The Chicago Syndicate: Russian Mafia
Showing posts with label Russian Mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian Mafia. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Former Organized Crime Investigator Hired to Lead Intelligence Committee’s Sweeping Investigation into President Trump’s Foreign Dealings and Finances

When he left the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan in 2017, Daniel Goldman didn’t envision a future career in Washington, D.C., the city where he grew up. But now, Goldman is leveraging the very skills he honed investigating and prosecuting white collar and organized crime cases in the Southern District of New York to leading the House Intelligence Committee’s sweeping investigation into President Trump’s foreign dealings and finances.

“One of the things you learn as a prosecutor is that you need to figure out how to investigate someone without going straight at that person, particularly when you are doing covert investigations,” Goldman told The Hill in a recent interview. “You have to figure out how you are going to get materials about someone from other sources,” he added. “I think that the traditional congressional method of investigation is to go directly to the person, ask them for documents, ask them to come testify, and sort of move forward along those lines.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a former assistant U.S. attorney himself, tapped Goldman, 43, to be the panel’s senior adviser and director of investigations in February, the same month he unveiled a probe into whether Trump or his associates are subject to foreign compromise — an outgrowth of the panel’s original Russia investigation. The probe drew immediate ire from Trump.

Goldman is one of three former assistant U.S. attorneys that make up the panel’s investigation apparatus, which also boasts a 25-year FBI veteran who led the financial crimes section and a Russian-speaking expert.

Goldman worked in the criminal division of the Southern District for a decade, prosecuting and overseeing myriad cases. He oversaw the prosecution of a Russian organized crime ring that ensnared more than 30 defendants on racketeering, gambling and money laundering charges. He also prosecuted famed Las Vegas sports better William “Billy” Walters, who was convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges in 2017 for his role in a $43 million insider-trading scheme, as well as securing convictions against members of the Genovese crime family.

Goldman’s career as a prosecutor has afforded him an integral skill in his latest job — knowing how to find “creative ways” of gathering evidence on a subject without “going directly to the source of the information,” he said.

House Democrats have opened up a bevy of investigations into Trump and his administration, producing fresh headaches for the White House in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year inquiry.

The Trump administration has sought to thwart the probes, accusing Democrats of overreaching and trying to score political points against the president ahead of a reelection year. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, say the administration is flouting congressional oversight powers and stonewalling legitimate investigations at an unprecedented level.

Mueller did not charge any members of Trump’s campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election, a result Trump and his allies have cheered as vindicating the president.

Republicans have also criticized Schiff and other Trump critics for pointing to what they viewed as evidence of Russian “collusion” during Mueller’s investigation — remarks which Schiff has stood by.

Democrats say more investigation is needed. Schiff is particularly interested in the potential counterintelligence risks arising from Trump and his associates’ dealings with Russians and other foreign powers.

Schiff, who said at an Axios event last week that the panel is looking to “revise the scope of our investigative and oversight work” following the release of the Mueller report, has long pointed the proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow as a key line of investigation.

Much of the panel’s investigative efforts are happening behind the scenes, supervised by Goldman. His team members are sifting through documents and open-source material, drafting document and testimony requests, and preparing for witness interviews. Goldman said he is also coordinating with other committees and briefing Schiff and other members on the status of the probe.

The panel, together with the House Financial Services Committee, has subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for financial records related to Trump. Details of the subpoena became public last month, when the president and his family sued Deutsche Bank to prevent the lender from complying with the subpoena, accusing Democrats of harassing Trump and looking for information that could damage him politically.

“We’re integrated with the committee staff, but our principal focus is on any investigations that arise from any of the oversight work,” Goldman said. “We are focused on uncovering facts. We are not in the business of a political, partisan investigation.”

To say Goldman’s career has had a diverse range would be an understatement. He studied journalism at Yale University and after college became an Olympics researcher at NBC News, where he worked on a team that gathered all of the data for the broadcast of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He went on to cover the 2002 and 2004 Olympics, winning three Emmys as a part of NBC’s team along the way. But another career was calling.

“I come from a family of lawyers, so it was somewhat very familiar for me,” Goldman recalled. “And at the end of the day, I made the decision that, as I thought about my longer trajectory career, I did want to do more public service.”

Goldman went to Stanford Law and eventually landed back on the East Coast, where he clerked for an appeals court judge before landing the job of assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District in 2007.

Goldman’s former colleagues describe him as a thorough and creative investigator and prosecutor, someone particularly suited to conduct “follow the money” investigations.

“He’s good at taking massive amounts of information and being able to see the forest through the trees,” Mimi Rocah, a former assistant U.S. attorney who was Goldman’s supervisor in Manhattan, said in a phone call. “In investigations, that can be the most important thing.”

In a brief interview, Schiff cheered Goldman as a “tremendous addition” to his panel.

“He combines that rare skillset of both being a very good lawyer and a very good communicator, and I think has helped the committee enormously in terms of organizing our oversight and investigative work,” Schiff said.

Goldman spent time as a legal analyst at MSNBC and a fellow at the liberal Brennan Center for Justice before joining the Intelligence Committee.

His latest job has not come without sacrifice: Goldman, who has five children, commutes to D.C. each week from New York, where his wife Corinne lives full time with their kids.

“My five-year plan is to once again live with my family,” Goldman quipped when asked about what’s next for him.

“I don’t have a plan, I really don’t. I will say, when I left the U.S. attorney’s office at the end of 2017, I left without having any idea of what I was going to do,” he recalled.  “I’ve learned from that experience that there’s no point in predicting or pursuing a particular goal, because I’ll just see where things go.”

Thanks to Morgan Chalfant.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Close Ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin Charged with Interfering in U.S. Political System #Conspiracy

A criminal complaint was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, charging a Russian national for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2018 midterm election. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, and FBI Director Christopher Wray made the announcement after the charges were unsealed.

“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement authorities will work aggressively to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of unlawful foreign influence activities, and that we will not stand by idly while foreign actors obstruct the lawful functions of our government. I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their determined work on this case.”

“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” said Director Wray. “We take all threats to our democracy very seriously, and we’re committed to working with our partners to identify and stop these unlawful influence operations. Together, we must remain diligent and determined to protect our democratic institutions and maintain trust in our electoral process.”

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering. Project Lakhta includes multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in the United States, members of the European Union, and Ukraine, among others.

Khusyaynova allegedly managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States. The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and “promoting news postings on social networks.” Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.

The alleged conspiracy, in which Khusyaynova is alleged to have played a central financial management role, sought to conduct what it called internally “information warfare against the United States.” This effort was not only designed to spread distrust towards candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system in general, but also to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful functions of government agencies in administering relevant federal requirements.

The conspirators allegedly took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin. They used social media platforms to create thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons, and used them to create and amplify divisive social and political content targeting U.S. audiences. These accounts also were used to advocate for the election or electoral defeat of particular candidates in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Some social media accounts posted tens of thousands of messages, and had tens of thousands of followers.

