Prakazrel 'Pras' Michel of 1990s hip-hop act The Fugees has been convicted of political conspiracy, illegally lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, witness tampering, and several other charges following a star-studded trial. A Washington, DC federal jury delivered the guilty verdict on Wednesday. The rapper faces up to 20 years in prison.
Michel was convicted on ten counts, including conspiracy, concealment of material facts, making false entries in records, witness tampering, and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.
The Grammy-winning artist allegedly took over $100 million from Malaysian financier Jho Low, who had stolen the money from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. He admitted to receiving $20 million from the businessman in 2012 – supposedly payment for a selfie with then-president Barack Obama – but insisted the money was his to spend as he wanted. Prosecutors accused him of funneling more than $800,000 into Obama’s reelection campaign through straw donors.
“I looked at it as free money… I could have bought twelve elephants with it,” Michel told the jury.
Michel’s defense claimed he just wanted to make money and had gotten bad legal advice entering a political world he knew nothing about. The rapper insisted he did not know using Low’s money to pay for his “friends” to attend fundraising events for the president was illegal, though prosecutors countered that he later pressured those straw donors to keep silent via intimidating letters and texts sent via untraceable “burner” phones.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio testified to the seeming respectability of the Malaysian financier, who put up millions of dollars for his film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’
After receiving another $100 million from Low, Michel allegedly lobbied the Trump administration to shut down its investigation into the financier and his purported embezzlement of billions of dollars from 1MDB, and urged the White House to extradite billionaire Chinese financier Guo Wengui at the behest of Beijing.
However, the rapper denied the $100 million came from Low and insisted he only advocated extraditing Guo “because he thought he was a criminal,” claiming he was never told he had to register as a foreign agent to lobby the president. Guo was charged last month with defrauding investors of over $1 billion in an unrelated case.
Michel has maintained his innocence throughout the trial and plans to appeal, according to his attorney David Kenner. “This is not over,” the lawyer told the Associated Press on Wednesday.