You never see my best posts, because I compose them in my mind while researching a complex matter. At the end of the day, the actual writing seems like too much of a chore, so I put it off for mañana
I don't want this
line of inquiry to end up on my "to do" list. Today I've been piecing together an incredibly complicated chain of events involving criminal activity in Trump Tower, directly below Trump's own domicile. Lots of writers have given us large pieces
of the story, but nobody has put the whole narrative together.
I can't either. At present, the best I can do is to jot down a few notes, offer some key quotes, and hand you some links. Follow the trail, if you are of a mind to.
First, this piece
by Brian Ross. (You can always trust Ross to dig only so deep into anything even remotely spooky.)
There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.
But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower.
The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the “Little Taiwanese,” Tokhtakhounov was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.
Five months after the April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a “red notice” for Tokhtakhounov, the fugitive appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Moscow Miss Universe pageant. Trump had sold the Russian rights for Miss Universe to a billionaire Russian shopping mall developer.
“He is a major player,” said Mike Gaeta, the FBI agent who led the 2013 FBI investigation of Tokhtakhounov and his alleged mafia money laundering and gambling ring, in a 2014 interview with ABC News. “He is prominent, he has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries.”
The "Taiwanchik" nickname stems from the fact that Tokhtakhounov...
...and the name is a stumbling block, isn't it? Oh fer chrissakes, it's not that difficult: "Tock ta KOON off."
Anyways, he looks Asian, so that's why they call him "little Taiwan" or Taiwanchik. He's a vor
. In the Russian mafia, "vor
" means "Godfather." Mr. Big.
wrote a very good piece about all of this back in September, back when everyone was transfixed by Hillary's emails. In order to tie Tokhtakhounov to Trump, Corn fixes on the beauty contest, which is indeed important, because it looks like Tokhtakhounov helped to make that happen.
But there's more.
Tokhtakhounov ran a high-stakes gambling operation which catered to Hollywood celebrities, Wall Streeters and other VIPs. He was also involved with the Olympics cheating scandal
is a rather full bio of the guy, with all the known salacious details. A brief sample:
In 1998 French foreign intelligence service reported that Taivanchik was "ringleader of a criminal organization," "mediator for high-profile projects." Tokhtakhunov was mentioned in the Interpol report in April 2001. He was suspected of trafficking drug, weapons and stolen cars.
Source: Komok, 30 September 2002
On August 1, 2002 Tokhtakhounov was arrested in Italy on charges of rigging the competition in figure skating at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
American intelligence agencies asserted that he organized a mutually beneficial exchange so that the French judge Marie-Reine Le Gun voted for the Russian skaters in the pairs figure skating (Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze), and Russia voted for the French (Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat) in ice dancing.
Premiere anti-Trump investigator Adam Kahn published the following in his twitter stream. We will soon get to some of these other names:
When I first saw Khan's marginal note, I was immediately reminded of the prostitution/poker ring that former CIA head Porter Goss was linked to. It was run out of the Watergate, and it was used to acquire what we would now call kompromat
on important people. We learned about that sleazy business in the wake of the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. This ring was tied in with both of the parties that bribed Cunningham. One of those firms was MZM, which later became Mantech, which has strange links to Breitbart. (For some reason, Breitbart would publish Mantech press releases
, even though Breitbart readers probably couldn't have cared less.)
Is that sordid history linked in any way to our present story? Dunno. For now, just remember that Putin is not the only guy who collects kompromat.
Back to our main story:
Tokhtakhounov has partners in his New York enterprise -- Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik. (Trincher
was the 2009 world poker champion.) They were tried and convicted. Guess who put 'em away?