The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate. Members of the conspiracy took advantage of specific events in the United States to anchor their themes, including the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas; the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and associated violence; police shootings of African-American men; as well as the personnel and policy decisions of the current U.S. presidential administration.

The conspirators’ alleged activities did not exclusively adopt one ideological view; they wrote on topics from varied and sometimes opposing perspectives. Members of the conspiracy were directed, among other things, to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” The actors also developed playbooks and strategic messaging documents that offered guidance on how to target particular social groups, including the timing of messages, the types of news outlets to use, and how to frame divisive messages.

The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election. The complaint also does not allege that any American knowingly participated in the Project Lakhta operation.

The investigative team received exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay V. Prabhu and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Iftimie are prosecuting the case, with assistance of Trial Attorneys Matthew Y. Chang and Patrick T. Murphy of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Why Does a Career Russian Organized Crime Expert Bruce Ohr Upset Donald Trump So Much?

Followers of President Donald Trump’s personal Twitter feed know him as a frequent critic of the U.S. Justice Department. Although his favorite targets remain special counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, lately the president has pushed another, rather unknown name into his crosshairs: Bruce Ohr.

Here, we’ve saved you a lot of Googling.

Who is Bruce OhrBruce Ohr - Russian Organized Crime Expert?

Ohr has been with the Department of Justice (or “Justice” Department, as per the president) for nearly three decades. He started as a prosecutor in New York before transferring to Washington, D.C., where he was eventually named associate deputy attorney general.

His focus is international organized crime ― particularly Russian organized crime. Colleagues and family members told The New York Times he has an upstanding reputation as “a scrupulous government official.” CNN reported that Ohr was viewed as “a consummate government servant.”

In certain posts, Trump called him a “creep” and a “disgrace.”

Ohr was demoted in December 2017. In a statement provided to Fox News at the time, a Justice Department official suggested he was doing too much ― “wear[ing] two hats” ― and the new role will allow him to focus back on organized crime.

Is that all?

Not quite. Ohr knows Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the Trump dossier, because Steele once worked for the FBI as a “confidential human source” over an unspecified time. (The agency kept the receipts.) Ohr communicated with him as a Justice Department official.

When Steele shared information with Mother Jones magazine shortly before the 2016 election, reportedly out of frustration, the FBI stopped using him as a source. But Ohr continued to talk to him and pass his information along to the FBI, even though he wasn’t officially involved with any investigation pertaining to Trump.

The so-called Nunes memo ― a much-hyped document authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) ― claims Steele told Ohr he really, really did not want Trump elected president.

Additionally, Ohr is married to Nellie Ohr, who formerly worked for Fusion GPS, the company that used funding from Democrats to compile a dossier containing several appalling claims about Trump. He didn’t initially tell Justice Department leadership about the scope of his wife’s work or his continued interactions with Steele.

Why does this matter?

Thanks to his wife and to Steele, Ohr is loosely connected to the Russia investigation. For that he has found himself at the center of a theorized anti-Trump conspiracy. (Phrases such as “RIGGED!,” “WITCH HUNT!” and “Fake Dossier” tend to materialize in the president’s complaints about him on Twitter.)

On Tuesday, Republicans in the House brought him in for a closed-door interview about his contacts with Steele. He was also questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2017.

To the right, Ohr’s behavior taints the Russia investigation into possible coordination between that nation and Trump’s campaign. But the idea misses one big point: The Russia investigation didn’t start because of the Trump dossier. It was prompted by the actions of George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser.

What could Trump do to him?

The president could revoke Ohr’s security clearance, as he has threatened to do in recent weeks. That would make it pretty hard for Ohr to do his job.

To fire Ohr, Trump would have to lean on Sessions, an ostensible Trump supporter in the doghouse for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Why is this all coming up now?

Conservative media have seized on the Ohr story, implying that the Russia investigation was born out of partisan prejudice. The president’s channel of choice, Fox News, is particularly preoccupied with it lately, and Trump has on multiple occasions cited the news outlet’s coverage in his tweets.

Thanks to Sara Boboltz.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Have Connections to the #Mafia Marked @RealDonaldTrump's Entire Career?

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas titled their classic group portrait of Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy team, “The Wise Men.” A book about Donald Trump’s associations might be called “The Wise Guys.”

Mario Puzo would’ve been just the man to write it. Martin Scorsese could option the movie rights. And if he’s not in prison when filming starts, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort deserves a role. Though Manafort hasn’t been accused of Mafia membership, Smooth Paulie certainly acts the part, judging from testimony at his trial in federal court on charges of fraud and tax evasion. He has a closet full of suits worthy of John Gotti (though even the Dapper Don might have balked at an ostrich-skin windbreaker) and a maze of offshore bank accounts dense enough to addle Meyer Lansky.

When Manafort’s turncoat lieutenant Rick Gates took the stand to detail their alleged conspiracies, I was transported to the day back in 1992 when Gotti’s underboss Sammy Gravano began singing at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Gotti’s lawyers attacked Sammy the Bull by demanding to know how many people he’d whacked. Manafort’s team asked Gates how many affairs he’s had.

If it seems harsh to compare Manafort to a mobster, take it up with President Trump, who got the ball rolling with a tweet before the trial began. “Looking back at history, who was treated worse, [Al] Capone, legendary mob boss . . . or Paul Manafort?” Trump mused. And the president ought to know: He has spent plenty of time in mobbed-up milieus. As many journalists have documented — the late Wayne Barrett and decorated investigator David Cay Johnston most deeply — Trump’s trail was blazed through one business after another notorious for corruption by organized crime.

New York construction, for starters. In 1988, Vincent “the Fish” Cafaro of the Genovese crime family testified before a U.S. Senate committee concerning the Mafia’s control of building projects in New York. Construction unions and concrete contractors were deeply dirty, Cafaro confirmed, and four of the city’s five crime families worked cooperatively to keep it that way.

This would not have been news to Trump, whose early political mentor and personal lawyer was Roy Cohn, consigliere to such dons as Fat Tony Salerno and Carmine Galante. After Cohn guided the brash young developer through the gutters of city politics to win permits for Trump Plaza and Trump Tower, it happened that Trump elected to build primarily with concrete rather than steel. He bought the mud at inflated prices from S&A Concrete, co-owned by Cohn’s client Salerno and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family.

Coincidence? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Trump moved next into the New Jersey casino business, which was every bit as clean as it sounds. State officials merely shrugged when Trump bought a piece of land from associates of Philadelphia mob boss “Little Nicky” Scarfo for roughly $500,000 more than it was worth. However, this and other ties persuaded police in Australia to block Trump’s bid to build a casino in Sydney in 1987, citing Trump’s “Mafia connections.”

