WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) – Grammy Award-winning rapper Prakasrel “Brass” Michael pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges for conspiring with a Malaysian financier to orchestrate a series of foreign lobbying campaigns aimed at influencing the country. US government under two presidents.
His conviction in federal court in Washington followed a trial filled with political intrigue that featured high-profile witnesses including Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Michael faced cross-examination by attorneys while testifying in his own defense.
Michael was charged with 10 counts, including conspiracy, acting as an agent of a foreign government, witness tampering and falsifying campaign finance records. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with Malaysian businessman Joe Low to influence the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Low, who faces separate federal charges in New York for embezzling $4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, remains at large.
Michael’s attorney, David Kenner, told reporters outside court that he was “very disappointed” by the verdict, but hoped the charges could be dismissed by a judge.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Koller-Cotelli set a July deadline for both sides to file briefs on several post-trial motions, including a request for an extended release.
“This case is far from over and I am very confident that we will ultimately prevail,” he added.
The Fugees won two Grammy Awards in 1996 for their best-selling album, “The Score.” But by 2012, according to prosecutors, Michael was in desperate need of cash and found a solution through Lowe, who was known to throw elaborate parties and pay big bucks to celebrities.
Prosecutors said Michael agreed to pay about $2 million from Lowe’s to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in exchange for receiving millions of dollars. Prosecutors said Michael hid the source of the funds because federal election law prohibits foreigners from donating to U.S. campaigns.
Michael is accused of trying to convince the Trump-era Justice Department to drop civil and criminal investigations into the 1MDB scandal, and of trying to persuade the US government on China’s behalf to extradite Chinese billionaire and dissident Guo Wengui.
On the witness stand, Michael said a small sum of $20 million over nine months in 2012 helped Lowe take photos with Obama. Michael admitted that he used some of the money to pay three of his friends to attend two political fundraisers for the Obama campaign in 2012, but denied doing so at Lowe’s direction.
“Once he gave me the money, it was my choice how I spent the money because it was my money,” Michael told the jury, describing the payment as “free money.”
As to whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, Michael told jurors that his attorney, George Hickenbotham, never told him that was required by law. Michael also said he passed on information to the FBI about China’s desire to extradite Guo amid China’s concerns that Guo was “a criminal rapist.”
Hickenbotham, who pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, told jurors that he met with the Chinese ambassador in Washington at Michael’s insistence to assure the Chinese that the Trump administration was involved in Guo’s extradition.
Guo, who was never extradited, was indicted in New York on unrelated fraud charges.
Sarah N. The Lynch Report; Editing by Toina Chiaku
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Sarah N. Lynch is Reuters’ lead reporter covering the U.S. Justice Department outside Washington, D.C. During her time at the Beatle, she covered everything from the aftermath of the George Floyd protests to the Mueller report and the use of federal agents to suppress protesters. The department’s cases follow the murder, the widespread spread of COVID-19 in prisons and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.