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Suspect In Mob Boss Murder Displays MAGA and QAnon Messages

On Monday, Anthony Comello, the man accused of fatally shooting Gambino crime family boss Francesco Cali in Staten Island, appeared in court for an extradition hearing in Toms River, NJ. And while his motivations for the killing are unclear, the whole saga became even stranger after he showed his hands.

According to images, the 24-year-old Comello had scrawled a number of right-wing iconography on his hand, including “MAGA forever,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s slogan, and the letter Q, an apparent reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory:

https://twitter.com/lib_crusher/status/1107743150825717760?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1107743150825717760&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.alternet.org%2F2019%2F03%2Fmaga-forever-man-accused-of-killing-mob-boss-shows-pro-trump-and-qanon-messages-in-the-courtroom%2F

According to NJ.com, Comello’s lead counsel Robert Gottlieb says he did not see anything written on his client’s hand.

The QAnon conspiracy theory, named after an anonymous message board poster styling himself “Q” after the Energy Department clearance level and purporting to be an inside government source, holds that Trump is working together with special counsel Robert Mueller to uncover a world-spanning murder and sex trafficking ring run by high-ranking Democrats and opponents of the president, and that martial law is imminent to round up and arrest all of the co-conspirators.

And that’s just the beginning of the narrative — believers in the conspiracy have claimed that Kim Jong Un was planted by the CIA, that Democrats ordered MS-13 to murder party staffer Seth Rich, and that the California wildfires were triggered by government lasers.

Despite the patently ridiculous and self-contradictory tangled logic of the conspiracy theory, it has found its way into the national spotlight. ABC sitcom star Roseanne Barr, who was fired after racist outbursts on Twitter, promoted it. And a S.W.A.T. officer from Broward County, Florida sported a QAnon patch on his uniform while posing with Vice President Mike Pence — after which he was demoted to another department.

House Of Trump, House Of Putin: The Untold Story Of Donald Trump And The Russian Mafia

Long before the American president’s disgraceful groveling before his Russian counterpart at the Helsinki summit, millions wondered: Just what does Vladimir Putin have on Donald Trump? Now author and journalist Craig Unger reveals decades of hidden history to answer that question in his new book House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia — which examines Trump’s many connections to the Russian mob, and how those financial dealings resulted in an American presidency that is a Kremlin asset. Below we excerpt the book’s first chapter in full. 

 

CHAPTER ONE: (VIRTUAL) WORLD WAR III

At approximately 9:32 a.m. Moscow time on November 9, 2016, Deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov of the pro‐Putin United Russia Party stepped up to the microphone in the Russian State Duma, the Russian equivalent of the House of Representatives, to make a highly unusual announcement.

The grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov—the coolly ruthless Stalinist of Molotov cocktail fame—Nikonov had been involved in Soviet and Russian politics for roughly forty years, including serving a stint on Vladimir Putin’s staff. Now, he was about to make a rather simple, understated announcement, that in its way was as historic and incendiary as anything his grandfather had ever done.

“Dear friends, respected colleagues!” Nikonov said. “Three minutes ago Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America and I congratulate you on this.”

Even though Nikonov did not add what many in the Kremlin already knew, his brief statement was greeted by enthusiastic applause. Donald J. Trump had just become Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House.

This book tells the story of one of the greatest intelligence operations in history, an undertaking decades in the making, through which Russian Mafia and Russian intelligence operatives successfully targeted, compromised, and implanted either a willfully ignorant or an inexplicably unaware Russian asset in the White House as the most powerful man on earth. In doing so, without firing a shot, the Russians helped pu in power a man who would immediately begin to undermine the Western Alliance, which has been the foundation of American national security for more than seventy years; who would start massive trade wars with America’s longtime allies; fuel right‐wing anti‐immigrant popuism; and assault the rule of law in the United States.

In short, at a time at which the United States was confronted with a new form of warfare—hybrid war consisting of cyber warfare, hacking, disinformation, and the like—the United States would have at its helma man who would leave the country all but defenseless, and otherwise inadvertently do the bidding of the Kremlin.