His gambling interests led him into the world of boxing promotion, where Trump became chums with fight impresario Don King, a former Cleveland numbers runner. (Trump once told me that he owes his remarkable coiffure to King, who advised the future president, from personal experience, that outlandish hair is great PR.) King hasn’t been convicted since the 1960s, when he did time for stomping a man to death. But investigators at the FBI and U.S. Senate concluded that his Mafia ties ran from Cleveland to New York, Las Vegas to Atlantic City. Mobsters “were looking to launder illicit cash,” wrote one sleuth. “Boxing, of all the sports, was perhaps the most accommodating laundromat, what with its international subculture of unsavory characters who play by their own rules.” But an even more accommodating laundromat came along: luxury real estate — yet another mob-adjacent field in which the Trump name has loomed large. Because buyers of high-end properties often hide their identities, it’s impossible to say how many Russian Mafia oligarchs own Trump-branded condos. Donald Trump Jr. gave a hint in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

For instance: In 2013, federal prosecutors indicted Russian mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and 33 others on charges related to a gambling ring operating from two Trump Tower condos that allegedly laundered more than $100 million. A few months later, the same Mr. Tokhtakhounov, a fugitive from U.S. justice, was seen on the red carpet at Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Obviously, not everyone in these industries is corrupt, and if Donald Trump spent four decades rubbing elbows with wiseguys and never got dirty, he has nothing to worry about from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But does he look unworried to you?

Thanks to David Von Drehle.

Friday, May 18, 2018

History of Michael Cohen's Criminal Ties #RussianMafia

Michael Cohen, President Trump's long-time lawyer and personal "pit bull," was brought to heel when federal agents raided his office in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, acting on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is investigating Cohen for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations that stem, at least in part, from a $130,000 payment Trump's attorney made to hush up a porn star who says she slept with the president. ("I will always protect Mr. Trump," Cohen said.) Meanwhile, Mueller is investigating a $150,000 "donation" that Cohen arranged for Trump's foundation in 2015 from a Ukrainian billionaire named Victor Pinchuk. "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" Trump tweeted. It's not dead, but the raid on Cohen's home, office and swanky Park Avenue hotel room is an extraordinary step that underscores his decade-long role as Trump's heavy, fixer and connector.

Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, and eventually became Trump's personal lawyer, a role once occupied by Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy's heavy-lidded hatchet man during the Red Scare who advised Trump in the 1980s. Michael Cohen's bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of "Tom," a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafia. Cohen's uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen's uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump's election.)

I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. "Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures," a former federal investigator told me. "Cohen, who married into the family, was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman." ("Untrue," Cohen told me. "Your source is creating fake news.")

Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the "taxi king" Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012. Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who was independently hired to examine Trump's Russia connections during the real estate mogul's presidential run, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen "had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures," including Garber.

A curious episode in Cohen's life came in 1999 when he received a $350,000 check from a professional hockey player named Vladimir Malakhov, who was then playing for the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. According to Malakhov, the check was a loan to a friend. The friend, however, swore in an affidavit that she never received the money and never even knew the check had been written until it was discovered years later in a Florida lawsuit. So what happened to the money? One interesting lead was an incident involving Malakhov, who was approached in Brighton Beach and shaken down for money by a man who worked for the Russian crime boss, Vyacheslav Ivankov. "Malakhov spent the next months in fear, looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, avoiding restaurants and clubs where Russian criminals hang out," according to testimony an unnamed Russian criminal gave to the U.S. Senate in 1996. Cohen, who said he didn't know Malakhov or anyone else in the case, offered his own theories as to the origin and fate of the check in a 2007 deposition with Malakhov's attorneys.

Q. You don't recall why this check was written to you for $350,000 in 1999 and how these funds left your trust account in any way, shape or form?

A: Clearly Vladimir Malakhov had to have known somebody who I was affiliated to and the only person I can—and I mentioned my partner's name, Simon Garber, who happens also to be Russian.

Regardless of what he did or didn't know Cohen was able to purchase a $1 million condo at Trump World Tower in 2001, persuading his parents, his Ukrainian in-laws and Garber to do the same in other Trump buildings. Cohen's in-laws Fima and Ania Shusterman bought three units in Trump World Tower worth a combined $7.66 million (one of which was rented to Jocelyn Wildenstein, the socialite known as "Catwoman" for undergoing extreme facial plastic surgery to please her cat-loving husband). Cohen later purchased a nearly $5 million unit in Trump Park Avenue. In a five-year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million. All the frenzied buying by Cohen and his family caught the attention of the New York Post, often described as Trump's favorite newspaper. "Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market," Trump told a reporter in 2007. "He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money – and he does." Trump added, "In short, he's a very smart person."

During Trump's presidential run, reporters noticed a curious thing about Cohen. Questions about Trump's business or his taxes went to his chief legal officer or another staffer, but Cohen handled questions about Russia. "One of the things that we learned that caught my interest," Simpson testified to Congress in November 2017, "serious questions about Donald Trump's activities in Russia and the former Soviet Union went to Michael Cohen, and that he was the only person who had information on that subject or was in a position to answer those questions."

In the 1990s, there was an informal group of federal and local law enforcement agents investigating the Russian Mafiya in New York that called themselves "Red Star." They shared information they learned from informants. It was well known among the members of Red Star that Cohen's father-in-law was funneling money into Trump ventures. Several sources have told me that Cohen was one of several attorneys who helped money launderers purchase apartments in a development in Sunny Isles Beach, a seaside Florida town just north of Miami. This was an informal arrangement passed word-of-mouth: "We have heard from Russian sources that … in Florida, Cohen and other lawyers acted as a conduit for money."

A year after Trump World Tower opened in 2002, Trump had agreed to let Miami father-and-son developers Gil and Michael Dezer use his name on what ultimately became six Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers, which drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. "Russians love the Trump brand," said Gil Dezer, who added that Russians and Russian-Americans bought some 200 of the 2,000 or so units in Trump buildings he built. A seventh Trump-branded hotel tower built up Sunny Isles into what ostensibly has become a South Florida Brighton Beach.

An investigation by Reuters found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property's true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump's Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump's properties, told me, "Trump's genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan." McCallion continued, "It's not called 'Little Moscow' for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal."

Cohen joined the Trump Organization around the time that the second Sunny Isles tower was being built. A few years earlier, he had invested $1.5 million in a short-lived Miami-based casino boat venture run by his two Ukrainian business partners, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk. Only three months after its maiden voyage, it would become the subject of a large fraud investigation. But Cohen was saved from his bad investment by none other than Trump himself, who hired Cohen as an attorney just before his casino ship sank. A source who investigated Cohen's connections to Russia told me, "Say you want to get money into the country and maybe you're a bit suspect. The Trump organization used lawyers to allow people to get money into the country."

Residents at Sunny Isles included people like Vladimir Popovyan, who paid $1.17 million for a three-bedroom condo in 2013. Forbes Russia described Popovyan as a friend and associate of Rafael Samurgashev, a former championship wrestler who ran a criminal group in Rostov-on-Don in southeastern Russia. Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman arrested on fraud charges in San Francisco in 1999, and his daughter owned two units at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach worth $2.56 million. (Kiritchenko testified against a corrupt former Ukrainian prime minister who was convicted in 2004 of money laundering.) Other owners of Trump condos in Sunny Isles include members of a Russian-American organized crime group that ran a sports betting ring out of Trump Tower, which catered to wealthy oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Michael Barukhin, who was convicted in a massive scheme to defraud auto insurers with phony claims, lived out of a Trump condo that was registered to a limited liability corporation.

