Fugees Rapper Pras Michel Found Guilty in Illegal Foreign Influence Scheme

A founding member of the hip-hop group the Fugees was found guilty in federal court on Wednesday of orchestrating a sprawling international conspiracy that used millions of dollars worth of foreign money for illegal lobbying and campaign contributions, the Justice Department said.

The rapper Prakazrel Michel, known as Pras, had been accused of accepting $865,000 from Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian financier, and giving that money to a network of straw donors who used it to make campaign contributions to former President Barack Obama in 2012.

Mr. Michel was also accused by prosecutors of trying to convince the Trump administration and the Justice Department to drop federal investigations into Mr. Low related to embezzlement, as well as assisting China in its efforts to have a Chinese dissident brought back to China, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Michel, who received millions of dollars for his part in the schemes, was convicted of 10 criminal counts including money laundering, illegal lobbying, witness tampering and campaign finance violations, according to court records. He faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

“Today’s verdict demonstrates that anyone who engages in unlawful foreign-sponsored efforts to influence American officials, our elections, or the criminal justice system will be brought to justice,” Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., an assistant attorney general with the Justice Department, said in a statement.

Mr. Michel’s lawyer, David E. Kenner, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday evening.

Mr. Michel’s conviction in U.S. District Court in Washington followed an extensive trial that included testimony from several big names in entertainment and political circles, including Leonardo DiCaprio and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to The Associated Press and Politico.

Mr. DiCaprio testified that Mr. Low seemed to be a legitimate businessman years ago when he said he wanted to donate to the Obama campaign, and Mr. Sessions testified about his knowledge of the Chinese extradition efforts.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Low essentially used Mr. Michel for back-channel dealings in the U.S., and that Mr. Michel was a subservient accomplice.

Mr. Low, also known as Jho Low, is a fugitive and has been wanted by law enforcement in the United States and Malaysia for his role in the theft of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, according to the Justice Department. That case contributed to the electoral defeat and eventual indictment of that country’s former prime minister, Najib Razak.

Mr. Michel, 50, of Coconut Creek, Fla., conspired with Mr. Low to funnel millions of dollars of Mr. Low’s money into the 2012 U.S. presidential election “as purportedly legitimate campaign contributions, all while concealing the true source of the money,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Michel would receive Mr. Low’s money and contribute to Mr. Obama’s campaign personally and through about 20 straw donors, court records state. The men’s goals were to “gain access to, and potential influence with” Mr. Obama’s administration, according to prosecutors.

The indictment accused Mr. Michel and Mr. Low of concealing the scheme from the Obama administration and from federal regulators.

Federal officials learned of their activity in 2017. Mr. Michel was charged in 2019.

Harry A. Lidsk, a special agent with the Justice Department, said in a statement that Mr. Michel “played a central role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to improperly influence top government officials.”

In 2017, Mr. Michel also began to “engage in undisclosed lobbying campaigns” at the orders of Mr. Low and a Chinese government official, prosecutors said. Mr. Low wanted to have his embezzlement investigation dropped, and the Chinese official asked Mr. Low to help them get a Chinese dissident extradited, the Justice Department said.

Mr. Michel did not manage to sway U.S. officials on either matter, court records show.

Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.

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