Major Backer of Trump and Democrats Will Plead Guilty to Illegal Donations

WASHINGTON — A California venture capitalist who donated lavishly to major politicians of both parties — from former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to President Trump — has agreed to plead guilty to violating lobbying, campaign finance and tax laws, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Imaad Zuberi, 49, had donated lavishly to Democrats before abruptly pivoting and donating more than $1.1 million to committees associated with Mr. Trump and the Republican Party in the three months after the 2016 presidential election. He was the only donor named by federal prosecutors in Manhattan in a subpoena issued in February to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, to which his California company, Avenue Ventures, had donated $900,000.

The charges announced Tuesday are not related to his donations to support Mr. Trump. But if Mr. Zuberi cooperated with prosecutors, it could have ripple effects into other investigations into contributions to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, including of whether foreigners illegally funneled money to it in hopes of buying influence over American policy.

Mr. Zuberi was charged with making nearly $1 million in illegal campaign donations from April 2012 through October 2016, including some funded by foreign sources, as part of a scheme to gain access to American politicians for foreign clients. He was also charged with falsifying records filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to conceal his lobbying for Sri Lanka to help burnish the country’s reputation in Washington amid human rights concerns. And he was charged with failing to report and pay taxes on $5.65 million he was paid for the Sri Lankan lobbying campaign, much of which, prosecutors say, he diverted for his own personal use.

Mr. Zuberi, who is expected to appear in court next week to enter his guilty plea, could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

A spokesman for him declined to comment.

Nicola T. Hanna, the United States attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement, “Mr. Zuberi’s multifaceted scheme allowed him to line his pockets by concealing the fact that he was representing foreign clients, obtaining access for clients by making a long series of illegal contributions and skimming money paid by his clients.”

The court filings submitted by prosecutors on Tuesday do not identify the political committees to which Mr. Zuberi steered the illegal donations, nor do the filings identify the lobbyists involved in his efforts or the politicians targeted by them.

The filings indicate that his efforts “generated marginal results,” but noted that “some United State officials” were “willing to adopt defendant Zuberi’s requested political positions or otherwise accommodate defendant Zuberi’s wishes.”

Mr. Hanna’s office brought the charges against Mr. Zuberi in cooperation with the Justice Department divisions enforcing campaign finance laws and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The act, known as FARA, requires Americans to disclose detailed information about any lobbying or public relations work they do on behalf of foreign governments and political entities. It has become an increasing enforcement priority for the Justice Department since the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign to help Mr. Trump.

John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general in charge of the division that oversees FARA, said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr. Zuberi made false statements in his FARA filing.

“Mr. Zuberi attempted to deceive our elected officials and the American public on behalf of Sri Lanka,” he said. “The Department of Justice treats these crimes with the gravity that they deserve and will continue to aggressively identify, investigate and prosecute FARA violations.”

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