Selling units from the lobby of the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles was Baronoff Realty. Elena Baronoff, who died of cancer in 2015, was the exclusive sales agent for three Trump-branded towers. Glenn Simpson, who spent a year investigating Trump's background during the campaign, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Baronoff was a "suspected organized crime figure."

An Uzbek immigrant who arrived in the United States as a cultural attachĂ© in public diplomacy from the Soviet Union, Baronoff became such a well-known figure in Sunny Isles Beach that she was named the international ambassador for the community. Baronoff accompanied Trump's children on a trip to Russia in the winter of 2007–2008, posing for a photo in Moscow with Ivanka and Eric Trump and developer Michael Dezer. Also in the photo, curiously, was a man named Michael Babel, a former senior executive of a property firm owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian metals tycoon Paul Manafort allegedly offered personal updates on Trump's presidential campaign. Babel later fled Russia to evade fraud charges.

Baronoff had interesting connections to Sicily. She reportedly met her friend, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, there. Baronoff was also close with Dino Papale, a local businessman, who described himself to The New York Times as "president of Trump's Sicilian fan club," while sporting a red "Make America Great Again" cap. Days after Trump's election in November, the local newspaper, La Sicilia, quoted Papale at length describing Trump's secret visit to the island in 2013. Papale hinted that he organized meetings between Trump and Russians.

Michael Cohen's in-laws, the Shustermans, also bought real estate in Sunny Isles. The development was paying off. Trump's oldest son, Don Jr., would later note, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." There is no question Trump owed his comeback in large part to wealthy Russian expatriates.

Cohen and Felix Sater have known each other for nearly 30 years. They met in Brighton Beach when Cohen started dating his future wife, Shusterman's daughter, Laura, who Sater says he knew from the neighborhood. When Cohen joined the Trump organization, Sater had become a fixture in the office. Sater was developing Trump SoHo, a hotel-condo in lower Manhattan that later would be consumed by scandal, and had earned Trump's trust. Trump asked him to look after his children, Ivanka and Don Jr., on a 2006 visit to Moscow. (It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump's daughter. Sater would later boast: "I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin's private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.") When Sater's criminal past was exposed in The New York Times, Trump suddenly looked and acted like a man with something to hide. Despite laying claim to "one of the great memories of all time," he seemed to be having trouble recollecting who Sater was. "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it," Trump told The Associated Press in 2015. "I'm not that familiar with him." Sater flatly contradicted Trump's version of their relationship. In a little-noticed interview with a Russian publication, Snob, Sater was asked if his criminal past was a problem for Trump. "No, it was not. He makes his own decision regarding each and every individual."

In the midst of Trump's presidential run, Sater was shopping a deal to build a Trump World Tower Moscow. Between September 2015 and January 2016, Sater tried to broker a deal for a Moscow company called IC Expert Investment Company. (Sater worked for IC Expert's owner, Andrei Rozov, after he left Bayrock.) Trump signed a letter of intent in October with IC Expert Investment for a Moscow hotel-condo with the option for a "Spa by Ivanka Trump." Providing financing was VTB, a Russian bank subject to U.S. sanctions. Sater's contact at the Trump Organization was his old friend, Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen. In mid-January, Sater urged Cohen to send an email to Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's press secretary, "since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued." Cohen sent the email, got no reply, and said he abandoned the proposal two weeks later.

What Cohen called his old friend's "colorful language" attracted attention from congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office: "Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin," Sater emailed Cohen in November 2015. "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this."

Sater gave an unsatisfactory answer to BuzzFeed about why he wrote this email. "If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the fuck is the downside, right?"

Shortly after Trump took office, Sater teamed up with Cohen to submit a Ukrainian peace plan to then national security advisor Michael Flynn that would have opened the door to lifting sanctions on Russia. What happened to the plan? The lawyer at first told The New York Times that he left the plan in Flynn's office. Then, after the story became an embarrassment, he called the Times story "fake news" and claimed he pitched the plan into the trash.

Cohen has always acted to protect Trump, and he likely believed that he could always rely on the impenetrable shield of attorney-client privilege. Arguably, no one who has worked with Trump over the past decade knows more about the president's past business dealings in Russia and elsewhere abroad than Cohen. Now that prosecutors have him in their sights, here's the question: Will Cohen's shield, now broken, become a sword?

Thanks to Seth Hettena.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate

Bada-bing. For some people, The Godfather is no mere movie but a manual – a guide to living the gangster's life. They lap up all that stuff about going to the mattresses and sleeping with the fishes. The famous scene in which a mafia refusenik wakes up next to a horse's head may be macabre make-believe, but in some quarters it's treated like a tutorial.

So who are these apparent innocents taking their cues from Hollywood? None other than the mafia themselves, writes Diego Gambetta in his new book, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate. The Oxford sociologist offers example upon example of gangsters apeing Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece – or what he calls "lowlife imitating art".

There's the Don who took over a Sicilian aristocrat's villa for his daughter's wedding – with 500 guests revelling to the film's soundtrack; the building contractors of Palermo who receive severed horse's heads if they get in the mob's way; and John Gotti's former lieutenant, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who confessed that plagiarism ranked among his (lesser) crimes: "I would always tell people, just like in The Godfather, 'If you have an enemy, that enemy becomes my enemy.'"

Yet Mario Puzo, The Godfather's inventor, admitted that he "never met a real honest-to-God gangster", while many of the film's most quotable lines (remember "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli"?) were improvised. So what accounts for its influence not just among the mafia but with Hong Kong triads, Japanese yakuza and Russian mobsters?

Well, strip away the mystique and organised crime is a business – one with big handicaps. It may be called "the Firm", but managing a poorly educated, violent workforce is a challenge, advertising job vacancies only attracts the law, and appraisals for underperforming staff can err on the brusque side. The Godfather and other gangster movies plug those holes, says Gambetta. They give criminals an easy-to-follow protocol and a glamour that serves as both corporate feelgood and marketing tool. Uncomfortable though it may be to acknowledge, the underworld is not above taking its cues from the upperworld.

Thanks to Aditya Chakrabortty

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Very Persuasive Story that James Comey Has to Tell

In his absorbing new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey calls the Donald Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s — “The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. CafĂ© Giardino.”

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. Dishonesty, he writes, was central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic,” and so, too, were bullying, peer pressure and groupthink — repellent traits shared by Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration” so incisive about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership" does give readers are some near-cinematic accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him. They also attest to how a harrowing experience he had as a high school senior — when he and his brother were held captive, in their parents’ New Jersey home, by an armed gunman — must have left him with a lasting awareness of justice and mortality.

Long passages in Comey’s thesis are also devoted to explicating the various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin of self-righteousness. And in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Comey provides an inventory of his own flaws, writing that he can be “stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego.”

