WASHINGTON — A business associate of a co-defendant of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty Friday to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party and also admitted his role in a $50,000 donation scheme involving the presidential inauguration.
W. Samuel Patten entered his plea in federal court in Washington as prosecutors accused him of performing lobbying and consulting work in the United States but failing to register as a foreign agent as required by the Justice Department.
As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Patten admitted to lying to the Senate intelligence committee during its investigation into Russian election interference and of participating in a scheme to circumvent the ban on foreign donations to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee by lining up a straw purchaser to pay $50,000 for four tickets to the inauguration.
The Patten case was referred by special counsel Robert Mueller's team to the United States attorney in Washington, said Bill Miller, a spokesman for that office. Andrew Weissmann, one of the lead Mueller team attorneys in the Manafort prosecution, was also in the courtroom Friday during Patten's appearance. And Patten's plea agreement specifically requires him to cooperate with the special counsel's probe.
Patten's attorney Stuart Sears declined to comment.
Patten was a business associate of Konstantin Kilimnik, a man U.S. authorities have said has ties to Russian intelligence.
Kilimnik worked closely with Manafort, who was found guilty this month of eight financial counts. Kilimnik also is a co-defendant in a pending case against Manafort in Washington, brought by Mueller's team, that accuses them both of witness tampering.
Court papers don't refer to Kilimnik by name, but say Patten worked with a Russian national on lobbying and political consulting services. The Russian national, who formed a consulting company with Patten, is identified only as "Foreigner A" in court papers.
The documents trace years of work Patten performed for a wealthy Ukrainian businessman and a Ukrainian political party known as the Opposition Bloc beginning in 2014. The goal all along, prosecutors say, was to influence U.S. policy. But they say Patten never filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act or disclosed that he was representing the foreign businessman or the Opposition Bloc.
Prosecutors say in 2015 Patten worked to set up meetings between the Ukrainian businessman and several U.S. officials including members of Congress and leaders in the State Department.
Later, Patten wrote talking points and letters used to lobby U.S. officials on the behalf of the businessman, who is referred to as "Foreigner B." Patten also drafted an op-ed for Foreigner B that sought to address concerns about Ukraine's ability to work with the Trump administration.
Court papers say the op-ed was published in February 2017 in a "national United States media outlet," but they do not name the media outlet or Foreigner B. However, on February 6, 2017, an op-ed published under Serhiy Lyovochkin's name appeared in U.S. News and World Report. The op-ed identifies Lyovochkin as a "leader of the Opposition Bloc" and addresses the same topic as described in Patten's case.
Lyovochkin's name also came up during Manafort's trial earlier this month. Prosecutors detailed how he was among the wealthy Ukrainian businessmen who paid Manafort for his own political consulting work.
Prosecutors also revealed Friday that in January 2017, Patten lined up an American as a straw purchaser of four tickets to the inauguration for Foreigner B to circumvent the ban on foreign contributions to the inaugural committee.
Patten was informed in writing of the ban, court papers say. Yet, to conceal that Foreigner B was paying for the tickets, court papers say Patten had the American front the $50,000 for the tickets. The straw purchaser, who is not named, then was reimbursed by Patten's company, which in turn received the same amount from Foreigner B via an offshore bank account in Cyprus.
Patten then attended the inauguration with Foreigner B.
The topic came up a year later in January 2018 when Patten testified before the Senate intelligence committee as part of its investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates.
According to court papers, Patten misled the committee during his testimony and withheld certain documents to conceal that Foreigner B had been behind the purchase of inauguration tickets. He also gave "misleading testimony" about his representation of foreigners in the U.S. to hide that he had failed to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.
After the congressional testimony, Patten then destroyed documents relating to his foreign work.
In a joint statement Friday, committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and the panel's top ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, confirmed that the committee had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department requesting an investigation into Patten.
"Due to concerns about certain statements made by Mr. Patten, the Committee made a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. While the charge, and resultant plea, do not appear to directly involve our referral, we appreciate their review of this matter," the senators said.
Patten was released on his own recognizance Friday without a sentencing date. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
During the court hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Patten that she couldn't provide any estimate of his potential sentence because U.S. sentencing guidelines don't have a section for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Prosecutions of the offense have been rare, but in recent years, the Justice Department's national security division has taken a tougher stance on enforcement of the law.
Read Patten's plea documents: http://apne.ws/cmL94mI