A Chicago man who bragged to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in 2008 about his close ties to then President-Elect Barack Obama was convicted Friday of violating federal law as he lobbied for relief of sanctions against the African nation.
The $3.4 million conspiracy scheme involved coordinating meetings between Mugabe and members of Congress in Africa and New York, attempting to set up Zimbabwean officials with visas to speak to an issues forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a House lawmaker from California, plus other political consulting on Mugabe's behalf.
C. Gregory Turner is the second man convicted in a case that was reported to the FBI by the Obama transition team, one month after the November 2008 election. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said the office could not comment when asked about further investigation into the matter, which has been tied to current and former members of Congress.
A federal jury found Turner, 72, guilty of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for his involvement in the lobbying scheme, and acquitted him of two other charges. Co-defendent Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 73, of Chicago, was sentenced in August to seven months in prison after pleading guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The bizarre case unearthed an FBI informant's claim that Illinois Democrat Roland Burris -- potentially a key witness for the prosecution -- was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate. Burris was never called to the stand after defense attorneys questioned his credibility. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing related to the claim.
Reps. Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush, were identified by Chicago media last year as two targets of the scheme, given they were the only Illinois Democrats to have sponsored a failed 2010 resolution for review of sanctions against Zimbabwe. According to FBI testimony unsealed in federal court, “U.S. Representative A” and “U.S. Representative B" were linked to Turner's communications with Zimbabwean officials.
The affidavit alleged U.S. Representative A sent a letter on official congressional letterhead to Mugabe in August 2009 requesting a meeting, then followed up in an October letter to Mugabe thanking him for “the most positive and productive meeting in New York” and confirming the best dates to travel to Zimbabwe for a follow-up. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative B's travel itinerary for an official U.S. congressional delegation to Africa in August 2009 was shared with Zimbabwe officials.
When CQ Roll Call reported on the case in August, Rush said he had no knowledge of a scheduled Africa travel itinerary being shared with Zimbabwe or Zimbabwean officials and that Zimbabwe was not on his itinerary. He did not travel with the delegation, he said, due to sudden illness.
"This is the first I’ve heard of this," Rush stated at the time. "I have not been questioned, and I am not a cooperating witness. Also, I have not been notified by the U.S. Department of Justice that I am representative B. I have not retained private counsel and see no need to do so at this time.”
Rush's office did not respond to inquiries on Monday.
Davis’ spokesman Ira Cohen told CQ Roll Call that he was "not aware of any sort of contact" from the Department of Justice related to the allegations. The congressman consulted legal counsel, Cohen said, but he was not sure that Davis had retained an attorney.
The sanctions against Mugabe and others in his ruling party were initially imposed in 2003 by President George W. Bush. They have been continued annually under Obama since March 2009, through the most recent extension in March 2013.
Sanctions neither bar travel to Zimbabwe nor prohibit public officials from meeting with specially designated nationals to discuss removing the sanctions, but individuals may not provide lobbying, public relations, or media consulting services on behalf of or for the benefit of those designated officials.
Turner remains free on bond while awaiting a Jan. 9, 2015, sentencing. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
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