Tuesday, May 30, 2017
He's got very clean money. The cleanest.
So President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen is under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Shocker. You'll recall that he's the guy who said to the Daily Beast:
“I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know … So I’m warning you, tread very f---ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f---ing disgusting.”
He's a very classy fellow with great integrity who would never do anything untoward so this is all just part of the Democratic plot to deny Donald Trump his yuge victory.
In case you were wondering what kind of things Cohen might do for Trump, he seems to be the type of fellow who "handles" money for clients in ways that might look suspiciously like money laundering:
Long before he became Donald Trump’s feared attack dog, or began to visit the White House as the president’s personal attorney, or took a position with the Republican National Committee, or partnered with powerhouse lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, Michael Cohen ran a small legal practice in Hell’s Kitchen.
He was a one-man show and handled a little bit of everything, from personal injury cases to a Ukrainian investment fund to a fleet of taxis to a trust account he managed for clients.
One day in 1999, a check for $350,000 was deposited into that trust account, to be disbursed to a woman living in South Florida. As the lawyer in charge of the account, Cohen was supposed to ensure that she got the money.
But he didn’t.
Why not? And what ultimately happened to all that money?
“I don’t recall,” Cohen said in a deposition.
The missing $350,000 — which has never been recovered — became the centerpiece of a 2009 lawsuit in Miami, where Cohen was accused of civil fraud. After years of litigation, Cohen prevailed, in part because the suit was filed past the statute of limitations.
Cohen, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, said he was first questioned about the money eight years after it was deposited, by which time he said he could not recall much about it. “I honestly don’t remember who gave me the deposit at the time,” he said. “This is another poor attempt to malign my impeccable reputation and attempt to connect me to a Russian conspiracy.”
But Cohen’s own testimony in the case reveals that the man who is now the president’s personal lawyer failed to execute one of the core duties of an attorney — properly handling money placed in his trust — and was cavalier about that failure.
“One of the things lawyers are most likely to be disciplined for is misusing clients’ funds,” said Deborah Rhode, a legal ethics expert from Stanford University, who said that properly accounting for and disbursing funds is a critically important obligation for many attorneys.
The $350,000 mystery involves four other important characters: Vladimir Malakhov, a professional hockey player who wrote the original check; Yulia Fomina, a Russian woman who asked Malakhov to loan her the money and put her condominium up as collateral; Vitaly Buslaev, a Russian businessperson who was Fomina’s boyfriend; and Symon Garber, a Ukrainian-born taxi baron who was Cohen’s business partner.
In 1999, Malakhov was playing defense for the Montreal Canadiens. He would play in the NHL for a decade, win a Stanley Cup, and collect about $30 million in salary. Along the way, he attracted the attention of Russian organized crime. During Senate hearings, a former gangster testified that someone tried to shake down Malakhov at a restaurant in Brooklyn’s heavily Russian neighborhood, Brighton Beach. The man who made the threats reportedly worked for Vyacheslav Ivankov, a notorious Russian mafia boss who was later assassinated in 2009.
“Malakhov spent the next months in fear,” according to the testimony, “looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, avoiding restaurants and clubs where Russian criminals hang out.”
Malakhov was playing for Montreal in 1999 when Buslaev and Fomina entered the picture.
Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian-American historian, reports that Buslaev was dating Fomina and supported her in the United States, helping her purchase a condominium, an Aston Martin, and a Mercedes-Benz. There are few public records available on Buslaev, but Russian business registrations show him as a manager of at least three companies near Moscow.
Court records show that around that time, Buslaev encouraged her to ask Malakhov and his wife, with whom she was friendly, for a loan.
Buslaev was looking for a hedge against “the instability of the Russian ruble on the foreign exchange market,” Malakhov’s sports agent wrote in an affidavit. At the agent’s suggestion, Malakhov demanded some collateral. (The agent, Paul Theofanous, did not return a message left at his office last week.)
So Fomina put up the deed to her condo and Malakhov wrote the check.
But he didn’t write it to her. At what he would later say was Fomina’s request, Malakhov wrote it to the trust account that Cohen controlled.
Two years later, claiming that Fomina failed to repay the loan, Malakhov’s wife went to court to take possession of the condo.
Fomina was in Russia at the time. When she returned to Florida, she filed suit, claiming she had been taken advantage of and didn’t speak enough English to understand the loan documents she signed. She and the Malakhovs did not return phone calls seeking comment, and Buslaev could not be reached. But Fomina’s lawsuit set off more than five years of litigation, and Malakhov’s lawyers eventually questioned Cohen about his role in the matter.
During a deposition, they showed him the check that Malakhov wrote, which had been endorsed with what appeared to be Cohen’s signature. Cohen declined to say whether it really was his.
“It could be,” he allowed.
He said that he didn’t know Malakhov, Fomina, or Buslaev.
The trust account, he explained, was used for “negligence settlements” or “property damage claims.” Perhaps the money was meant for the Ukrainian investment fund he managed, Cohen said.
Again and again — at least six times — Cohen said he didn’t recall why the $350,000 was deposited or what became of it.
Russians just keep turning up everywhere you look with this crew. Normally one wouldn't think too much of that. But under the circumstances it is bound to draw scrutiny.
digby 5/30/2017 03:00:00 PM