TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Soviet-born South Florida businessman arrested last week on federal campaign-finance charges seemed just "like any other donor," Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday.
DeSantis was among Florida Republican candidates who received contributions during the 2018 election cycle from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested on campaign-finance charges involving the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.
With photos emerging this week of the duo close by DeSantis during his election-night party last November, DeSantis said Wednesday he was unaware of the alleged illegal activities and that the two appeared "legitimate."
"I knew Parnas. I didn't know the other guy as much," DeSantis said while in Jupiter to announce environmental legislation for the 2020 session. "But this was a guy who at RNC (Republican National Committee) functions, Trump Victory functions, he was at a lot of these things, was I think viewed as one of the top supporters of the president in Florida. And so, it was just like any other donor. Nothing more than that."
The Miami Herald reported that Parnas also hosted two fundraisers for DeSantis in 2018.
After the charges emerged in the federal case, DeSantis announced he was turning over to the federal government the $50,000 that Parnas and Fruman contributed to his political committee through a Delaware corporation called Global Energy Producers.
The Wall Street Journal reported that a four-count indictment, filed in the Southern District of New York, contended Parnas and Fruman funneled money from a single Russian donor through Global Energy Producers to advance their financial interests and that of at least one Ukrainian government official.
Similar to DeSantis, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., announced he was turning over to the federal treasury the $2,433 his campaign received from Global Energy Producers.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Rick Scott told the news media Monday that the former governor was donating money -- $5,400 his campaign received from Fruman and $15,000 that went from Fruman to the Rick Scott Victory Fund -- to Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Parnas and Fruman have drawn headlines as they are alleged to have helped President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, investigate political opponents of the president.
Florida Democrats have seized on the developments to try to link the arrested men to DeSantis.
"Ron DeSantis has a lot of questions to answer about his relationships with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman," Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said in a statement Tuesday. "DeSantis has skirted around the truth. It's clear that he had a relationship with both men and owes Floridians the truth about what kind of influence they have over him."
On Wednesday, before DeSantis responded to a question from a reporter in Jupiter, the Democratic Party issued a release asking: "What is DeSantis hiding from his relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman?"
DeSantis' campaign received its donation from Global Energy Producers a day after the former congressman was endorsed in the gubernatorial contest by Trump.