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Press Release

Chicago Man Convicted Of Conspiracy To Violate U.S. Sanctions By Providing Services To Zimbabwean President Mugabe And Others

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — A Chicago man was convicted today by a federal jury of conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions from late 2008 through early 2010 by agreeing to assist Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and others in an effort to lift economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. The defendant, C. GREGORY TURNER, met multiple times in the United States and 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 a co-defendant 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 and Israel, was found guilty of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), following a trial that began Sept. 29 in U.S. District Court.  The jury, which began deliberating on Wednesday, acquitted Turner 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 remains free on bond while awaiting sentencing, which U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo, set for Jan. 9, 2015.  He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.  The Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Turner’s co-defendant, 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 (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 sanctions by traveling to Zimbabwe, which was not itself prohibited.

Throughout 2009, Turner and Ben Israel continued to pass communications between Zimbabwean leaders and, purportedly, U.S. public officials while seeking payment for their services from Gono.  Turner led an effort to have Gono speak at an issues forum hosted by a then U.S. Representative from California in September 2009.  Turner attempted to assist Gono, as well as two other Zimbabwean officials, obtain visas to ensure that they could attend and participate in the forum. 

The guilty verdict was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division; Robert J. Holley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and James C. Lee, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.  The Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section assisted in the investigation.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barry Jonas and Georgia Alexakis, and David Recker, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section.

Updated July 23, 2015