WASHINGTON - A Fugees rapper accused in multimillion-dollar political conspiracies spanning two presidencies was convicted Wednesday after a trial that included testimony ranging from actor Leonardo DiCaprio to former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Prakazrel "Pras" Michel was accused of funneling money from a now-fugitive Malaysian financer through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, then trying to squelch a Justice Department investigation and influence an extradition case on behalf of China under the Trump administration.
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.
The defense argued the Grammy-winning rapper from the 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees 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 first met Malaysian financer Low Taek Jho in 2006, when the businessman usually known as Jho 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." DiCaprio testified 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 now an international fugitive and has maintained his innocence.
Michel also got paid to try and persuade the U.S. to extradite back to China a government critic suspected of crimes there without registering as a foreign agent, prosecutors said.
On that charge, the defense pointed to testimony from Sessions, who was Trump’s top law enforcement officer until he resigned in 2018. Sessions said he’d been aware the Chinese government wanted the extradition but didn’t know Michel. The rapper’s ultimately futile efforts to arrange a meeting on the topic didn’t seem improper, the former attorney general said.