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ANATOLY GOLUBCHIK was sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court to five years in prison, and VADIM TRINCHER was also sentenced today to five years in prison for participating in a racketeering conspiracy in connection with their roles as members of a Russian-American organized crime enterprise. GOLUBCHIK and TRINCHER were also each ordered to forfeit more than $20 million in cash, investments, and real property. They were charged in April 2013 along with 32 other alleged members and associates of two Russian-American organized crime enterprises in an indictment that included racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and various gambling offenses. GOLUBCHIK and TRINCHER were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The sentences meted out to Anatoly Golubchik and Vadim Trincher are just and appropriate penalties for the roles the defendants played in this far-reaching, Russian-American organized crime ring. I’d like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York City Police Department, and the Internal Revenue Service for their tireless efforts in working to ensure that the members of this underground enterprise were held to account for their crimes.”
According to the indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today’s sentencing:
The Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization (the “Organization”) was a criminal enterprise with strong ties to Russia and Ukraine. The enterprise operated a high-stakes, illegal sports gambling business out of New York City that catered primarily to Russian oligarchs living in Ukraine and Russia. GOLUBCHIK and TRINCHER were U.S.-based participants in the enterprise. GOLUBCHIK and TRINCHER booked sports bets that reached into the millions of dollars and laundered the proceeds of the Organization’s international sportsbook. Between 2006 and April 2012, the enterprise laundered approximately $100 million in proceeds from their gambling operation in Russia and Ukraine through shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus; and of this $100 million, approximately $50 million was subsequently sent from Cyprus into the United States. Once the money had been transferred to the United States, it was either laundered through additional shell companies or invested in legitimate investments, such as hedge funds and real estate.
That's right: Preet Bharara -- the U.S. attorney famously fired by Donald Trump -- secured convictions against two guys running a criminal enterprise right below Trump's feet in Trump Tower
Moreover, the 51st floor was occupied by another key figure in this scheme. He's the next on our list of persons of interest.
Dirty money must needs be laundered, right? One great way to launder money is via the world of art. Banks won't ask too many questions if you tell 'em that someone just paid twenty million for a Picasso.
Enter Helly Nahmad
, who used to run a tony art gallery in Manhattan. His family is worth some $3 billion...
Little known outside the art market but a pivotal force within it, the family, whose worth is estimated at $3 billion, has amassed one of the largest collections of Impressionist and Modernist art in the world, including one of the largest holdings of Picasso in private hands. They did it with a purchasing style that has never been subtle: they chase as many as a third of the works offered in an evening and then warehouse them for years until it is the right time to sell.
With a mix of jealousy and skepticism, competitors have often marveled at how the Nahmads have pulled this off. “They are an entity unto themselves,” said James Roundell, a former director of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department in London and a longtime dealer. “They do it their way. And it’s different from how other people do it or how other people are financially able to do it.”
Mr. Nahmad, a night-life fixture known for his showy extravagance and celebrity crowd — a $21 million Trump Tower apartment and friendships with people like Gisele Bündchen and Leonardo DiCaprio — was charged in April in a racketeering indictment brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. He was accused of being part financier, part money launderer and part bookmaker in a network that organized poker games and sports betting operations and drew hundred-thousand-dollar wagers from celebrities and billionaires.
Continue reading the main story
But the case, in which investigators listened to Mr. Nahmad’s cellphone conversations over a period of months, also raises questions about how he conducted himself as an art dealer.
Yep, there really was at least one "tapp" in that Tower. Preet was monitoring Trump's tenant, who lived a few floors down in the same building. Was this little-known fact connected in any way to Trump's shocking firing of the nation's most famously incorruptible U.S. Attorney? You
(I hope I have the geography right. As near as I can tell, Donald, Melania and Barron live on floors 56-58 of the tower; "Taiwanchik" had his gambling ring on floor 55, and Nahmad -- the art dealer/money launderer -- had floor 51. I don't know who owned floors 52-54, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were somehow connected to all of this. Trump is known to invite cronies to live in his properties. Adding to our difficulty is the fact that Trump likes to pretend that his Tower is taller than it really is, so his
numbers don't correspond to the actual
Anways, Nahmad had a gambling problem. This problem led him into the world of Tokhtakhounov and Trincher.
