By Jay McKenzie
Donald Trump’s Little Moscow deserves more attention.
In 1995, two significant events occurred in Trump’s life, both of which are weighing quite heavily on the nation of late. We learned about the first event in October 2016, barely more than a month away from Election Day. The New York Times published information detailing the $916 million loss Trump took on his 1995 income tax returns in the wake of (primarily) his mismanagement of his Atlantic City casinos.
The second event in 1995 is likely a direct result of the first. Trump insulated himself from his own bankruptcies. In fact, he actually made significant profits in the process, but his employees and investors weren’t so lucky. After seeing the damage Trump left in his wake, willing investors and partners in any future business with Trump were hard to find. Trump needed to resuscitate his ailing brand, and the opportunity presented itself in the form of Gil and Michael Dezer who were headquartered in the Miami metropolitan area. Together, the three of them began buying up oceanfront land in the Sunny Isles, Florida. They’ve been building condominiums there ever since.
Dezer Development and Trump
When asked, Gil Dezer makes sure to put any reporters at ease regarding Dezer Development and Trump’s vetting process regarding the sale of their condos. In 2013, he told The Nation, “We do make sure we know our customer by asking for personal information at the time of signing the contract. We also make sure that anyone buying with an LLC proves to us that they are the rightful owner of that LLC and we check again at closing to make sure that we are still dealing with the same person at the time of delivering title.”
However, given Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, it’s worth mentioning that surrounding Trump and Dezer HQ, there’s been a growing Russian physical and monetary presence, especially so after the housing market crashed in 2008. According to Gil Dezer, in 2008 buyers defaulted on 900 Trump apartments, and it wasn’t until 2011 that the Trump buildings began making a profit again. This was made possible largely through their partnership with Elena Baronoff, an Uzbekistani who immigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. She recruited Russian buyers throughout Europe and brought them to Miami to buy Trump and Dezer properties.
The extent of Russian money tied to Trump’s Florida properties
Reuters reported in March of 2017 that individuals with Russian passports or address have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida. In 2008, the year buyers defaulted on 900 Trump apartments, Dmitry Rybolovlev bought Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida for $95 million. Only four years earlier, Trump paid $41 million for the property. Despite this large expenditure, Rybolovlev never lived at the property.
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An area clouded in secrecy
The problem with trying to understand Rybolovlev’s motives is the same issue we encounter when sifting through Trump’s business dealings and any Russian influence over him—a lack of transparency. No, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, and no, it is not immediately possible to identify where illegal activity may be occurring. However, the not knowing in and of itself is made possible through a lack of transparency the GOP is more than happy to allow to continue.
Money laundering and mob influence has been rampant in southern Florida for decades. Lack of awareness isn’t the issue. The problem is that any attempts to pass legislation curtailing this behavior have been struck down by Republican politicians and lobbyists. This is true whether we’re talking about DC or Florida. Only a few days ago in Washington, House Republicans again rejected a bill forcing Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Turning a blind eye to Trump’s business dealings neither proves or disproves knowledge of guilt by either Trump or those voting against this bill. It simply shows that both the GOP and Trump have a shared understanding. They would rather turn a blind eye to possible corruption or foreign influence, rather than be forced to explain the truth.
Trump’s allies in Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott, have taken a similar direction as it relates to possible corruption in southern Florida. We cannot say what they do or do not know. We do know the two have spent $240 million on private lawyers since their time in office began in 2011. We know little details of why such an amount was spent, partly because of Florida’s lax regulations on oversight. Bondia and Scott are not legally required to report this information to the state’s chief legal officer. It’s unsurprising then that they never did so.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a man on a mission
On Wednesday, June 7, 2017 the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York arrested Diego Gabisonia and thirty-two other defendants on charges related to a RICO conspiracy. Also this past week, the business partner of Michael Cohen—Trump’s personal attorney since 2006—the “taxi king” Gene Freidman was arrested in New York on tax charges. Schneiderman stated that Freidman failed to pay the state $5 million. As of June 9th, Schneiderman is investigating the Eric Trump Foundation as a result of a recent revelation in Forbes that Eric funneled $100,000 in donations from the charity into revenue for the Trump Organization.
