- Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, was a major donor to former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but became a generous supporter of President Donald Trump within hours of his 2016 election.
A Pakistani American venture capitalist and political fundraiser was sentenced on Feb. 18 to 12 years in prison for making illegal campaign contributions and tax evasion. 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 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.
At the Feb. 18 sentencing, Zuberi “maintained his wrongdoing had been limited and asked to be credited for years of cooperation with federal and local law enforcement,” Politico reported. “I’m deeply sorry and, of course, humiliated,” Zuberi told the judge. “I have no excuse for what I’ve done.” Politico notes that Zuberi’s sentencing “came just days after hundreds of pages of previously sealed court filings in the case were made public at the behest of the Associated Press and other media organizations.”
Investigation revealed that through myriad international contacts and business partners, Zuberi, a naturalized American of Pakistani and Indian descent raised in Albany, New York, 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.
Politico said “Zuberi has been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in both California and New York over millions of dollars in political contributions, including big donations to the inaugural committees of both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. So far, he has been charged only in Los Angeles.
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.
While investigating the obstruction charge, it was discovered that Zuberi met with the individual who gave him a $50,000 check, at a California restaurant on Feb. 25, 2019, after media reports that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York was investigating donations to the presidential inaugural committee. “During that meeting, the individual asked Zuberi to refund the $50,000, which Zuberi did, but backdated the check to Feb. 1, 2019, to make it appear the refund was sent before he learned of the federal investigation,” the press release said.
Documents filed in the U.S.District Court for the Central District of California on Oct. 22, 2019, reveal that Zuberi operated Avenue Ventures LLC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm. He solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims he could use his contacts in Washington, D.C., to change U.S. foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself. He used his status to solicit funds for lobbying, campaign contributions, and investments, but ultimately swindled his business partners and pocketed most of the funds for himself.
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.
Zuberi violated the Federal Election Campaign Act in 2015 by making conduit contributions in the names of other people, reimbursing contributions made by others, and being reimbursed for contributions he made. Over a five-year period – 2012 through 2016 – he made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions, the court document reveals.
Court documents show Zuberi made efforts to convince the government of Bahrain to lift sanctions on a Bahraini citizen in order to allow the citizen to develop a large resort in that country. The scheme falsely created the appearance that Avenue Ventures had made a major investment in the resort project. However, Zuberi designed these efforts to benefit the Bahraini citizen, who paid Zuberi consulting fees. Zuberi violated FARA by failing to register as an agent of the Bahraini citizen in connection with this scheme.
He also siphoned money invested in U.S. Cares, a company set up to export humanitarian aid to Iran. In 2013 and 2014, investors deposited approximately $7 million into the U.S. Cares, but Zuberi used more than 90 percent of investor funds for his personal benefit, which included purchasing real estate, paying down debt such as mortgages and credit card bills, remodeling properties, investing in brokerage accounts, and donating $250,000 to a non-profit organization established by a former high-ranking elected official.
In addition, the government of Sri Lanka hired Zuberi in 2014 to rehabilitate the country’s image in the United States, which had suffered because of allegations that its minority Tamil population had been persecuted. “In total, Sri Lanka wired $6.5 million pursuant to the contract, and Zuberi used more than $5.65 million of that money to the benefit of himself and his wife,” the DOJ press release said. “Zuberi paid less than $850,000 to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms, and refused to pay certain subcontractors based on false claims that Sri Lanka had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices.”
He also failed to report on his 2014 tax return millions of dollars in income he received from the Sri Lankan government. “While his 2014 federal income tax return claimed income of $558,233, Zuberi failed to report more than $5.65 million he received in relation to the Sri Lanka lobbying effort, the press release said. “Zuberi’s tax evasion over the course of four years – 2012 through 2015 – caused tax losses ranging from $3.5 million to as much as $9.5 million, the press release said.”