It is a story that is difficult to tell even though, in many ways, Donald Trump’s ties to Russia over the last four decades have been an open secret, hiding in plain sight. One reason they went largely unnoticed for so long may be that aspects of them are so unsettling, so transgressive, that Americans are loath to acknowledge the dark realities staring them in the face.

As a result, the exact words for what happened often give way to fierce semantic disputes. Whatever Russia did with regard to the 2016 presidential campaign, was it an assault on America’s sovereignty, or merely meddling? Was it an act of war? Did Russian interference change the results of the 2016 presidential election? Was it treason? Is Donald Trump a traitor? A Russian agent? Or merely a so‐called useful idiotwho somehow, through willful blindness or colossal ignorance, does not even know how he has been compromised by Russia?

President Donald Trump, of course, has denied having anything to do with Russia, having tweeted, ten days before his inauguration, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA ‐ NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

But as this book will show, over the last four decades, President Donald Trump and his associates have had significant ties to at least 59 people who facilitated business between Trump and the Russians, including relationships with dozens who have alleged ties to the Russian Mafia.

It will show that President Trump has allowed Trump‐branded real estate to be used as a vehicle that likely served to launder enormous amounts of money—perhaps billions of dollars—for the Russian Mafia for more than three decades.

It will show that President Trump provided an operational home for oligarchs close to the Kremlin and some of the most powerful figures in the Russian Mafia in Trump Tower—his personal and professional home, the crown jewel of his real estate empire—and other Trump buildings on and off for much of that period.

It will show that during this period the Russian Mafia has likely been a de facto state actor serving the Russian Federation in much the same way that American intelligence services serve the United States, and that many of the people connected to Trump had strong ties to the Russian FSB, the state security service that is the successor to the feared KGB.

It will show that President Trump has been a person of interest to Soviet and Russian intelligence for more than forty years and was likely the subject of one or more operations that produced kompromat (com‐ promising materials) on him regarding sexual activities.

It will show that for decades, Russian operatives, including key fig‐ ures in the Russian Mafia, studiously examined the weak spots in America’s pay‐for‐play political culture—from gasoline distribution to Wall Street, from campaign finance to how the K Street lobbyists of Washington ply their trade—and, having done so, hired powerful white‐shoe lawyers, lobbyists, accountants, and real estate developers by the score, in an effort to compromise America’s electoral system, legal process, and financial institutions.

It will show that President Trump, far from being the only potential “asset” targeted by the Russians, was one of dozens of politicians—most of them Republicans, but some Democrats as well—and businessmen who became indebted to Russia, and that millions of dollars have been flowing from individuals and companies from, or with ties to, Russia to GOP politicians, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, for more than 20 years.

It will show that the most powerful figures in America’s national security—including two FBI directors, William Sessions and Louis Freeh, and special counsel to the CIA Mitchell Rogovin—ended up working with Russians who had been deemed serious threats to the United States.

It will show that President Trump was $4 billion in debt when Russian money came to his rescue and bailed him out, and, as a result, he was and remains deeply indebted to them for reviving his business career and launching his new life in politics.

It will show that President Trump partnered with a convicted felon named Felix Sater who allegedly had ties to the Russian mob, and that Trump did not disclose the fact Sater was a criminal and profited from that relationship.

And it will show that, now that he is commander in chief of the United States, President Trump, as former director of national intelligence James Clapper put it, is, in effect, an intelligence “asset” serving Russian president Vladimir Putin, or, even worse, as Glenn Carle, a former CIA national intelligence officer, told Newsweek, “My assessment is that Trump is actually working directly for the Russians.” Then again, maybe James Comey put it best. In January 2017, just a week after Donald Trump was inaugurated, the president invited then– director Comey to the White House for a private dinner. Characterizing Trump as “unethical, and untethered to truth,” likening his behavior to that of a Mafia boss, Comey writes in A Higher Loyalty thatTrump told him: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

The demand reminded Comey of a Cosa Nostra induction ceremony, with Trump in the role of the Mafia family boss. “The encounter left meshaken,” he writes. “I had never seen anything like it in the Oval Office. As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor 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.”

Comey writes as if the Mafia conceit is a metaphor. But in a way it is more than that. What follows is the story of Trump’s four‐decade‐long relationship with the Russian Mafia, and the Russian intelligence operation that helped put him into the White House.

