Former Fugees rapper 'Pras' Michel convicted of making illegal foreign donations to 2012 Obama campaign, other charges

April 30, 2023
Ben Marquis

Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, a former rapper with Grammy-winning 1990s hip-hop trio The Fugees, recently stood trial on a slew of federal charges that included making illegal donations to then-President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist, among other things.

Michel was convicted on Wednesday by a federal jury on all 10 counts against him and could face up to 20 years in prison, if not more, once he faces sentencing for the crimes he committed, the Conservative Brief reported.

In addition to making illegal donations to Obama's 2012 campaign through straw donors, Michel was also convicted of unsuccessfully attempting to lobby the Trump administration to drop a federal investigation of his Malaysian business associate as well as to return a Chinese dissident back to China.

Illegal foreign contributions, unregistered foreign lobbying

According to a Justice Department press release to announce Michel's conviction, his legal troubles stemmed from his association with Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, a federally indicted fugitive who is alleged to have embezzled potentially billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Low paid Michel millions of dollars to do work on his behalf in the United States, including funneling millions of foreign dollars into then-President Obama's 2012 campaign through contributions made to the campaign and associated committees by Michel personally and around 20 straw donors.

Michel was also paid to lobby the Trump administration beginning in 2017 to drop its federal investigation and forfeiture proceedings against Low over his alleged embezzlement of funds from 1MDB, as well as to have Chinese billionaire dissident Guo Wengui be extradited back to China.

Maximum sentence of 20 years for most serious charges

The press release noted that Michel had been convicted of "conspiracy, concealment of material facts, making false entries in records, witness tampering, and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power," and faced a maximum sentence of up to 20 years for the most serious of those charges.

"As proven at trial, the defendant engaged in an extensive conspiracy to use millions of dollars in foreign funds to engage in illegal back-channel lobbying and make unlawful campaign contributions," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, Jr. of the DOJ's Criminal Division said. "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."

"Mr. Michel sought to use his celebrity and access to influence U.S. government officials on behalf of undisclosed foreign interests," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division said. "This is an affront to the rule of law, and we will use the full range of tools at our disposal to hold accountable those who would covertly aid foreign actors seeking to interfere with our democratic system of government."

Attorney vows appeal

NBC News reported that Michel had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him but was nonetheless convicted on all 10 felony counts, a decision that his attorney made clear would be appealed after sentencing.

We are extremely disappointed in the results and are very, very confident in the ultimate outcome of this case," attorney David Kenner told reporters. "This is not over. I remain very, very confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter."

With regard to the illegal donations to the 2012 Obama campaign, Michel was paid $20 million by Low to try and get him a photo op with the then-president. Michel then gave around $800,000 of that money to numerous friends to make donations to the campaign and to pay for $40,000 tickets to fundraising events for Obama.

Later, in what he admitted in court was a "dumb thing to do," the former rapper then sent letters to some of those friends amid the FBI investigation to insist the donated money was actually a loan that needed to be repaid, which prosecutors viewed as an intimidation tactic intended to discourage them from serving as cooperating witnesses.

A sentencing date has not yet been set in the case and it remains unclear if Michel will receive the maximum sentence for each of the counts for which he was convicted and whether he will be ordered to serve those sentences concurrently or consecutively.

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