Those characteristics can sometimes be seen in Comey’s account of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wherein he seems to have felt a moral imperative to address, in a July 2016 press conference, what he described as her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information,” even though he went on to conclude that the bureau recommend no charges be filed against her. His announcement marked a departure from precedent in that it was done without coordination with Department of Justice leadership and offered more detail about the bureau’s evaluation of the case than usual.

As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”

He adds that he hopes “very much that what we did — what I did — wasn’t a deciding factor in the election.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Comey stated that the very idea that his decisions might have had an impact on the outcome of the presidential race left him feeling “mildly nauseous” — or, as one of his grammatically minded daughters corrected him, “nauseated.”

Trump was reportedly infuriated by Comey’s “nauseous” remark; less than a week later he fired the F.B.I. director — an act regarded by some legal scholars as possible evidence of obstruction of justice, and that quickly led to the appointment of the special counsel Robert Mueller and an even bigger cloud over the White House.

It’s ironic that Comey, who wanted to shield the F.B.I. from politics, should have ended up putting the bureau in the midst of the 2016 election firestorm; just as it’s ironic (and oddly fitting) that a civil servant who has prided himself on being apolitical and independent should find himself reviled by both Trump and Clinton, and thrust into the center of another tipping point in history.

They are ironies that would have been appreciated by Comey’s hero Niebuhr, who wrote as much about the limits, contingencies and unforeseen consequences of human decision-making as he did about the dangers of moral complacency and about the necessity of entering the political arena to try to make a difference.

Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Investigating the Russian Mafia

In the 1990s, the so-called Russian mafia dominated newspaper headlines, political analysis, and academic articles around the world. It was the new scourge, a threat so massive that it was believed to hold the Russian economy hostage. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh announced that the Russian mafia was a significant threat to the national security of the United States.

Before the end of the decade, Director Freeh reversed himself, saying that in reality the magnitude of the danger from the Russian mafia had been overestimated. Heading into the new millennium, the international hue and cry about gangsters from the former Soviet Union subsided dramatically, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Al-Qaeda shifted the spotlight from organized crime to terrorism and U.S. homeland security. Has the Russian mafia been eradicated or has it simply fallen below the radar?

Countless books and articles have reported on the Russian mafia in breathless terms bordering on hysteria. Casting a broad net, Serio brings a different, more analytical approach to his exploration of the subject. Investigating The Russian Mafia, Part I begins by asking a series of basic questions: What did the Soviets understand 'mafia' to mean? Was this a Russian phenomenon or more broadly-based, multi-ethnic groups? How did the media influence the perception of the Russian mafia? What does a close examination of the official statistics reveal about the nature of crime groups in the former Soviet Union?

In Part II, Serio discusses an overview of attitudes and practices of the criminal world, business, and policing, among others, in Russian history. He demonstrates that many of the forces at work in the 1990s did not originate in the Communist era or arise because of the collapse of the USSR. Part III presents a discussion of the crime groups that developed in the post-Soviet era, the challenges that faced the business world, and the law enforcement response.

This book is not simply a discussion of the Russian mafia. It is an exercise in critical thinking about one of the major developments in international crime over the past two decades. Readers will be challenged to examine information being presented by the media and government authorities, to put the current news stories in a broader historical and cultural context, and learn to ask questions and arrive at their own conclusions. Investigating the Russian Mafia is ideal for students, law enforcement, practitioners, and business people operating in the former Soviet Union, as well as the general reader.

Serio brings a unique perspective to his subject matter. He lived in the former Soviet Union for seven years, witnessing the country and culture from a variety of angles. In the Soviet era he was a tourist and student in Moscow. He also served in a unique internship in the Organized Crime Control Department of the Soviet police prior to the collapse of the USSR. In the 1990s, he worked as a media consultant to The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, BBC, the Chicago Tribune, and others. Serio became a security consultant to the global corporate investigation and business intelligence firm, Kroll Associates, and later served as director of Kroll's Moscow office overseeing investigations across the former Soviet Union.

Investigating The Russian Mafia.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Steve Bannon Group Promoted Document Alleging @RealDonaldTrump Had Mafia Connections

Before Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were enemies, they were allies. And not long before that, Bannon was part of an effort to sink Trump's presidential hopes -- even if Trump didn't know it.

A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.

The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years.

The New York Times reported on the document on Friday.

The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump's campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group's chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.

In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge.

The document offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes efforts by conservatives to derail Trump's presidential bid. The document is similar to opposition research produced for both Republicans and Democrats targeting Trump. The best known of those is one produced by the Washington firm Fusion GPS alleging ties between Trump and Russians, which now has helped spawn a broad investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We research political figures from all political parties and our basic premise is follow the money. That's what guides our research approach," Schweizer told CNN.

A source familiar with GAI's work said the group conducted research on all Republican and Democratic candidates running in the 2016 election. Bannon and the Mercers were not involved in the "day to day machinations of the research," but the source said they were aware of the effort to drill down on candidates and share some of that research with news organizations.

A GOP operative provided CNN a copy of the anti-Trump document. Two sources confirmed that GAI shopped copies of the document to donors for Trump rivals during the GOP primary.

"We did not and would not share that with any candidates," the source familiar with GAI's work said. "There would be no sharing with candidates, with political operatives or anybody of that category."

Bannon declined to comment.

Bannon, Schweizer and the Mercers went on to curry favor with Trump when he became the GOP nominee and, later, the President.

Trump brought on Bannon as CEO of his presidential campaign in August 2016. But Bannon's subsequent West Wing tenure as Trump's chief political strategist was brief. He was fired in August 2017, but remained in contact with the President. Their friendship hit rocky times last week with the publication of comments by Bannon in Michael Wolff's book disparaging Trump and his family.

The President issued a blistering statement against his former political guru, saying Bannon has "lost his mind," and later slapped him with the nickname "Sloppy Steve" via Twitter.

Bannon said Sunday he regretted not responding sooner to comments attributed to him in Wolff's book that were critical of Donald Trump Jr.

It's not clear whether Trump knew of Bannon's and the Mercers' ties to the document aimed at discrediting him when they became his allies in 2016. However, the Mercers' prior support for Cruz was widely known.

Trump regularly cited some of Schweizer's other work on the campaign trail, notably that on Hillary Clinton and alleging corruption. He touted Schweizer's 2015 anti-Clinton book "Clinton Cash", which made use of research by GAI, and urged an investigation of allegations of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation.

The book's allegations formed at least part of the basis for some FBI field offices to open preliminary inquiries into the Clinton Foundation. Those investigations stalled in 2016 amid the election. But CNN reported Friday that the inquiries have been given new life and are now led by the FBI office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thanks to Sara Murray, Evan Perez and Jeremy Diamond.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Just as with The Mob, Extortion is a Top ISIS Money-maker

Despite territorial losses last year and declining oil revenues, ISIS remains financially strong, primarily because it has borrowed a page from the Mafia and stepped up one of its money-makers: extortion.

