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Donor allegedly demanded stock

Now awaiting trial, a businessman is said to have sought interests in firms he introduced to a top Democratic official.

June 14, 2007|Robin Fields and Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writers

When Southern California businessman Ray Jinnah surfaced after more than a year as a fugitive to face charges of arranging illegal campaign contributions, he appeared weak and lost, collapsing during a brief federal court hearing last month.

His transformation was stunning to those who knew him in 2000, when Jinnah brashly, if briefly, marketed himself as a political player with clout to arrange access to the Democratic Party's elite.

That summer, when the Democratic National Convention unfolded in Los Angeles, Jinnah hobnobbed with the Clintons and other VIPs while acting as a broker for at least two companies trying to curry favor with the party, interviews and records obtained by the Los Angeles Times show.

His aid came at a price. In exchange for helping an Orange County software startup become one of 16 convention technology partners, Jinnah demanded a large block of stock for himself and another to be split among four Democratic fundraisers, the company's founder said.

Jinnah also tried to acquire a piece of another company, a Kentucky-based alternative-energy venture, promising his connections could help pave the way to federal contracts. "He said, 'I can do this for you,' " said Henry Creque IV, chief executive of now-defunct Pure Energy. "He knew people."

Jinnah's current legal troubles arise from his fundraising activities in 2004, when prosecutors say he violated federal law by reimbursing employees and associates for nearly $60,000 in donations made in their names to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's political action committee, HillPac, and California Sen. Barbara Boxer's reelection campaign.

Authorities allege he fled the country after being indicted in May 2006, taking refuge in his native Pakistan. Jinnah's attorneys said he left to care for his ailing mother and stayed because of his own poor health. Jinnah, a legal U.S. resident, surrendered voluntarily to the FBI on May 29 and is awaiting trial.

As Jinnah's case moves forward, more details are emerging about how he came onto the political scene, the extent of his relationships with prominent Democrats and what he hoped to gain by positioning himself as a man of influence within the party.

Jinnah's attorney declined to comment for this story.

Fundraisers and business associates have depicted the August 2000 Democratic convention as Jinnah's coming-out party.

He contributed $100,000 to the event's host committee, campaign finance records show, enough to quality for a "convention passport" to exclusive parties attended by the Clintons and presidential candidate Al Gore. On the convention's eve, Jinnah donated an additional $25,000 to attend the star-studded "Hollywood Gala Salute to President William Jefferson Clinton," a million-dollar benefit for Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.

"He was kind of the new guy," one Democratic fundraiser recalled. "He was giving to everybody."

At the same time, friends and business associates say, Jinnah worked to parlay his burgeoning political connections into business opportunities.

He approached another Pakistani businessman, A.J. Khan, saying he could get Khan's company, Irvine-based Cyrsh Technologies Corp., a deal to showcase its language software by translating convention speeches on the Internet.

Jinnah promised Khan a chance to demonstrate his wares in the Staples Center suite of convention chairman Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fundraiser extraordinaire who is among the Clintons' closest friends. Jinnah presented Khan with a Time magazine autographed by McAuliffe as proof of his access.

"A.J. Khan -- To a great Democrat and Supporter," McAuliffe scrawled beside an article about himself, headlined "The Kingmaker." "Best Wishes, Terry McAuliffe, 7/11/00."

Khan said Jinnah spelled out what he wanted in return: 1 million shares in the privately held company, which Khan assigned to Jinnah four days after Jinnah said Cyrsh had sewn up a slot at the convention, records show. Khan said he also split another million shares as dictated by Jinnah, writing stock certificates in the names of McAuliffe and three other Democratic fundraisers, as well as several of Jinnah's relatives.

Through his spokeswoman, McAuliffe -- now chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign -- denied receiving the stock. The Times obtained a copy of a stock certificate showing 10,000 shares in the name of Scott Freda, a fundraiser and McAuliffe associate. Freda said he recalled Jinnah promising stock to him, but never receiving it.

Khan said he assumed Jinnah requested the stock grants to ingratiate himself further with party officials. But Cyrsh stock, which at the time seemed poised to gain value as the company contemplated an initial public offering, proved worthless when the firm folded in 2001, a victim of the dot-com bust.

Jinnah had confided to Khan that he hoped to be rewarded if the Democrats won, perhaps with a position in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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