But Helly’s interest in gambling led to trouble. The high-stakes poker and sports-betting ring that he is accused of helping to lead — with activity stretching from New York and Los Angeles — ultimately came to the attention of federal authorities who were investigating Russian organized crime figures.
Mr. Nahmad helped not only to bankroll the operation, according to prosecutors, but was also personally involved in taking sports bets. In all, 34 people were indicted in the case. The lead defendant is Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, whom authorities identify as a high-ranking Russian gangster known by his nickname, Taiwanchik. He is accused of directing an operation to launder money generated by a huge sports-betting operation in Russia and has been a fugitive since he was accused by United States authorities in 2002 of being part of a scheme to rig figure skating and ice dancing competitions at the Winter Olympics.
By now, I'm sure you are wondering: Why the hell does the headline refer to Batman and Spider-Man?
Well, as noted above, this coast-to-coast gambling operation (which I suspect also involved prostitution and blackmail) attracted some Hollywood heavy-hitters. To accomplish this, the Russian crime lord used the services of one Molly Bloom
-- yes he did yes he did yes he did yes
(I have no doubt that she is sick and tired of that joke, but I still couldn't resist making it.)
She made her name as the glamorous organiser of secret high-stakes poker games for a string of Hollywood's biggest stars.
But now some of Tinsletown's best-known celebrities are bracing themselves for potentially embarrassing revelations in her tell-all memoir.
Notorious poker madam Molly Bloom - who hosted card parties for celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Matt Damon - was arrested in Los Angeles as part of an investigation into an illegal big-money poker ring.
Tobey Maguire was, of course, the amazing Spider-Man. The ring also attracted the respectful attentions of Ben Affleck, a.k.a. Batman -- a role he seems to be just barely hanging onto. (Side note: I've always liked Affleck's work, even when others had turned against him for reasons I could never comprehend.) In fact, there is talk that Affleck's gambling issues
led to the problems which have beset his marriage (which, in turn, seem to have affected his career).
But no one knew of Affleck’s $50,000 buy-in for that big game 10 years ago at the Beverly Hills Hotel until last year, when former “poker princess” Molly Bloom detailed it in her tell-all, Molly’s Game.
Bloom went from being a 26-year-old cocktail waitress in Los Angeles to masterminding Hollywood’s high-stakes, hush-hush poker games, to being hunted by the feds. Her book documents the apex of Hollywood’s long love affair with poker and gambling, when “every cardplayer in Hollywood wanted to come to the game, and everyone’s friends wanted to come and watch.” The Olsen twins showed up to the spectacle one night.
The women in their lives—wives and serious girlfriends—are largely absent from Bloom’s book, just as they are from the game. She writes about one regular player who misses his wife’s birthday because he can’t step away from the table, only to end up losing $500,000 in one night. Bloom keeps “their high turnover of girlfriends happy” and tends to their boys’ club atmosphere, which she describes like a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. On a trip to Miami with her boss and his friends, they spend the day on “a fully functional floating mansion equipped with a formal living and dining room, a gym, even a helicopter...The women were waifish, impossibly glamorous models and socialites.” Bloom also hires attractive women “as decoration” to help her serve drinks during games.
Miami. Models. We suddenly seem to be in Trump territory, eh wot?
And that's how the actors who played Batman, Spider-Man, Jason Bourne and John Edgar Hoover could help uncover the sordid truth about Donald Trump. Although the gambling ring was coast-to-coast, the New York base appears to be Trump Tower. Given the celebrities and women involved, its hard to believe that The Donald himself would not stop by to see what was going on directly beneath his feet.
What we are looking for is simple: Eyewitness accounts of Donald Trump interacting with Tokhtakhounov, Trincher, Golubchik, Nahmad, and Bloom. (Tokhtakhounov has been in Russia for more than a decade, so I doubt that any American celebrity will place him in the same room with Trump. Then again, who knows?)
