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But things have changed. Avenue Strategies closed just weeks after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Bennett opened a new lobbying firm, Bennett Strategies, after Avenue Strategies closed. And now, according to court documents reviewed by POLITICO, a judge in Maryland has ordered that Bennett’s assets be partially frozen to satisfy the verdict against him and ruled that he should tell Republican adviser and expert Ying Ma, who also worked on Carson’s campaign owes damages.
Bennett is one of several Trump World residents to find fame in the Beltway area, followed by chaotic legal entanglements.
In March 2019, Ma sued Bennett and Avenue Strategies Global in the Montgomery County Circuit Court in Maryland for breaching a contract with her by refusing to pay her finder’s customer acquisition fees and abandoning their obligation had withdrawn to make her a partner in the company.
On April 13, 2021, Ma asked the court to freeze Bennett’s assets. Their file stated that Bennett had violated a previous court order to participate in the discovery, causing “significant, unnecessary delays and costs in the matter.”
Then Ma went on.
“In addition to violating his contractual obligations to the plaintiff, the defendant deliberately attacked the character of Ying Ma by committing dishonesty and defamation in front of the federal authorities in a federal investigation he was involved in (the plaintiff intends to do a separate To file a complaint) the defamation fee) “, it says in the file. “Bennett has tried to defend his illegal activities against federal authorities by, among other things, falsely accusing Ying Ma, a patriotic American citizen, of being an intelligence asset of the communist government of China.”
Ma claimed the allegation against her showed his “pattern of laziness and illegal behavior” and may have deterred her from getting a government job that required security clearance.
A source close to Bennett denied ever being questioned by federal agencies about background investigations about Ma. In an interview with POLITICO earlier this month, Bennett suggested he was unsure of a federal investigation into him or his company. “I hear rumors all the time,” he said.
Bennett added that he did not know the order appeared to freeze some of his assets until POLITICO called his attorney about the matter. “We never received any paperwork,” said Bennett. It is unclear whether the judge’s order regarding Bennett’s business assets was enforced.
Judge Peter Hessler’s order has a handwritten note that Ma’s request to freeze Bennett’s business assets has been “partially” granted. The order does not provide any further explanation. A court clerk informed POLITICO that he could not give any additional insight into the notation.
In court files last month, Ma’s attorney alleged that after the preliminary rounds of the lawsuit, Bennett’s side ignored discovery warrants and simply went dark.
“Since October 2020 [Bennett] has stopped responding to ALL plaintiff’s phone calls and emails, ”wrote Ma’s attorney Albert Moseley II. Moseley did not respond to phone or email messages for comment on the story.
The court records do not contain any further details about the Bennett investigation. However, two sources familiar with the matter told POLITICO that Justice Department officials were investigating Bennett’s lobbying work for foreign government clients.
Hessler has initially scheduled a lawsuit this week to determine how much Bennett and his defunct Ma company will have to pay.
However, another judge, Robert Greenberg, postponed the trial after Bennett’s attorneys filed motions to overturn the default judgment against their client.
Bennett’s attorneys claim they never received a motion to hold Bennett in default and freeze his assets. In a lawsuit last week they also accuse Ma and Moseley of “blackmailing an agreement” by slandering Bennett’s “excellent reputation” and “conspiring with a POLITICO reporter to delay the court order could cause harm to Bennett’s reputation. “This filing came after POLITICO first contacted Bennett about this story.
Bennett’s attorneys also alleged that Ma and her attorney purposely put the wrong case number in the standard and freeze arrangement they proposed so that the clerk would refer it to the wrong attorneys.
The order signed by Hessler on April 19th actually bears the wrong file number. However, it has Bennett’s name in the headline as the Primary Defendant and was on the paper’s online file and on the paper file when a POLITICO reporter visited the Rockville, Md. Courthouse late last month.
Ma’s attorney said in a court case that he never submitted a draft of the order to the court and therefore could not be held responsible for any errors.
In last week’s file, Bennett’s attorneys also deny that he ever told federal authorities that he believed Ma to be a Chinese intelligence agency. “Mr. Bennett made no such statement,” said Bennett’s lawyers.
In Ma’s suit, it is said that she worked for Avenue in late 2017 and early 2018, trying to attract customers for the company in Asia. She claims she made such a contact under an oral employment contract that Bennett said he would put it on record but never did.
Ma alleged in her lawsuit that she had secured meetings for Bennett’s firm with the Chinese Internet sales giant Alibaba Group and the Vietnamese Embassy.
“The only agreement we ever had was a corporate referral agreement that never came about,” said Bennett.
When asked if Ma actually delivered customers to the company, he said, “Never, although I’ll say she tried.”
Ma’s claim that Bennett is involved in a federal investigation comes public as an investigation by Trump’s personal attorney. Last month, FBI agents carried out search warrants in the home and office of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. They also took away a cell phone belonging to Trump-allied attorney Victoria Toensing, despite a spokeswoman for her law firm saying she learned she was not a target of the investigation.
The Giuliani Inquiry is investigating possible violations of a federal law preventing Americans from clandestinely soliciting foreign governments – the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The Justice Department has stepped up FARA enforcement in recent years, adding more than a dozen new employees to the department that oversees compliance with the law, lawyers dealing with such matters say. Efforts to strengthen enforcement of lobbying laws abroad came after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US election.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to plotting to violate the law in 2018. A number of other people in Trump’s wider orbit have also gotten into legal trouble because the Justice Department lobby contains details of illegal lobbying by foreign governments.
Attorneys for several foreign lobbyists have found that some aspects of FARA’s crackdown on FARA are unfair because the department is searching old records and demanding a level of detail it never insisted on before indicting Manafort in 2017.
Rob Kelner, a prominent Washington attorney on FARA matters but not affiliated with Bennett or Avenue Strategies, said the law’s “breathtaking scope and fundamental vagueness” left lobbyists and others vulnerable to altered interpretations of the law by the Ministry of Justice.
“The breadth of FARA may provide prosecutors with a targeted environment in which to pursue cases against companies, individuals, stakeholders and others, and we are already seeing evidence of a home industry of groups able to file FARA complaints with the DOJ their own ends, ”said Kelner. “We have long referred to FARA as a ‘gotcha’ statute to customers, which can be asserted by political opponents and dusted off by prosecutors if other statutes are not available. The DOJ wields great power under FARA without ever going to court. “