A new report on ISIS finances from a European think tank, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT), says extortion is now the primary revenue generator for what it calls “one of the most powerful groups in the recent history of terrorism,” with some 8 million people under its control in Syria and Iraq.

“ISIS exerts its authority over a wide range of industrial and commercial activities, natural resources and raw materials, from oil to agricultural products, including minerals,” the report says. “While the exploitation of these natural reserves constitutes one of its primary sources of financing, the majority of its funds currently comes from widespread extortion from the population under its control, mainly in the form of taxes, confiscations and fees.”

CAT says that the radical Islamic terror group uses these resources to finance its military efforts and fund its expansion, especially into Libya, while remaining self-sufficient.

Like the mob groups Camorra and ‘Ndarangheta in Italy and drug cartels in Mexico, ISIS relies on a diversified set of criminal activities, but extortion has become all-important to its survival.

What ISIS calls taxes and fees go beyond normal government levies. In addition to a tax on all economic activity and revenues and zakat, a tax on income and wealth observant Muslims must pay, ISIS raises funds with other levies. They include: a tax of from 10 percent to 50 percent on the salaries of Syrian or Iraqi government employees living in areas controlled by the Islamic State; a tax for protecting religious minorities; multiples taxes on agricultural products at various points in the value chain; custom duties on trucks crossing into ISIS-controlled territory; and fees for water, electricity and phones. Homes of dignitaries and people fleeing are confiscated and looted, the report says.

ISIS also uses its strict interpretation of sharia law to squeeze the populace it controls through fines and penalties for “transgressions,” according to CAT.

CAT estimates that ISIS oil revenue for 2015 was about $600 million, compared with more than $1 billion in 2014. It attributed the drop to air strikes by coalition and Russian forces on refining, storage and transport facilities.

To compensate for that loss, ISIS has stepped up extortion, earning about $800 million in 2015, compared to $360 million in 2014, the CAT report says.

Including money made from other criminal behavior such as kidnapping and ransoms and trafficking in antiquities and humans, CAT estimates that the total revenues of the Islamic State dropped from $2.9 billion in 2014 to $2.4 billion in 2015. Despite setbacks, it said the economic collapse of ISIS is far off and its military defeat is not “imminent.”

Thanks to Ciro Scotti.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Here's What's Known about @realDonaldTrump's Reputed Mob Ties

In his signature book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump boasted that when he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City, he persuaded the state attorney general to limit the investigation of his background to six months. Most potential owners were scrutinized for more than a year. Trump argued that he was “clean as a whistle”—young enough that he hadn’t had time to get into any sort of trouble. He got the sped-up background check, and eventually got the casino license. But Trump was not clean as a whistle. Beginning three years earlier, he’d hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano. That story eventually came out in a federal investigation, which also concluded that in a construction industry saturated with mob influence, the Trump Plaza apartment building most likely benefited from connections to racketeering. Trump also failed to disclose that he was under investigation by a grand jury directed by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who wanted to learn how Trump obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan.

Why did Trump get his casino license anyway?
Why didn’t investigators look any harder?
And how deep did his connections to criminals really go?

These questions ate at me as I wrote about Atlantic City for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and then went more deeply into the issues in a book, Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business. In all, I’ve covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years, and in that time I’ve encountered multiple threads linking Trump to organized crime. Some of Trump’s unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven’t. And some of those links have continued until recent years, though when confronted with evidence of such associations, Trump has often claimed a faulty memory. In an April 27 phone call to respond to my questions for this story, Trump told me he did not recall many of the events recounted in this article and they “were a long time ago.” He also said that I had “sometimes been fair, sometimes not” in writing about him, adding “if I don’t like what you write, I’ll sue you.”
I’m not the only one who has picked up signals over the years. Wayne Barrett, author of a 1992 investigative biography of Trump’s real-estate dealings, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention, has tied Trump to mob and mob-connected men.

No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks. Professor Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said the closest historical example would be President Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, a bribery and bid-rigging scandal in which the interior secretary went to prison. But even that has a key difference: Harding’s associates were corrupt but otherwise legitimate businessmen, not mobsters and drug dealers.

This is part of the Donald Trump story that few know. As Barrett wrote in his book, Trump didn’t just do business with mobbed-up concrete companies: he also probably met personally with Salerno at the townhouse of notorious New York fixer Roy Cohn, in a meeting recounted by a Cohn staffer who told Barrett she was present. This came at a time when other developers in New York were pleading with the FBI to free them of mob control of the concrete business.

From the public record and published accounts like that one, it’s possible to assemble a clear picture of what we do know. The picture shows that Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.

Now that he’s running for president, I pulled together what’s known – piecing together the long history of federal filings, court records, biographical anecdotes, and research from my and Barrett’s files. What emerges is a pattern of business dealings with mob figures—not only local figures, but even the son of a reputed Russian mob boss whom Trump had at his side at a gala Trump hotel opening, but has since claimed under oath he barely knows.

Neither Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Hope Hicks, nor Jason Greenblatt, the executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, responded to several emailed requests for comment on the issues raised in this article.

Here, as close as we can get to the truth, is what really happened.

After graduating in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania, a rich young man from the outer boroughs of New York City sought his fortune on the island of Manhattan. Within a few years Donald J. Trump had made friends with the city’s most notorious fixer, lawyer Roy Cohn, who had become famous as lead counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy. Among other things Cohn was now a mob consigliere, with clients including “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, the most powerful Mafia group in New York, and Paul Castellano, head of what was said to be the second largest family, the Gambinos.

This business connection proved useful when Trump began work on what would become Trump Tower, the 58-story high-rise where he still lives when he’s not at his Florida estate.

There was something a little peculiar about the construction of Trump Tower, and subsequent Trump projects in New York. Most skyscrapers are steel girder construction, and that was especially true in the 1980s, says John Cross of the American Iron & Steel Institute. Some use pre-cast concrete. Trump chose a costlier and in many ways riskier method: ready-mix concrete. Ready-mix has some advantages: it can speed up construction, and doesn’t require costly fireproofing. But it must be poured quickly or it will harden in the delivery truck drums, ruining them as well as creating costly problems with the building itself. That leaves developers vulnerable to the unions: the worksite gate is union controlled, so even a brief labor slowdown can turn into an expensive disaster.

Salerno, Castellano and other organized crime figures controlled the ready-mix business in New York, and everyone in construction at the time knew it. So did government investigators trying to break up the mob, urged on by major developers such as the LeFrak and Resnick families. Trump ended up not only using ready-mix concrete, but also paying what a federal indictment of Salerno later concluded were inflated prices for it – repeatedly – to S & A Concrete, a firm Salerno and Castellano owned through fronts, and possibly to other mob-controlled firms. As Barrett noted, by choosing to build with ready-mix concrete rather than other materials, Trump put himself “at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers.”

