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Press Release

Chicago Man Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for Violating U.S. Sanctions Against Zimbabwe President Mugabe and Others

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon for the Northern District of Illinois, Special Agent-in-Charge Robert J. Holley of the FBI’s Chicago Office and Special Agent-in-Charge James C. Lee of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago announced today that a Chicago man was sentenced today to 15 months in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions by agreeing to assist Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and others in an effort to lift economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.  Between late 2008 and early 2010, C. Gregory Turner, met multiple times in Africa with Zimbabwean government officials, including President Mugabe and Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who were individually subject to U.S. sanctions.

A November 2008 “consulting agreement” provided for total payment of $3.4 million in fees for Turner and his co-defendant, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, to engage in public relations, political consulting and lobbying efforts to have sanctions removed by meeting with and attempting to persuade federal and state government officials, including Illinois members of Congress and state legislators, to oppose the sanctions.

Turner, 72, also known as “Greg Turner,” of Chicago, acted out of greed, U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo said in imposing the sentence in Federal Court in Chicago.  The judge also said she did not believe Turner’s claim that his conduct was in the name of humanitarianism and helping the people of Zimbabwe.  Turner was ordered to begin serving his sentence on March 13, and he was placed on court supervision for a year after he is released from custody.

Turner was found guilty last October of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), following a jury trial in U.S. District Court.  Turner was acquitted of one count each of conspiracy and acting as an agent in the United States of a foreign government without providing prior notification to the Attorney General.

“[Turner’s] motivation was his own financial enrichment.  He sought to parlay his close relationships with well-connected government officials to score a big payday,” the government argued in a sentencing memo.

Ben Israel, 73, of Chicago, was sentenced last August to seven months in prison after pleading guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The sanctions against President Mugabe and other specially designated individuals in Zimbabwe ― for human rights abuses ― were initially imposed in 2003 by President George W. Bush and have been continued annually by President Obama, starting in March 2009.  President Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party have governed Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980.  The 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 services on behalf of or for the benefit of specially designated nationals.

According to the evidence at trial, in early November 2008, Turner and Ben Israel began having discussions with Mugabe, Gono and other ZANU-PF leaders regarding the influence Turner and Ben Israel could wield to have the sanctions removed.  The defendants discussed with Mugabe, Gono and others their association with many public officials who purportedly had close connections with then President-Elect Obama.  Turner violated IEEPA by conspiring to engage in public relations, political consulting and lobbying efforts on behalf of President Mugabe and other Zimbabwe officials.  In early December 2008, Ben Israel’s U.S. bank blocked a wire transfer of $89,970 into his account from a Zimbabwe official affiliated with ZANU-PF, and Ben Israel later traveled to Africa and personally withdrew $90,000 from the bank account of that same Zimbabwe official.

Turner and Ben Israel arranged for trips by federal and state government officials to meet with President Mugabe and other Zimbabwean officials, including in November and December 2008, and January and December 2009; attempted to have Gono and other Zimbabwean officials speak at an issues forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a then U.S. Representative from California, and to assist those officials in obtaining visas to travel to the U.S. to attend the event; arranged for President Mugabe to meet with federal and state government officials in New York; lobbied a caucus of state legislators on behalf of Zimbabwean officials; and failed to apply to the Treasury Department for a license to engage in transactions and services on behalf of specially designated nationals.

In early December 2008, Turner and Ben Israel arranged for a delegation to travel to Zimbabwe.  After members of the delegation returned, President-Elect Obama’s transition team forwarded information about contact from a member of the delegation to the FBI based on its concerns that sanctions may have been violated.

The Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section assisted in the investigation.

The government was represented by Trial Attorney David Recker with the Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barry Jonas and Georgia Alexakis.

Updated June 16, 2016

National Security
Press Release Number: 15-065