Former Giuliani associates plead not guilty in New York to amended indictment

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas arrives for a hearing at the Manhattan Federal Court in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., February 3, 2020. REUTERS/ Bryan R Smith

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A Ukraine-born businessman who once helped Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani gather information about U.S. President-elect Joe Biden pleaded not guilty to cheating investors in a fraud-insurance company, even after his former partner in the venture pleaded guilty.

At a hearing on Monday before U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan, Lev Parnas and another former Giuliani associate, Belarus-born Igor Fruman, also pleaded not guilty to violating campaign finance laws and other charges in an amended indictment.

Prosecutors accused Parnas and his partner of conning people into investing more than $2 million in their Florida-based start-up, Fraud Guarantee, only to withdraw much of it for personal uses, including political donations.

Giuliani, now leading the Trump legal team's push to overturn Biden's presidential election win, told Reuters in October 2019 he was paid $500,000 for work he did for Fraud Guarantee. He has not been criminally charged and has denied wrongdoing.

Oetken also agreed to postpone the trial, after defense lawyers said the COVID-19 pandemic and prosecutors' being too slow to turn over evidence made the planned March 1, 2021 date unworkable.

The judge said the pandemic had created a backlog of "dozens and dozens" of cases in the Manhattan court, and that while trials have begun the chief judge asked "not to do anything in the courthouse unless we really, really have to."

Oetken asked both sides to propose a new trial date between June and October 2021.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos defended the government's handling of the case, telling Oetken that prosecutors had not been able to access seven locked electronic devices from Parnas and Fruman that it had seized.

Parnas' and Fruman's case has drawn added attention because of their work with Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine.

This included efforts to help the former New York City mayor dig up damaging information about Biden and his son Hunter, and what prosecutors called an effort to remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

David Correia, who was Parnas' partner in Fraud Guarantee, pleaded guilty on Oct. 29 to wire fraud conspiracy for cheating investors, and to making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

Parnas and Fruman also face charges of concealing an illegal $325,000 donation they made to support Trump's re-election.

They and another defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, were also charged with illegally using donations to U.S. politicians from a Russian businessman to help them obtain licenses for a legal, recreational marijuana business.

Kukushkin also pleaded not guilty on Monday.

The case is U.S. v. Parnas et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-cr-00725.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)

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