Salerno and Castellano and other mob families controlled both the concrete business and the unions involved in delivering and pouring it. The risks this created became clear from testimony later by Irving Fischer, the general contractor who built Trump Tower. Fischer said concrete union “goons” once stormed his offices, holding a knife to throat of his switchboard operator to drive home the seriousness of their demands, which included no-show jobs during construction of Trump Tower. But with Cohn as his lawyer, Trump apparently had no reason to personally fear Salerno or Castellano—at least, not once he agreed to pay inflated concrete prices. What Trump appeared to receive in return was union peace. That meant the project would never face costly construction or delivery delays.

The indictment on which Salerno was convicted in 1988 and sent to prison, where he died, listed the nearly $8 million contract for concrete at Trump Plaza, an East Side high-rise apartment building, as one of the acts establishing that S &A was part of a racketeering enterprise. (While the concrete business was central to the case, the trial also proved extortion, narcotics, rigged union elections and murders by the Genovese and Gambino crime families in what Michael Chertoff, the chief prosecutor, called “the largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States.'')

FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family. The FBI believed that Cody previously had obtained free apartments from other developers. FBI agents suspected that Cody, who controlled the flow of concrete trucks, might get a free Trump Tower apartment. Trump denied it. But a female friend of Cody’s, a woman with no job who attributed her lavish lifestyle to the kindness of friends, bought three Trump Tower apartments right beneath the triplex where Donald lived with his wife Ivana. Cody stayed there on occasion and invested $500,000 in the units. Trump, Barrett reported, helped the woman get a $3 million mortgage without filling out a loan application or showing financials.

In the summer of 1982 Cody, then under indictment, ordered a citywide strike—but the concrete work continued at Trump Tower. After Cody was convicted of racketeering, imprisoned and lost control of the union, Trump sued the woman for $250,000 for alteration work. She countersued for $20 million and in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could “be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation” into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars. Trump said at the time and since then that he hardly knew those involved and there was nothing improper his dealings with Cody or the woman.

There were other irregularities in Trump’s first big construction project. In 1979, when Trump hired a demolition contractor to take down the Bonwit Teller department store to make way for Trump Tower, he hired as many as 200 non-union men to work alongside about 15 members of the House Wreckers Union Local 95. The non-union workers were mostly illegal Polish immigrants paid $4 to $6 per hour with no benefits, far below the union contract. At least some of them did not use power tools but sledgehammers, working 12 hours a day or more and often seven days a week. Known as the “Polish brigade,” many didn’t wear hard hats. Many slept on the construction site.

Normally the use of nonunion workers at a union job site would have guaranteed a picket line. Not at this site, however. Work proceeded because the Genovese family principally controlled the union; this was demonstrated by extensive testimony, documents and convictions in federal trials, as well as a later report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

When the Polish workers and a union dissident sued for their pay and benefits, Trump denied any knowledge that illegal workers without hard hats were taking down Bonwit with sledgehammers. The trial, however, demonstrated otherwise: Testimony showed that Trump panicked when the nonunion Polish men threatened a work stoppage because they had not been paid. Trump turned to Daniel Sullivan, a labor fixer and FBI informant, who told him to fire the Polish workers.

Trump knew the Polish brigade was composed of underpaid illegal immigrants and that S&A was a mob-owned firm, according to Sullivan and others. "Donald told me that he was having his difficulties and he admitted to me that — seeking my advice — that he had some illegal Polish employees on the job. I reacted by saying to Donald that 'I think you are nuts,'" Sullivan testified at the time. "I told him to fire them promptly if he had any brains." In an interview later, Sullivan told me the same thing.

In 1991, a federal judge, Charles E. Stewart Jr., ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty, or duty of loyalty, to the workers and their union and that the “breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in his breach.” The judge did not find Trump’s testimony to be sufficiently credible and set damages at $325,000. The case was later settled by negotiation, and the agreement was sealed.

While Trump’s buildings were going up in Manhattan, he was entering a highly regulated industry in New Jersey – one that had the responsibility, and the means, to investigate him and bring the facts to light.

From the beginning, Trump tried to have it both ways. While he leveraged Roy Cohn’s mob contacts in New York, he was telling the FBI he wanted nothing to do with organized crime in Atlantic City, and even proposed putting an undercover FBI agent in his casinos. In April of 1981, when he was considering building a New Jersey casino, he expressed concern about his reputation in a meeting with the FBI, according to an FBI document in my possession and which the site Smoking Gun also posted. “Trump advised Agents that he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City,” the FBI recorded. “Trump also expressed at this meeting the reservation that his life and those around him would be subject to microscopic examination. Trump advised that he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City but he did not wish to tarnish his family’s name.”

Part of the licensing process was supposed to be a deep investigation into his background, taking more than a year for would-be casino owners, but Trump managed to cut that short. As he told the story in Trump: The Art of the Deal, in 1981 he threatened to not build in Atlantic City unless New Jersey’s attorney general, John Degnan, limited the investigation to six months. Degnan was worried that Trump might someday get approval for a casino at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, which could have crushed Atlantic City’s lucrative gaming industry, so Degnan agreed to Trump’s terms. Trump seemingly paid Degnan back by becoming an ardent foe of gambling anywhere in the East except Atlantic City—a position that obviously protected his newfound business investment as well, of course.

Trump was required to disclose any investigations in which he might have been involved in the past, even if they never resulted in charges. Trump didn’t disclose a federal grand jury inquiry into how he obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan. The failure to disclose either that inquiry or the Cody inquiry probably should have disqualified Trump from receiving a license under the standards set by the gaming authorities.

Once Trump was licensed in 1982, critical facts that should have resulted in license denial began emerging in Trump’s own books and in reports by Barrett—an embarrassment for the licensing commission and state investigators, who were supposed to have turned these stones over. Forced after the fact to look into Trump’s connections, the two federal investigations he failed to reveal and other matters, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement investigators circled the wagons to defend their work. First they dismissed as unreliable what mobsters, corrupt union bosses and Trump’s biggest customer, among others, had said to Barrett, to me and other journalists and filmmakers about their dealings with Trump. The investigators’ reports showed that they then put Trump under oath. Trump denied any misconduct or testified that he could not remember. They took him at his word. That meant his casino license was secure even though others in the gambling industry, including low-level licensees like card dealers, had been thrown out for far less.

This lapse illustrated a fundamental truth about casino regulation at the time: Once the state licensed an owner, the Division of Gaming Enforcement had a powerful incentive not to overturn its initial judgment. State officials recited like a mantra their promise that New Jersey casinos were the most highly regulated business in American history, more tightly regulated than nuclear power plants. In Temples of Chance, I showed that this reputation often owed less to careful enforcement than to their willingness to look the other way when problems arose.

In 1986, three years after Trump Tower opened, Roy Cohn was disbarred for attempting to steal from a client, lying and other conduct that an appellate court found “particularly reprehensible.” Trump testified that Cohn, who was dying from AIDS, was a man of good character who should keep his license to practice law.