On June 23, 2017, six months after his inauguration, President Donald Trump tweeted that his predecessor Barack Obama “knew far in advance” about Russia’s meddling in the American election. The tweet was unusual in that it represented a rare acknowledgment by the president that Russia may have interfered in the 2016 election, but it was accompanied by Trump’s denunciation of any investigation into the matter as a “witch hunt.”

At the time, Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was en route to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia had annexed in 2014 from Ukraine, had reason to be grateful for any cover provided by his American friend. His stopover was not a popular one, rekindling as it did animosity in Ukraine, whose foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Kiev “consider[ed] this visit . . . to be a gross violation of the sovereignty of the State and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” It was an issue that loomed large in the shadow play between the two men: Putin’s apparent support of Trump seemingly went hand in hand with the latter’s acquiescence on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

While Putin and Trump hogged the headlines, however, something took place in Devens, Massachusetts, that seemed light‐years removed from the Trump‐Russia scandal, but in fact was closely tied to its origins. John “Sonny” Franzese, the oldest federal prisoner in the United States, was discharged from the Federal Medical Center, after serving an eight‐year sentence for extortion.

Thanks to his age—Franzese had just celebrated his one-hundredth birthday—his release was duly noted all over the world, from Der Spiegel to the New York Post, which dutifully called forth Franzese’s glory days hanging out with Frank Sinatra and boxing champ Jake LaMotta at the Copacabana. An underboss in the feared Colombo crime family, Franzese had repeatedly dodged murder charges because he was likely so good at making bodies disappear. But after one acquittal he was caught on tape explaining how he’d disposed of the bodies of the dozens of people he had killed: “Dismember victim in kiddie pool. Cook body parts in microwave. Stuff parts in garbage disposal. Be patient.”

Franzese was old‐school Mafia, a relic from the mid‐20th century era of the Cosa Nostra’s Five Families, the same warring tribes depicted in The Godfather, and his return to Brooklyn evoked that powerful, mythic saga that has been so deeply imprinted in the American consciousness. Yet somehow the most enduring part of his legacy, one that will forever have its place in American history, is virtually unknown today. Through his son Michael, Sonny Franzese supervised a gasoline‐tax‐evasion scam that turned into a billion‐dollar enterprise lasting for six years, until the FBI broke it up in the mid-80s. The scandal also had far‐reaching geopolitical consequences in that it gave the newly arrived Russian Mafia its first major score in America and positioned it to play a vital role in Donald Trump’s rise to power, such a vital role that it is fair to say that without the Russian Mafia’s move into New York, Donald Trump would not have become president of the United States.

Born in Naples in 1917, Sonny Franzese had immigrated to the United States with his family as a child, and in his youth rode shotgun on hifather’s bakery truck in Brooklyn. As recounted in Michael Franzese’s Blood Covenant, he began his ascent back when Mafia nightlife meant dining at the Stork Club on West 58th Street in Manhattan, Sherman Billingsley’s swanky refuge for café society, where Sonny courted and married the coat‐check girl, and spent his evenings hanging out with the likes of Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Damon Runyon, and Walter Winchell. Before long, the Franzeses became an integral part of the storied Colombo crime family, the youngest and perhaps the most violent of the Five Families of organized crime, which were locked in an epic and ongoing internecine war.

When it came to bringing in revenue for the Colombo family, Sonny handled bookmaking, loan sharking, prostitution, shakedowns, and tax cheating. A thuggish, bull‐necked man known for his boxer’s flattened nose—he was said to resemble boxer Rocky Graziano—over time, he became a lean, meticulously groomed don sporting all the requisite sartorial flourishes of his profession—crisp fedora, diamond pinkie ring, pointed black shoes, bespoke suits, and a beautifully tailored overcoat. Meanwhile, he commanded half a dozen lieutenants, each of whom had as many as 30 soldiers in their organizations, and carved out a reputation as a ferocious enforcer. “He swam in the biggest ocean and was the biggest, meanest, most terrifying shark in that ocean,” said Phil Steinberg, a close friend of Sonny’s who was a major figure in the music industry. “He was an enforcer, and he did what he did better than anyone.” As his son Michael put it, Sonny “could paralyze the most fearless hit man with a stare.”

