A man who led former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and has ties to Santa Barbara County has been named in a seven-count federal criminal indictment alleging that Thomas Joseph Barrack and two others acted as agents of a foreign government.
Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica along with Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colo., and Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, 43, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, have been accused of acting and conspiring to act as agents of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The indictment also charges Barrack with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal law enforcement agents.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected president, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former president,” Lesko added. “Through this indictment, we are putting everyone — regardless of their wealth or perceived political power — on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.”
Barrack and Grimes were arrested Tuesday morning and made their first court appearance the same day in the Central District of California.
During the brief hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Donahue ordered both defendants to be detained until detention hearings scheduled for Monday — at 8 a.m. for Barrack and 10 a.m. for Grimes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Barrack served as the executive chairman of a global investment management firm, while Grimes was employed at the firm and reported directly to Barrack, federal officials said.
In April, Barrack transitioned to a non-executive member of the board for the firm that since has rebranded from Colony Capital to DigitalBridge.
At the time, Alshahhi worked as an agent of the UAE and was in frequent contact with Barrack and Grimes. He remains at large.
An attorney for Barrack reportedly said he would be pleading not guilty to the charges, according to The New York Times.
Barrack — directly and through Alshahhi and Grimes — was regularly and repeatedly in contact with the senior leadership of the UAE government, federal officials said. On multiple occasions, Barrack referred to Alshahhi as the UAE’s “secret weapon” to advance its foreign policy agenda in the United States.
The trio took multiple steps to advance the interests of the UAE, according to the allegations. In one instance, Barrack allegedly inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech to be delivered by Trump about U.S. energy policy in May 2016 and emailed an advance draft to Alshahhi for delivery to senior UAE officials.
In September 2017, Alshahhi told Barrack that the UAE opposed a proposed summit at Camp David to address an ongoing dispute between the State of Qatar, the UAE and other Middle Eastern governments. Barrack then sought to advise Trump against holding the Camp David summit. The summit never happened, according to federal officials.
Alshahhi, Barrack and Grimes never provided the required notification to the U.S. attorney general that they were acting in the United States as agents of a foreign government.
The additional charges against Barrack stemmed from a June 2019 meeting with FBI agents when Barrack allegedly made numersou false statements, including denying that Alshahhi had ever requested that he take any actions on behalf of the UAE.
The 46-page criminal indictment can be found by clicking here.
Barrack’s ties to Santa Barbara County include the Happy Canyon Vineyard and Piocho Ranch known for its two regulation-size polo fields at the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. They have a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara at 30 El Paseo.
For many years, Barrack’s Colony Capital also owned the Neverland Valley Ranch that once belonged to pop star Michael Jackson.
The renamed Sycamore Valley Ranch in Los Olivos sold late year to billionaire Ron Burkle for $22 million, a fraction the original $100 million price tag, according to Forbes.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.