On Wednesday, Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a rapper from the Fugees, was convicted on all 10 counts in a multimillion-dollar political conspiracy case that spanned two U.S. presidencies. The trial included testimony from notable figures such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The allegations against Michel said that he had funneled money from Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho through straw donors to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Prosecutors argued that Michel had then attempted to influence an extradition case for China under the Trump administration while attempting to squelch a Justice Department investigation. The charges included conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
Michel’s defense argued that the rapper simply wanted to make money and had received bad legal advice as he entered the world of politics. However, the jury found him guilty on all counts. Michel declined to comment after the verdict, but his attorney, David Kenner, stated that they plan to appeal the decision, and he remains confident that they will ultimately prevail.
Michel had met Low in 2006, when Low was a high-spending businessman hobnobbing with celebrities such as Paris Hilton. Low helped finance Hollywood films, including “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio testified that Low had appeared to him as a legitimate businessman and had mentioned wanting to donate to Obama’s campaign. Michel testified in his defense, claiming that Low had wanted a photo 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 to pay for friends to attend fundraising events. He claimed that no one had ever told him that it was illegal.
Prosecutors argued that Michel had donated the money on Low’s behalf and had attempted to pressure straw donors to keep them from talking to investigators by sending texts from burner phones.
After the election of Donald Trump, prosecutors alleged that Michel had again taken millions to halt an investigation into allegations that Low had 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.
Michel was also accused of accepting payment to try and persuade the U.S. to extradite a government critic back to China, without registering as a foreign agent. The defense pointed to testimony from Sessions, who stated that he had been aware that the Chinese government wanted the extradition but did not know Michel. The rapper’s efforts to arrange a meeting on the topic did not seem improper to Sessions, who served as Trump’s top law enforcement officer until his resignation in 2018.