Sometimes he went significantly further than that. In 1974, a Colombo soldier who had been a bit too attentive to Sonny’s wife was found buried in a cellar with a garrote around his neck. According to Vanity Fair, the man’s genitals had been stuffed in his mouth, an act that authorities characterized as “an apparent signal of Sonny’s displeasure.”

As underboss, Sonny was in line to run the entire Colombo organization, and, with Michael under his tutelage, the Franzeses sought opportunities in new sectors of the burgeoning entertainment industry that were opening up to the mob. They financed Deep Throat, Linda Lovelace’s infamous porno film. They backed Phil Steinberg’s Kama Sutra/Buddah Records, which provided opportunities for money laundering and payola—not to mention hits by the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Shangri‐Las, and Gladys Knight and the Pips, among others.

Before long, Michael had become a Colombo caporegime like his father, the youngest person on Fortune magazine’s “50 Biggest Mafia Bosses” list, and one of the biggest earners in the Mafia since Al Capone. By the early 80s, however, organized crime in New York was undergoing a paradigmatic shift for a reason that was not yet widely known: The Russians were coming. In fact, Russians had begun collaborating with Italian mobsters as early as 1980, when the two crime organizations partnered in one of the most lucrative government rip‐offs in American history.

At the time, Michael Franzese, then in his early thirties, was already providing protection to a mobster named Lawrence Iorizzo, who owned or supplied 300 gas stations in and around Long Island and New Jersey, and was making a fortune by skimming tax revenue from gasoline sales. This scam was possible thanks to the sluggishness with which laggardly government officials collected gas taxes. Together, federal, state, and local authorities demanded on average 27 cents out of every gallon that was sold, but they took their time in collecting—sometimes as much as a year,

Having registered dozens of shell companies in Panama as owners of the gas stations, all Iorizzo had to do was to close down each of hisgas stations before the tax man came, and then reopen under new management with a different shell company. By the time the tax men came looking for their money, much of it was in Iorizzo’s pocket. When the FBI later investigated the scam, which had spread to six states, they called the investigation Operation Red Daisy.

Iorizzo’s scheme was going swimmingly except for one thing: A group of men—Michael Franzese described them as “small‐fry associates of another family”—were trying to muscle in on Iorizzo’s operation. According to Franzese, the six‐foot‐four, 450‐pound Iorizzo “ate pizzas the way most people eat Ritz crackers” and didn’t exactly look like he needed protection. Nevertheless, he had gone to Franzese for help with these small‐time hoods who were trying to shake him down and move in on his territory.

Without missing a beat, Franzese figured out a mutually acceptable solution, and a highly lucrative partnership was born. Soon, so muchmoney was pouring in that Franzese was promoted to caporegime in the Cosa Nostra. Then in 1984, three alleged Russian gangsters, David Bogatin, Michael Markowitz, and Lev Persits, approached him with a proposition that was very similar to Iorizzo’s. Like Iorizzo, they had their own gas tax scam going on, and like Iorizzo, they needed protection.

Franzese instantly saw the opportunity for another huge score, but he sized up the Russians with a mixture of respect and scorn. Bogatin, with his receding hairline and steel‐rimmed glasses, looked more like a white‐collar professional than a Russian mobster. His father had spent eighteen years in prison in Siberia because he had been “caught” hang‐ ing the key to the office door so that it accidentally covered a portrait of Joseph Stalin—thereby defacing the image of the Soviet dictator.23 In 1966, Bogatin joined the Soviet Army and served in a North Viet‐ namese antiaircraft unit, where he helped shoot down American pi‐ lots.24 Then, in the mid‐1970s, after leaving the army, he began working as a printer but was fired because he was printing outlawed material for Jewish dissidents.

After being blacklisted by the KGB, in 1977, Bogatin clawed his way out of Russia, came to New York, and worked in a factory. He bought a car, mastered English, and began to run a private cab service. That led to a gas station, then a fuel distributorship, all while he made acquaintances among the Russian diaspora.