This was not the only time Trump went to bat publicly for a criminal. He has also spoken up for Shapiro and Sullivan. And then there was the case of Joseph Weichselbaum, an embezzler who ran Trump’s personal helicopter service and ferried his most valued clientele. Trump and Weichselbaum were so close, Barrett reported in his book, that Weichselbaum told his parole officer about how he knew Trump was hiding his mistress, Marla Maples, from his first wife, Ivana, and tried to persuade Trump to end their years-long affair.

Trump’s casinos retained Weichselbaum’s firm to fly high rollers to Atlantic City. Weichselbaum was indicted in Ohio on charges of trafficking in marijuana and cocaine. The head of one of Trump’s casinos was notified of the indictment in October 1985, but Trump continued using Weichselbaum—conduct that again could have cost Trump his casino license had state regulators pressed the matter, because casino owners were required to distance themselves from any hint of crime. Just two months later Trump rented an apartment he owned in the Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan to the pilot and his brother for $7,000 a month in cash and flight services. Trump also continued paying Weichselbaum’s firm even after it went bankrupt.

Weichselbaum, who in 1979 had been caught embezzling and had to repay the stolen money, pleaded guilty to two felonies. Donald Trump vouched for Weichselbaum before his sentencing, writing that the drug trafficker is “a credit to the community” who was “conscientious, forthright, and diligent.” And while Weichselbaum’s confederates got as many as 20 years, Weichselbaum himself got only three, serving 18 months before he was released from the urban prison that the Bureau of Prisons maintains in New York City. In seeking early release, Weichselbaum said Trump had a job waiting for him.

Weichselbaum then moved into Trump Tower, his girlfriend having recently bought two adjoining apartments there for $2.4 million. The cash purchase left no public record of whether any money actually changed hands or, if it did, where it came from. I asked Trump at the time for documents relating to the sale; he did not respond.

As a casino owner, Trump could have lost his license for associating with Weichselbaum. Trump has never been known to use drugs or even drink. What motivated him to risk his valuable license by standing up for a drug trafficker remains unclear to this day. Trump, in his phone call to me, said he “hardly knew” Weichselbaum.

The facts above come from court records, interviews and other documents in my own files and those generously made available by Barrett, who was the first journalist to take a serious investigative look at Trump. Our files show Trump connected in various deals to many other mobsters and wise guys.

There was, for example, Felix Sater, a senior Trump advisor and son of a reputed Russian mobster, whom Trump kept on long after he was convicted in a mob-connected stock swindle. And there was Bob Libutti, a racehorse swindler who was quite possibly Trump’s biggest customer at the casino tables at the time. Libutti told me and others about arrangements that went beyond the “comps”—free hotel rooms and services, for example—that casinos can legally give to high-rollers. Among these was a deal to sell Trump a less-than-fit horse at the inflated price of $500,000, though Trump backed out at the last minute. Libutti accused Trump of making an improper $250,000 payment to him, which would have cost Trump his license. The DGE dismissed Libutti as unreliable and took Trump at his word when he denied the allegations. (Libutti was a major figure in my 1992 book Temples of Chance.)

Some of the dealings came at a remove. In Atlantic City, Trump built on property where mobsters controlled parts of the adjoining land needed for parking. He paid $1.1 million for about a 5,000-square-foot lot that had been bought five years earlier for just $195,000. The sellers were Salvy Testa and Frank Narducci Jr., a pair of hitmen for Atlantic City mob boss Nicky Scarfo who were known as the Young Executioners. For several adjoining acres, Trump ignored the principal owner of record and instead negotiated directly in a deal that also likely ended up benefiting the Scarfo mob. Trump arranged a 98-year lease deal with Sullivan, the FBI informant and labor fixer, and Ken Shapiro, described in government reports as Scarfo’s “investment banker.” Eventually the lease was converted into a sale after the Division of Gaming Enforcement objected to Sullivan and Shapiro being Trump’s landlords.

Trump later boasted in a sworn affidavit in a civil case that he made the deals himself, his “unique contribution” making the land deals possible. In formal hearings Trump later defended Sullivan and Shapiro as “well thought of.” Casino regulators thought otherwise, and banned Sullivan and Shapiro from the casino industry. But the Casino Control Commission was never asked to look into FBI reports that Trump was involved, via Shapiro, in the payoffs at the time of the land deals that resulted in Mayor Michael Mathews going to prison.

Thanks in part to the laxity of New Jersey gaming investigators, Trump has never had to address his dealings with mobsters and swindlers head-on. For instance, Barrett reported in his book that Trump was believed to have met personally with Salerno at Roy Cohn’s townhouse; he found that there were witnesses to the meeting, one of whom kept detailed notes on all of Cohn’s contacts. But instead of looking for the witnesses (one of whom had died) and the office diary one kept, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) took an easier path. They put Trump under oath and asked if he had ever attended such a meeting. Trump denied it. The inquiry ended.

Taking Trump at his word that he never met with the mobsters in Cohn’s townhouse saved the casino investigators from having to acknowledge their earlier failure—that from the start, they had never properly investigated Trump and his connections to criminals. They certainly had the leverage to push harder if they chose. Indeed, two of the five Casino Control commissioners in 1991 declared that the DGE showed official favoritism to Trump. Commissioner David Waters complained that DGE did not go nearly far enough in seeking a $30,000 fine against Trump for taking an illegal loan from his father, which could be grounds to revoke Trump’s casino licenses. Waters called it “an outrage that the Division of Gaming Enforcement would take this position and fail to carry out what I understand to be its responsibility to enforce the provisions of the Casino Control Act.”

Even after he got his license, Trump continued to have relationships that should have prompted inquiries. For example, he made a deal to have Cadillacs dolled up with fancy interiors and exteriors beginning in 1988, marketing them as Trump Golden Series and Trump Executive Series limousines. The modifications were made at the Dillinger Coach Works, which was owned by a pair of convicted felons, convicted extortionist Jack Schwartz and convicted thief John Staluppi, who was so close to mobsters that he was invited to the wedding of a mob capo’s daughter. New York liquor regulators proved tougher than those in New Jersey, denying Staluppi, a rich car dealer, a license because of his rap sheet and his extensive dealings with mobsters, as Barrett’s former reporting partner Bill Bastone found in public records. So why did Trump repeatedly do business with mob owned businesses and mob-controlled unions? Why go down the aisle with an expensive mobbed-up concrete firm when other options were available?

“Why’d Donald do it?” Barrett said when I put the question to him. “Because he saw these mob guys as pathways to money, and Donald is all about money.” From a $400 million tax giveaway on his first big project, to getting a casino license, to collecting fees for putting his name on everything from bottled water and buildings to neckties and steaks, Trump’s life has been dedicated to the next big score. Through Cohn, Trump made choices that—gratuitously, it appears—resulted in his first known business dealings with mob-controlled companies and unions, a pattern that continued long after Cohn died.

What Trump has to say about the reasons for his long, close and wide-ranging dealings with organized crime figures, with the role of mobsters in cheating Trump Tower workers, his dealings with Felix Sater and Trump’s seeming leniency for Weichselbaum, are questions that voters deserve full answers about before casting their ballots.

Thanks to David Cay Johnston.


Crime Family Index