In this light, the following
may be of interest:
Add Ben Affleck to the long list of public personas who can’t or won’t hide their distaste for Donald Trump. During an interview with The Guardian, Affleck shared his experience with the president-elect. “I met him once at a Fashion Week event in Milan,” Affleck said. “You knew you were at a cheesy party if Donald Trump was there. He would kind of trawl around them.”
Was that the only
occasion? By any chance, Mr. Affleck, did you also see Mr. Cheesy in the company of Nahmad, Bloom, or those Russian gangsters?
As always, there's a difference between what we can prove
what we suspect
. I suspect
that this operation was used to collect kompromat on America's rich and powerful. But right now, I can't prove it.
There's another link: Cyprus.
When you follow the money trail, it always goes through Cyprus.
I'm an artist (in my own small way), so whenever I see that place-name, I always flash on the fact that Cyprus is where the best umber comes from. And you can score some primo-quality Cyprus Umber
from Vasari, located right across the street from Trump Tower. Now that is
a coincidence, although my inner Alex Jones wants to turn it into something diabolical.
But Cyprus is best known as the place where the Russian mob -- and, almost certainly, Putin himself -- stashes and launders money.
and here's what you get
In the other operation, Mr. Tokhtakhounov is accused of funneling Russian oligarchs’ losses to shell companies in Cyprus, disguised as phony loans. The scheme, prosecutors say, laundered more than $50 million.
, and here is what you get:
The defendant was among more than 30 people charged earlier this year with having roles in the scheme to launder at least $100 million in illegal gambling proceeds through hundreds of bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus and the United States.
The gambling ring catered mostly to super-rich bettors in Russia. But it also had tentacles in New York City, where it ran illegal card games that attracted professional athletes, film stars and business executives, prosecutors said. Some of the defendants are professional poker players.
and -- well, you get a LOT. Here
, for example.
The Democratic Coalition uncovered two Trump companies registered in Cyprus, the tax haven and money laundering center serving Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.
Cyprus is notorious for being an often bailed out, off-shore banking center, who is also a member state of the European Union and part of the common currency.
Trump Cabinet nominee Wilbur Ross is the Vice Chairman of the island’s largest institution, the Bank of Cyprus.
This morning Mother Jones released a report detailing Trump cabinet pick Wilbur Ross’ deep ties to Cyprus, its largest bank and his big gamble on the ability to extract the island’s off-shore natural gas reserves.
Wilbur Ross invested $500 million into the once-failed Bank of Cyprus and which bank has been run by an ex-KGB friend of Putin.
In fact, the Bank of Cyprus released a formal congratulations statement to Ross the day Trump named him as his nominee for Commerce Secretary.
It was at Wilber Ross’ suggestion, that Josef Ackermann - the former Chairman of Deutsche Bank - one of Trump’s major creditors, who is facing a massive DoJ settlement for misdeeds in 2008 - was named as Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.
Deutsche Bank has been accused of making over $10 billion dollars in transactions to assist Russian money laundering, and is trying to clawback Ackermann’s compensation for misdeeds on his watch - though it will probably be too late.
Former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO John Hourican was also brought in by Ross’ management. He resigned from RBS after being implicated in the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal is the CEO of Ross’ Bank of Cyprus, which sold its Russian operations and is going public on the London Stock Exchange shortly.
Cyprus is, in essence, a vassal state of Russia. (You may also want to check out this WBUR
investigation, which hit just yesterday.)
So the question is: Just how tight is Donald Trump with the folks downstairs? Why didn't he perform any "extreme vetting" of the sleazeballs living directly below him in his own building? Did these Russian gangsters obtain kompromat on America's rich and powerful? Was Donald Trump a witting part of the operation? Are these gangsters the ones who introduced Trump to the magic of Cyprus-based finance?