Having grown up under communism, Bogatin took to capitalism like a duck to water—which won Franzese’s respect. The Russians had been among the pioneers of this spectacularly lucrative scam, and they had about 200 members working under them. They wanted “to flex their muscles,” Franzese said, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 1996, “and would not hesitate to resort to violence when they felt it was necessary to do so.”

Franzese had a harder time taking Bogatin’s partner seriously— thanks largely to his attire. Michael Markowitz wore gaudy jewelry, heavy gold chains, and showy wide‐collared shirts unbuttoned to the navel. As Franzese saw it, Markowitz aspired to be John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, but instead called to mind the shimmying “wild and crazy guys” played by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in the 70s. The dapper Franzese couldn’t stop laughing at him. Markowitz “looked like a rug salesman who had just hit the lottery.”  Was this really his competition?

In the end, however, money trumped fashion, and so, on a Saturday morning in the fall of 1980, Michael Franzese sat down with Bogatin, Persits, and Markowitz at a gas station in Brooklyn. “These Russians were having trouble collecting money owed them,” Franzese recalled.“They were also having problems obtaining and holding on to the licenses they needed to keep the gas tax scam going.”

Franzese could help on both counts. One of his soldiers was a guy named Vinnie, and as Franzese put it, “Vinnie’s job was to say, ‘Pay the money, or I’ll break your legs.’”

Vinnie was persuasive—so persuasive that the Colombo family had  become famous for getting people to pay their debts. That wasn’t all. Franzese also had operatives inside the state government who could provide the Russians with the wholesale licenses they needed to defraud the government.

The Russians desperately needed Franzese, and he knew just how to play them. “We agreed to share the illegal proceeds, 75 percent my end, 25 percent their end,” he said. “The deal was put on record with all five crime families, and I took care of the Colombo family share of the illegal proceeds out of my end.”

Soon, the money came pouring in—$5 million to more than $8 million a week. As the operation expanded, profits soared to $100 million amonth, more than a billion a year. The Italians were the big winners, but Markowitz and Bogatin were well on their way to lucrative criminal careers.

Thus, in 1984, at the peak of his success, David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. Even though he was a juniorpartner with Franzese, after seven years in New York, Bogatin had stashed away enough money to buy real estate anywhere he wanted. For roughly a decade, thousands of Russian Jews like him had been pouring into Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. But Bogatin had his eyes on something more prestigious.

So instead of shopping for a home in Brighton Beach, Bogatin became fixated on a garish 58‐story edifice in midtown Manhattan, with mirrors and brass and gold‐plated fixtures everywhere. A monument to conspicuous consumption, it had an atrium covered with pink, white‐veined marble near the entrance and a 60‐foot waterfall overlooking a suspended walkway, luxury shops, and cafés. The AIA Guide to New York City described it as “fantasyland for the affluent shopper,” but hastened to add that the design was more like a generic “malt liquor” than posh champagne.

The New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it “monumentally undistinguished,” while another Times writer dismissed it as “preposterously lavish” and “showy, even pretentious.”The developer’s love of excess was such that he purposely overstated the number of floors in the building. That way, he could say he lived on the sixty‐ eighth floor—even though it was a fifty‐eight‐story building. Its address was 721 Fifth Avenue, and it was known as Trump Tower.

Excerpted from the book House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia by Craig Unger. Copyright © 2018 by Craig Unger. Reprinted with permission of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

 

Excerpt: ‘Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth — The Deals, The Downfall, The Reinvention’

On Twitter there’s a profane character who calls himself @realDonaldTrump — and then there’s the all-too-real Donald Trump: reality star, casino mogul, political toxin, and conman extraordinaire. Nobody has written as many informed and perceptive stories about Trump as investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, whose Brooklyn basement full of Trump-related files is now a top destination for every serious journalist covering the Republican presidential front-runner. Barrett’s landmark 1992 book Trump: The Deals and the Downfall is now a cherished out-of-print rarity, but Regan Arts recently published a Kindle edition titled Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth — The Deals, The Downfall, The Reinvention. What follows is an exclusive excerpt from its new foreword:

 

Two days after his 69th birthday, Donald Trump became the first presidential candidate to launch his campaign aboard an escalator, descending on a continuous loop of steel against a backdrop of continuously looping waterfalls, all in front of the very cameras that have so often made his story a spinning reel of autoerotic autobiography. Everyone else in the movie that Donald is making with his life—that morning and beyond—is just an extra.

