DeSantis hosts a rally in Tampa after primary election


  • Ron DeSantis sought Lev Parnas' help to raise funds for his 2018 Florida governor campaign
  • Parnas' sham energy company donated $50,000 to DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign
  • Parnas attended campaign rallies with DeSantis using Rudy Giuliani's private plane

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is close to launching a 2024 presidential campaign, had close ties with Lev Pernas, the disgraced Ukrainian-American GOP donor convicted of violating campaign finance laws, according to a report.

Reuters obtained 63 text messages DeSantis sent to Parnas between May and October 2018, when he was waging a gubernatorial campaign in Florida during the midterm elections. Two sources close to the Florida governor during the 2018 campaign confirmed that the texter's number belonged to DeSantis then.

This is despite the Florida governor denying close ties with the businessman. He also returned the Parnas' contributions to his campaign.

"The governor does not have a relationship with these individuals," former DeSantis spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said in 2019. DeSantis also clarified that Parnas "was just like any other donor, nothing more than that."

However, in more than 20 texts, DeSantis showed a closer relationship with Parnas -- appealing for introductions, advice and to raise funds for his campaign as he struggled to get ahead with his Republican and Democratic rivals.

Parnas told Reuters he first met DeSantis on May 9, 2018, or three months before the GOP primary elections in Florida. DeSantis, a three-term Florida representative at the time, was locked in a tight primary race for governor with Adam Putnam, the sunshine state's then-commissioner of agriculture.

"Ron DeSantis approached me at the Trump International Hotel and introduced himself, telling me that he was told to come meet me because I was very close with Donald Trump," Parnas said.

DeSantis told Parnas he wanted a formal endorsement of then-President Donald Trump ahead of the August primary despite the former president having already shown his support through his Twitter account.

DeSantis and Parnas exchanged their email addresses in the evening, according to the text messages.

Within a week of their second meeting, DeSantis and Parnas began discussing potential donors. On May 29, 2018, DeSantis reportedly sent a text message to Parnas introducing his fundraising aide, Heather Barker. DeSantis' aide wanted Parnas to help line up donors for fundraising events in Boca Raton and Star Island, a posh community in Miami.

The following month, DeSantis asked the Republican donor for advice on handling a potential major donor, Michael Trussell, a South Florida roofing contractor.

"Would it be reasonable to ask him to donate $50K?" DeSantis asked Parnas in a text message. "I think he did six figures for Trump."

Ten days after that exchange, Trussell's roofing firm donated $10,000 to DeSantis and provided another $13,000 before the November 2018 midterm election, according to campaign finance records. Trussell's firm has contributed another $143,000 to DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign.

On June 21, 2018, DeSantis' campaign for governor received $50,000 in donations from Parnas' company, the Global Energy Producers.

DeSantis thanked him for the contribution and asked him again to help him talk to a big donor named Robert Pereira, the president of Middlesex Corp., a construction firm. Parnas said he knew Pereira from past fundraising activities in Florida.

Pereira co-hosted a fundraiser for DeSantis, and his construction company donated $115,000 to his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, campaign finance records revealed.

During the campaign, Parnas attended rallies with DeSantis using a private plane owned by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then-Trump's personal lawyer.

On Oct. 26, 2018, several days before the midterm election, Parnas suggested to DeSantis he would request Giuliani to tweet about the federal corruption investigation into then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

"He needs to hit him on his scandal," DeSantis told Parnas.

"Can say as a prosecutor this would be an indictable case etc.," DeSantis added.

When DeSantis won the nail-biter gubernatorial election against Gillum, Parnas was photographed hugging the newly-elected Florida governor at a victory party.

But after the 2018 election, DeSantis stopped responding to Parnas.

Despite DeSantis' snub after he helped him clinch victory in the gubernatorial election, Parnas said he considered the governor his "friend."

"Remember, he was my friend," Parnas said.

In June 2022, the Manhattan federal court sentenced Parnas to 20 months in prison after he was found guilty of defrauding investors in his sham energy company and illegally donating to U.S. political candidates on behalf of Russian oligarch Andrey Muraviev.

Lev Parnas, Ukrainian-American businessman and former Giuliani associate is pictured leaving the United States Court following a guilty verdict in his court case in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. October 22, 2021.
Lev Parnas, Ukrainian-American businessman and former Giuliani associate is pictured leaving the United States Court following a guilty verdict in his court case in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. October 22, 2021. Reuters / CARLO ALLEGRI