department of Justice press release. He was criminally charged by the DOJ in October 2019.
The Associated Press has previously reported that Zuberi boasted of his ties to the intelligence community. According to The Wall Street Journal report, “a key aspect of the case” – that Zuberi, a naturalized American of Pakistani and Indian descent raised in Albany, New York, was a longtime U.S. intelligence asset, “played out in secret court filings and hearings,” which the paper reviewed. “Mr. Zuberi’s history of secret help to the Central Intelligence Agency on and off for more than a decade is detailed in the documents,” the Journal report. It added that the documents depict a relationship “that started with debriefings about his interactions with foreign officials but grew to involve more formal tasks and missions.”
The Wall Street Journal report hints at some kind of a reduction of sentence for Zuberi, noting that “the 12-year sentence is close to the maximum of 15 years under federal sentencing guidelines, and is longer than average in comparable cases involving a nonviolent first-time offender.” Ken White, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles now in private practice told the Journal that “12 years is notably tough for a guilty plea by someone without a record, even for an array of conduct like that. He added that “cooperation with the government can usually help mitigate sentences, and historically defendants have used such work with national-security agencies to their advantage.”
As per the Journal report, prior to his sentencing, Zuberi held a closed-door hearing with U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, “where she considered a sealed document in which Mr. Zuberi’s team laid out his account of more than a decade of clandestine help he had provided to the government. Judge Phillips ultimately sided with the government’s request for a lengthy prison sentence.”
After his guilty plea but before his sentencing, Zuberi’s legal team compiled a history of their client’s cooperation with the government, the Journal reported, citing the legal documents, which was sealed under a law called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA, “designed to protect intelligence sources and methods during trials.” CIPA can only be invoked when national-security issues are at stake and a judge signs the sealing order.
In that memo, the Journal reported that Zuberi’s legal team argued for leniency at the sentencing. “His cooperation and assistance to this country has spanned over a decade, as described in more detail in Mr. Zuberi’s CIPA filing.,” the memo said, according to the Journal. They called the record “most remarkable list of assistance to the country encountered by experienced counsel and the court.”
His lawyers are preparing to challenge the sentence in an appeal that they say might raise questions over how heavily a defendant’s cooperation with intelligence agencies should be weighed against criminal charges, the Wall Steer Journal reported. “As evidenced by the public docket, national-security issues may have been part of this case and those same issues may ultimately arise as part of the appeal,” his lawyer David Warrington told WSJ. Other legal experts also told the newspaper that cooperation with the government, if proved, can reduce his sentence.
The Journal reported that Zuberi’s history of secret help to the CIA continued for more than a decade, “depicting a relationship that started with debriefings about his interactions with foreign officials but grew to involve more formal tasks and missions.” CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett told the Journal to contact the Justice Department on comments in the case.
The report also noted support for Zuberi from two former CIA officials — Robert Eatinger, a former top lawyer at the agency and former CIA official Jose Rodriguez.
Investigation revealed that through myriad international contacts and business partners, Zuberi was able to raise money and gain influence among the highest political circles. Politico reported that Zuberi made illegal campaign contributions to President Biden and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). “In 2016, Zuberi was a hard-core Hillary Clinton backer and scoffed at candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim stance,” Politico reported. However, once Trump won, “he jumped on the Trump bandwagon, donating nearly $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.” the report said.
The DOJ press release indicates that the obstruction charge to which Zuberi pleaded guilty to “stemmed from a federal investigation into a $900,000 donation from Zuberi through his company to a presidential inaugural committee in late 2016.” Some of the funds Zuberi donated to the committee came from other people, including one individual who gave him a $50,000 check. Politico reported when the federal prosecutors in New York scrutinized this donation, they “singled him out in a subpoena to the inaugural committee seeking a wide array of records about the $107 million celebration.” The inaugural committee has not been accused of wrongdoing, the report added.
Zuberi obtained funds through multiple ways, the court documents say. 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,” as per the DOJ press release. Meanwhile, Zuberi became wealthy, largely through his theft of client funds and unlawful lobbying on behalf of foreign interests.