As much attention as that particular escalator ride garnered, the Trump history leading up to that moment went unnoticed: more than a century earlier, the first escalator was built on the Old Iron Pier in Coney Island, a precursor to Steeplechase, the landmark amusement park that Fred Trump, Donald’s father, tore down in the 1960s, ending the Brooklyn beachfront’s run as one of the world’s most famous playgrounds.

The stage-managing of that escalator entrance at his signature Trump Tower was just one of the anomalies at Trump’s mid-June announcement.

His bid for the presidency came 25 years, nearly to the day, after Donald produced a birthday extravaganza—at Trump’s Castle in Atlantic City—the day after he first defaulted on a casino bond in the thick of a financial meltdown. On stage in the confetti-covered Crystal Ballroom, a George H.W. Bush impersonator declared that Trump should be president, a joke on its way now to possible prophecy.

Melania, Donald’s third wife, joined him on his journey down the gold-railed escalator, just as she did in a 2013 Celebrity Apprentice episode when she and Donald introduced her line of caviar skincare. But it was first wife Ivana who had overruled the architects 35 years earlier to insist on a 60-foot waterfall, and who had trekked across an Italian quarry to pick the finest rosy-beige Breccia Perniche marble for the five-story atrium—the same marble that matched the peachy orange hue of Donald’s hair on the morning of his press conference.

The lights illuminating the waterfall were installed by a contractor whose brother-in-law, Donald Manes, voted for the tower’s zoning variance as a member of the city’s reigning Board of Estimate, a few years before he plunged a kitchen knife into his chest just as US Attorney Rudy Giuliani was about to indict him. Trump’s lawyer on the Trump Tower tax abatement, Stanley Friedman, was Manes’ partner in crime, who delivered a second Board of Estimate vote for the tower and was later convicted by Giuliani on unrelated racketeering charges. Giuliani once opened a probe into Trump’s sale of a Trump Tower apartment to the head of one of the city’s largest gambling rings, who brought a briefcase of cash to a closing Donald personally attended. Giuliani is now an informal campaign advisor to his onetime donor Trump.

Trump Tower itself is a monument to the mob. Sweetheart deals with a mob Teamsters local that delivered the concrete, and mob contractors that supplied and built the tallest reinforced concrete job in the country, were choices Donald made, provoking the interest of federal prosecutors at the time. Now, as he lays claim to the White House, he is announcing an even larger concrete project, a thousand-mile wall to protect us from drug and trafficking cartels.

The Trump Tower apartments, and some of the offices above the atrium, had long been magnets for criminals. A half dozen felons, including the head of the Gambino-tied concrete-drivers union, owned part or all of over two dozen units in the tower in its first decade. Trump’s cluelessness on foreign policy, apparent even in his opening speech, extended to the tower’s apartment and office occupants—a disturbing collection of international rogues.

Baby Doc Duvalier bought a $2.5 million apartment there before the tower opened and before the president-for-life was driven from power in Haiti. Chuck Blazer, the 450-pound, now-convicted, wheeler-dealer at the center of the vast FIFA soccer scandal, wallowed between two different tower apartments and a tower office where his branch of the soccer federation was headquartered. Another FIFA potentate, Brazilian Jose Maria Marin, who was once caught on videotape pocketing a gold medal that was supposed to be presented to a member of a championship team, is under house arrest on racketeering charges in his $3.5 million Trump Tower apartment.

Bayrock, a developer that joined Trump in New York and Fort Lauderdale projects, was headquartered at the Tower and one of its partners, Tamir Sapir, a Russian billionaire who Trump called “a great friend,” had a $5 million apartment there. Sapir’s top aide pled guilty to participating in a 13-year racketeering conspiracy with the Gambino crime family, with some of those years overlapping with his involvement in running Sapir’s construction operations. Felix Sater, who owned a 50 percent “executive membership” in the Bayrock entities set up for the Trump projects, pled guilty in a $40 million mob stock swindle and cooperated with federal prosecutors. Sater, the son of a Russian mobster, appeared in photos with Trump and was identified as a senior adviser on a Trump Organization card. Sater also did prison time for plunging the stem of a wine glass into a commodity broker’s face.

