A Fugees rapper accused in multimillion-dollar political conspiracies spanning two presidencies was convicted on Wednesday after a trial that included testimony ranging from actor Leonardo DiCaprio to former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Prakazrel ‘Pras’ Michel, the New Jersey-born musician who made his fortune as a member of The Fugees, became embroiled in a complex web spun by Malaysian financier Jho Low. Low remains on the run, and is believed to be living in China.
Michel, who styled himself as a political activist and connector of influential individuals after the Fugees disbanded, pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of conspiracy, witness tampering, and failure to register as an agent of China.
On Wednesday, a jury in Washington, D.C., federal court found him guilty of all charges, including conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
Pras Michel is seen arriving in court for his trial. On Wednesday a jury in Washington DC found him guilty of charges including conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government
The defense argued the Grammy-winning rapper simply wanted to make money and got bad legal advice as he reinvented himself in the world of politics.
Michel declined to comment after the verdict, but his attorney said he’s ‘extremely disappointed’ in the outcome of the case and plans to appeal.
‘This is not over,’ attorney David Kenner said.
‘I remain very, very confident we will ultimately prevail.’
Michel is accused of taking millions of dollars from Low to help him make political connections and influence people. Michel says he was seeking money for his own projects, and thought he was helping the United States.
One of Michel’s ‘missions’, on Low’s orders, was to convince the U.S. government to hand over a New York-based Chinese billionaire, Miles Guo, to the Chinese authorities. Guo is an ally of Steve Bannon and has now been arrested by U.S. authorities.
Pras Michel is seen earlier this month near the Washington DC courthouse where his trial is being held
Michel, 50, was dapper in his sharply-tailored suit, red tie and pink socks
The rapper’s trial concluded on Wednesday with a guilty verdict
Low wanted Guo handed over to Beijing as a favor with Chinese leaders, as a form of insurance as U.S. prosecutors began investigating Low’s own dealings.
Michel became entangled in the mess.
The 50-year-old is accused of accepting $100million from Low, and using his funds in an attempt to influence the administrations of both President Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Low is accused of orchestrating one of the largest financial scams in history.
Michel first met the Malaysian financier in 2006, when Low was dropping huge sums of money and hobnobbing with the likes of Paris Hilton. Low helped finance Hollywood films, including ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’
Its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, testified on April 3 that Low had appeared to him as a legitimate businessman and had mentioned wanting to donate to Obama’s campaign.
Michel also testified in his own defense.
He said Low wanted a picture with Obama in 2012 and was willing to pay millions of dollars to get it. Michel agreed to help and used some of the money he got to pay for friends to attend fundraising events. No one had ever told him that was illegal, he said.
Prosecutors said Michel was donating the money on Low’s behalf, and later tried to lean on the straw donors with texts from burner phones to keep them from talking to investigators.
After the election of Donald Trump, prosecutors say Michel again took millions to halt an investigation into allegations Low masterminded a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB.
Low is accused of turning the slush-fund budget of the Malaysian government into his personal cash piggybank, selling phony bonds through Goldman Sachs, and using the money to fund a celebrity-filled lifestyle.
Low, 41, is believed to be hiding in China so Michel stood trial alone for his involvement in the scam.
Michel told Rolling Stone he first met Low at a nightclub in New York City in 2006.
Prosecutors allege Michel became involved in a two-part scheme orchestrated by Low, for which he was charged in 2019, court documents show.
The first involved a fundraising event for Obama during his 2012 presidential campaign.
Michel allegedly reimbursed guests to attend the $40,000-per-head fundraising dinner in an effort to curry favor with the president’s administration, and then threatened them to ensure they did not reveal where their funds came from, according to NPR.
Michel allegedly funneled a total of $1 million of Low’s funds into Obama’s campaign, and did it through 20 donors to avoid detection. Those funds allegedly came directly from the cash Low stole from the Malaysian government.
The second plot involved Michel helping Low lobby officials in the Trump administration in an effort to end an investigation into Low’s business dealings.
Pras Michel faces decades in prison at sentencing
Jho Low is accused of carrying out one of the largest financial scams in history
‘The defendant, Prakazrel [Pras] Michel, received over $100 million from Jho Low, a foreign fugitive responsible for one of the largest embezzlement schemes in history,’ prosecutors wrote in court filings.
‘To use backchannel influence to convince the then-President of the United States to drop a federal investigation into Low and to agree to the extrajudicial removal of a Chinese exile living in the United States.’
Michel is also believed to have met with a Chinese government official at a Four Seasons Hotel in New York City to organize their efforts in 2017.
Chinese officials wanted Chinese financial fraudster Guo – then residing in the United States – extradited back to Beijing.
Guo was known to have formed a close relationship with Trump White House advisor, Steve Bannon.
In March, Guo was arrested by the FBI for allegedly scamming people out of about $1billion in an online scheme. His New York City penthouse apartment mysteriously caught fire hours after his arrest while agents were searching it.
Jho Low alongside Leonardo DiCaprio at the premiere of The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013
Michel is accused of trying to lobby influence with Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon, along with the administration of Barack Obama
Court filings indicated Michel plans to argue he merely followed the advice of his attorneys, and that everything he did he thought had been in the interest of the US government when he met with Chinese officials.
‘Defendant continues to deny he was acting as an agent for China and denies he willfully and knowingly acted as a secret agent under the direction and control of China when he approached the FBI,’ his defense attorneys wrote.
Several people involved in Michel’s alleged schemes have already plead guilty or obtained immunity from the government as a part of the investigation, according to NPR.
Michel allegedly pocketed between $8million and $40million for his role in assisting Low in the scheme.
Pras Michel gained fame in the 1990s with his hip hop group The Fugees
Low and Michel met at a nightclub in NYC in 2006. Low is thought to be hiding in China
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12018237/Fugees-rapper-Pras-Michel-guilty-multimillion-dollar-extortion-trial.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270