Why Diego Gabisonia’s recent arrest may be relevant to Trump
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has a long history of investigating Trump’s various business enterprises. While I’m sure Trump will readily call it all a witch hunt, Schneiderman certainly appears to believe there is something ‘there’ there based on his recent efforts against Trump associates. Was Diego Gabisonia arrested for this very reason? It’s possible, considering his boss, Roman Bokeria, is closely tied to Trump, especially Trump’s Florida investments in “Little Moscow.”
The Miami connection
Trump’s initial connection to Russian investors, Elena Baronoff, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, and she died a year later. Gil Dezer admitted, “No one has filled her shoes.” However, interested Russian buyers have continued to invest in Trump’s properties in Sunny Isles. At least one person who has attempted to fill Baronoff’s shoes is Roman Bokeria, chief executive of Miami Red Square Realty. Bokeria is the listing agent on Trump-branded condominiums currently for sale in Sunny Isles, Florida (above, left). Red Square has a staff of at least 15 Real Estate Specialists, many of whom are Russian speakers. Diego Gabisonia is one such employee, and he’s now facing charges in New York related to RICO conspiracy and Conspiracy to commit wire fraud
To understand how this all could be related, I must mention another name: Max Slyusarchuk, the President and CEO of A & D Mortgage. Slyusarchuk’s company describes itself as offering domestic and foreign borrowers with significant down payments an opportunity to benefit from loans that fall outside certain limits set by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. According to their website, A & D “provides an alternative to our clients to those loans that they couldn’t close somewhere else, yet without have[sic] to resort to hard money loans.”
Roman Bokeria’s Miami Red Square Realty is partnered with Max Slyusarchuk’s A & D Mortgage, seen here:
All parties claim to be thorough on their vetting process of new clients, which would be reassuring if there were proof of this, but the evidence is difficult to find. Both companies having associates linked to the Russian mob also throws any claims of legality into question. In addition to Diego Gabisonia, another individual in the area with supposed mob ties is Alex Sorsher.
Alex Sorsher is listed as a company officer for hundreds of businesses in the area; one such company is Liberty Tax Service. It appears he acts in many cases as an accountant.
The interesting bit is here: Alex Sorsher has been in the past and possibly remains an employee of Max Slyusarchuk at A & D Mortgage.
These hundreds of companies linked to Sorsher often have few company officers and little, if any, actual business activity. They appear to be the types of companies you would setup if you were looking to launder large amounts of money. One such business linked to Sorsher, Eurasia Technology Group Inc, may prove to be the most significant.
The importance isn’t necessarily the business itself, as there’s little evidence the company is conducting any, but rather the addresses it has listed. The location given in New York is an office in the Empire State Building, near Trump Tower New York. The second location is Hallandale, Florida, close to the Trump Grande and Dezer Developments in Sunny Isle, Florida.
None of the information I’ve presented proves any of these players have committed any crimes, but that’s the defense Trump has used his entire life to avoid conviction. Laws are meant to protect the very fabric of our democracy which Trump appears to be waging war with daily. To put it simply, with more stringent laws, whether or not crimes have taken place would be much easier for either side to prove.
As it is, we’re left with an area with a large population of Russian immigrants who have invested in a small strip of land belonging to Donald Trump. The local area, consisting of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, has a long history of mob ties, going all the way back to almost a century ago. Donald Trump campaign associates Roger Stone and Michael Caputo live in Miami. Caputo, in fact, was on a panel in May with Max Slyusarchuk discussing Trump, Russia and sanctions relating to the 2016 election.
Is it possible these facts are all unrelated coincidences? Sure, it’s possible, but I think given the magnitude of all this information, the American people deserve to know more. My hope is that my work will lead more citizens and journalists to start looking.
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