While Candidate Trump contends that Saudi Arabia was behind the 9/11 attacks, a top Saudi government minister at the time of the attack, Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz, owns a full floor in the tower. In fact, although Trump would soon argue that “we should stop supporting the Saudi dictatorship,” as well as stop buying their oil, he said in his announcement, “I love the Saudis; many are in this building.”

Two other Trump Towers, one in Istanbul and one in Philadelphia, involved convicted cocaine traffickers, but not as residents. Trump’s initial partner in the twin towers in Istanbul—one residential and one office/commercial building—was Engin Yesil, who was sentenced to six years in prison for trafficking 20 years earlier. He later said that he assigned his earnings on the Trump project to Dogan Holdings, a giant Turkish developer that was fined $2.5 billion by the Turkish government for dodging corporate taxes for years. The Dogan firm was alarmed when Candidate Trump made his strongest anti-Muslim statements a few months after his announcement and threatened publicly to separate Trump from the project.

The Philadelphia tower was never built after Trump’s local partner Raoul Goldberg disappeared and the development firm went bankrupt. Sentenced to 46 months in prison in 2000 on cocaine charges, Goldberg was on probation when he brought the deal to Trump in 2005. Under a licensing and management contract with Goldberg’s firm, Trump was so involved he did the video pitch for it, and his company got the permits and cut the spa and restaurant deals, with daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. working on the ground.

***

The Trump Tower lobby where Trump made his presidential announcement wasn’t exactly his property alone, either. The lobby is privately owned public space. The zoning variance that Manes and other Trump insiders on the Board of Estimate approved gave Trump 20 extra floors if he ran the shops and atrium as space open to public use, where visitors could relax without shopping at Gucci or eating at Trump Grill, where 45-dollar Trump steaks sell a floor below the lobby.

A 22-foot black marble bench near the entrance made it so easy to relax that Trump tried to discourage visitors by covering it with planters soon after the tower opened, a violation so blatant that the city cracked down, forcing Trump himself to huff and puff in the office of a City Planning Commission deputy and to write a letter complaining about “drug addicts” who apparently couldn’t resist gilded Fifth Avenue rest stops. He lost that battle but never gave up, eventually replacing the bench and other public space with two Trump Stores, 40-foot mahogany counters where everything Trump—from books to bling—was sold at prices no vagrant could afford. The city fined him $2,500 in 2008, but sales, including those of Melania’s timepieces and fashion jewelry, may have topped that every hour. So, they continued on for years, well after the presidential debut, until the city levied a $4,000 fine in February 2016 and finally shut the counters down.

In exchange for this atrium access, Trump even built his own three-story, $100 million, Louis XIV facsimile penthouse, where he issues tweets and devours Twinkies in his pajamas; yet he’s broken the deal again and again, contemptuous of commitments to a public he now wants to represent.

 

Adapted from Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth–The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention by Wayne Barrett. Copyright Wayne Barrett. Available now as an ebook from Regan Arts.

Huge Document Leak Exposes How The Wealthy And Powerful Hide Money

Kevin G. Hall and Marisa Taylor
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — A massive leak of documents has blown open a window on the vast, murky world of shell companies, providing an extraordinary look at how the wealthy and powerful conceal their money.

Twelve current and former world leaders maintain offshore shell companies. Close friends of Russian leader Vladimir Putin have funneled as much as $2 billion through banks and offshore companies.

Those exposed in the leak include the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, an alleged bagman for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close friend of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and companies linked to the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Add to those the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Morocco; Middle Eastern royalty; leaders of FIFA, the international body that controls international soccer; and 29 billionaires included in Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s 500 richest people.

Also mentioned are 61 relatives and associates of current country leaders, and 128 ther current or former politicians and public officials.

The leak exposes a trail of dark money flowing through the global financial system, stripping national treasuries of tax revenue.

The data breach occurred at a little-known but powerful Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co., which has an office in Las Vegas, a representative in Miami and presence in more than 35 other places around the world.

The firm is one of the world’s top five creators of shell companies, which can have legitimate business uses but can also be used to dodge taxes and launder money.

More than 11.5 million emails, financial spreadsheets, client records, passports and corporate registries were obtained in the leak, which was delivered to the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich, Germany. In turn, the newspaper shared the data with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Several McClatchy journalists joined more than 370 journalists from 78 countries in the largest media collaboration ever undertaken after a leak.

The document archive contains 2.6 terabytes of data.

As a registered agent, the Mossack Fonseca law firm incorporates companies in tax havens worldwide for a fee. It has avoided close scrutiny from U.S. law enforcement officials.

Mossack Fonseca denied all accusations of illegal activity.

“We have not once in nearly 40 years of operation been charged with criminal wrongdoing,” spokesman Carlos Sousa said. “We’re proud of the work we do, notwithstanding recent and willful attempts by some to mischaracterize it.”

The law firm’s co-founder, Ramon Fonseca, in an interview last month on Panamanian television, said blaming Mossack Fonseca for what people do with their companies would be like blaming an automaker “for an accident or if the car was used in a robbery.”

Yet plenty of criminals are named the documents, like drug traffickers and convicted fraudsters.

“The offshore world is the parallel universe of the ultrarich and ultrapowerful,” said Jack Blum, a white-collar crime attorney and an architect of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The archive, which dates to the late 1970s and extends through December 2015, reveals that 14,000 intermediaries and middlemen bring business to Mossack Fonseca.

No part of the world is untouched, including the United States.

States such as Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming register thousands of corporations annually, often without identifying the true owners. Some of the billions of dollars moving through the domestic economy come from anonymous foreigners who inflate real estate prices in places like Miami, buying properties outright in cash.

“We know (of) upwards to $6 to $10 billion a year laundered through the U.S.,” said Patrick Fallon Jr., head of the FBI’s financial crimes section.

The most extraordinary allegations in the archive revolve around Putin’s closest associates, including Sergey Roldugin), a close friend since the late 1970s when Putin was a young KGB agent.

Roldugin is a cellist for the St. Petersburg orchestra, yet his name appears as the owner of offshore companies that have rights to loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A Russian news service report in 2010 disclosed that he owned at least 3 percent of Bank Rossiya, Russia’s most important bank.

When Mossack Fonseca helped open a bank account in Switzerland on behalf of Roldugin, the application form asked if he had “any relation to PEPs (politically exposed persons) or VIPs.”

The one-word answer was, “No.” Yet, Roldugin is godfather to Putin’s daughter Mariya.

“Roldugin is, by his proximity to a serving head of state, clearly an exposed person,” Mark Pieth, a former head of the Swiss justice ministry’s organized crime division, told the ICIJ team.

The documents show how in 2008 a company controlled by Roldugin had influence over Russia’s largest truck maker Kamaz, joining with several other offshore companies to help another Putin insider acquire majority control of the company. They wanted foreign investment, and German carmaker Daimler later that year bought a 10 percent stake in Kamaz for $250 million.

The offshore company that connects many Putin loyalists is Sandalwood Continental Limited in the British Virgin Islands. Roldugin was a shareholder until 2012, as was Oleg Gordin, a little-known businessman whom incorporation documents describe as linked to “law enforcement agencies.”

The files also mention a company co-owned by Putin friend Yury Kovalchuk, the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya. Kovalchuk was among those targeted by U.S. sanctions in 2014 in retribution for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Another friend, Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s judo partner and a billionaire construction mogul, openly obtained companies through Mossack Fonseca. The Treasury Department, when sanctioning him in 2014, suggested that the oligarch acted on behalf of “a senior official.”

That was widely believed to mean Putin, whose fingerprints were not on any offshore company.

“When you are the president of Russia, you don’t need a written contract. You are the law,” said Karen Dawisha, an academic, former State Department official and author of the acclaimed 2014 book “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?”

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that ICIJ was publishing a “series of fibs” that amounted to a media “attack” on Putin. Peskov suggested that unknown “organizations and services” were behind the media reports.

https://www.publicintegrity.org/node/19492/syndication/tracking

This report contains information gathered by reporters working under the umbrella of the nonprofit International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

Photo: Four thousand U.S. dollars are counted out by a banker counting currency at a bank in Westminster, Colorado November 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking