Bob Schwartz

Category: Crime

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

I watched a news panel discussing reports that Michael Cohen is distraught for his family and realizes that his business and professional life is over—not to mention the possibility of years in prison.

Some panelists expressed compassion for someone in his position. But another was less sympathetic, saying that this was the life he had chosen.

I can’t be sure, but this may have been meant to echo one of the many famous lines from the Godfather movies. In Godfather II, the dying Hyman Roth explains his attitude towards the killing of Moe Green, the man who invented modern Las Vegas. Roth knows that the Corleone family executed Green, but Roth explains to Michael Corleone why he set that fact aside:

HYMAN ROTH: There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada… made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn’t angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen; I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!

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Trump’s Shtarkers

There is news that the offices of Trump’s long-time New York doctor were raided in February 2017 by Trump associates. A great Yiddish word comes immediately to mind: shtarker.

The Hill reports:

President Trump’s longtime personal doctor in New York said a trio of Trump associates raided his office in February 2017, seizing the president’s medical records.

Dr. Harold Bornstein told NBC News that Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, a lawyer with the Trump Organization and a third man came to his office the morning of Feb. 3, 2017. They took lab reports and Trump’s medical charts, he said.

“They must have been here for 25 minutes or 30 minutes. It created a lot of chaos,” Bornstein said, adding that he felt “raped, frightened and sad.”

Stark in Yiddish means strong, and so one of the usages of shtarker is to mean “strong man” or “tough guy.” But it acquired another, more sinister meaning in the lexicon of crime. A shtarker is a strong-arm man, an enforcer, a thug.

It is a word definitely well-known to the Russian and Eastern European Jews who surrounded Michael Cohen in his family and business (see A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties . It is a word that may not be known to all of Trump’s people,  but it is a concept that some of them understand, endorse and are not afraid to use.

Explosive New Book: Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

“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.””
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

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.”
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Next week, the book Trump/Russia: A Definitive History will be released—and it will be explosive.

Written by Seth Hettena, an award-winning journalist who was a long-time investigative reporter for the Associated Press, it “chronicles the many years Trump has spent wooing Russian money and power. From the collapse of his casino empire—which left Trump desperate for cash—and his first contacts with Russian deal-makers and financiers, on up to the White House.”

The only excerpt available so far was published in Rolling Stone, A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties. That brief excerpt paints one corner of a bigger picture that we will finally be able to see once the Mueller investigation is complete.


From Trump/Russia: A Definitive History:

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 Mafiya. 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….

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…

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. 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….

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.”…

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.”

 

Normalizing Corruption: “Kushner Cos. filed false NYC housing paperwork”

Associated Press:

Kushner Cos. filed false NYC housing paperwork

NEW YORK (AP) — When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit.

But that’s exactly what the company then run by Jared Kushner did, and with remarkable speed. Two years later, it sold all three buildings for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than it paid.

Now a clue has emerged as to how President Donald Trump’s son-in-law’s firm was able to move so fast: The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

While none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature, they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the president of the United States.

“It’s bare-faced greed,” said Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants’ rights watchdog that compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with The Associated Press. “The fact that the company was falsifying all these applications with the government shows a sordid attempt to avert accountability and get a rapid return on its investment.”

Set aside the specifics of this particular corrupt practice. Ignore the fact that Jared Kushner’s father Charlie, founder of Kushner Cos., once pled guilty to 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering, and served fourteen months in federal prison. Ignore the business, legal, political and personal practices of Donald Trump, Jared’s father-in-law and boss, and President of the United States.

Focus on this. When corruption is practiced within the context and four walls of a corrupt enterprise, corruption is normal. The only things wrong are any words or actions that brings any of those corrupt practices to light or causes an unfavorable light to shine on them. Everything else is okay, because within those four walls, corruption is normal.

Corruption is not normal. In business. In government. In politics. In the White House. It is as clear as ever that some people don’t know that, don’t believe that, and never will.

The Godfather Part II Presages the Trump Presidency

“All my people are businessmen; their loyalty is based on that…and on that basis, anything is possible.”

“Free to make our profits without the Justice Department, the FBI…looking for a man who desperately wants to be President of the United States.”

The Godfather Part II

The Godfather Part I and Part II are more than near-perfect movies, two of the most critically-acclaimed films of all time. They are compelling pictures of the unrestrained grab for power and money, fueled by mutual self-interest and governed by no other values.

These two quotes from The Godfather Part II (1974), more than forty years old, encapsulate where America finds itself today:

MICHAEL CORLEONE
“All my people are businessmen; their loyalty is based on that. One thing I learned from my father is to try to think as the people around you think…and on that basis, anything is possible.”

HYMAN ROTH
“If only I could live to see it, kid; to be there with you. How beautifully we’ve done it, step by step. Here, protected, free to make our profits without the Justice Department, the FBI; ninety miles away in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles, just a small step, looking for a man who desperately wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible.”

Prisoners Beat Harvard in Debate

Bard Prison Initiative

A team from a prison just beat a team from Harvard. In a debate.

The Washington Post reports not just the victory of the team, part of the Bard Prison Initiative, but the constraints that the debaters prepared under—including having to research without the internet, from actual books and articles, but only those approved by the prison administration.

Too many lessons to count. Among them:

The two million or so people we consign to prison aren’t all there because they are not smart enough or motivated enough to function or excel in the real world.

The people who consign themselves to our most privileged houses of learning aren’t all as smart and motivated as some of those consigned to prison.

If you want to learn, really learn, learn enough to defeat the nation’s purportedly premier scholars, you can do it offline. Just like this prison debate team. Just like Abraham Lincoln.

The NFL and Ferguson

Roger Goodell NFL

NFL player Ray Rice beat his then-fiancée/now-wife unconscious inside an elevator in Atlantic City. Police officer Darren Wilson shot dead an unarmed teenager in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Missouri.

(To Rice’s credit, he had the courtesy to drag her body out of the elevator, while the Ferguson police left Michael Brown’s body on that street for hours.)

These two incidents are so much the same and so different. They tell us things we don’t want to hear, know, or think about. They also tell us one surprisingly good thing. The establishment interests can be just as committed to privileging a black American as killing him ruthlessly, under the right circumstances. Especially if there’s big money at stake. So we learn that ignominy is race neutral at last.

Until yesterday there was no publicly available video of the beating, though it was apparently available and seen by various authorities. The only public video until then was from the outside of the elevator, merely showing Rice dragging the body, not beating it. As one journalist now explains his defense of Rice’s mere two-game NFL suspension and not being charged with a felony:

The inside-the-elevator video shows Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, provoking, brutally assaulting and then casually and callously standing over his knocked-out fiancée (who is now his wife). His actions are sickening in their depravity and confirm a worst-case-scenario narrative I was reluctant to believe after seeing only the previously released, outside-the-elevator video.

I thought the full video would explain why: Why police originally charged Ray and Janay with simple assault. Why the prosecutor allowed Ray to enter a diversion program. Why Janay apologized for her role. Why Janay chose to marry Ray. Why the Ravens enthusiastically supported Rice and used their facilities in helping him rehabilitate his image. Why Goodell suspended Rice for only two games.

I wrongly and naively thought that she was the aggressor in the attack, that Rice reflexively shoved her to fend her off and she slipped, fell and hit her head [emphasis added]. I did not think a man could sucker-punch a woman on tape and have the police, a prosecutor, the victim and the image-conscious NFL all work to treat the assaulter in a sympathetic fashion.

Fell and hit her head. That reminds us of nothing so much as the stories reported by battered children (and wives and girlfriends) who “run into doors.” Except this is a journalist using his best investigative and inferential skills to draw an “obvious” circumstantial conclusion. He could be forgiven for drawing the same ridiculous conclusion as law enforcement, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens. Except that some or all of them had the inside the elevator video or at least more detail, and still came to the same conclusion, at least publicly.

There is no video of exactly what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, though there are witnesses to pieces of it, an audio recording, and more than one autopsy. There the instinct on the part of vested interests and the establishment was to wait and see, but really to stonewall, cover up, and put the best light on the situation. That turned out to be a disastrous approach, but at least it got people talking about former unmentionables. Small consolation.

How is this any different than what is going on with Ray Rice? The vested interests tried to put the best light on his situation, and despite outrage, almost got away with it. How are the people who up until yesterday circled the wagons around Ray Rice, giving him the benefit of the doubt and a slap on the wrist, any different than those who have been circling the wagons around Darren Wilson, giving him the benefit of the doubt?

One difference is that Ferguson is a small predominantly black town with a small almost entirely white police force that appears to have some race issues, while the NFL is a huge enterprise predominantly owned and run by white people with a pro game substantially played by black men that appears to have some race issues. It’s those issues, along with other social, legal and moral ones, that have us all talking. About policing. About the NFL. About race.

The victims were both black, one a kid possibly involved in petty crime (there’s a video of that), the other a woman engaged to a professional warrior who could have easily killed her, rather than just beating her senseless after she “provoked” him (there’s now video of that).

Maybe from the first, Ray Rice should have taken the approach that will certainly be at the center of Darren Wilson’s defense, assuming he is charged: I was in fear for my life. Up until yesterday, lots of people would apparently have been willing to accept a story like that, if it served their interests. Thankfully, they now all have to stop pretending, and we can start asking what it all means.

Man Arrested after Attempting Sex with ATM and Picnic Table

ATM

This is a test. It is an actual news story about a man who tried to have sex with an ATM and a picnic table.

Place and name have been deleted, and no link to the story is provided. There is more than enough embarrassment already. You can no doubt find the story if you are so moved.

This is a test not unlike an inkblot test. Listen to the police officer’s report. Then listen to your own thoughts. What are you thinking when you hear this? Are you laughing? Saddened? Disgusted? Confused? All that and more? What stories are you telling yourself? You might find that just as interesting as the original story.

A man was arrested Friday night and charged with public intoxication.

The police officer said, “He entered the bar and walked to the ATM. Once at the ATM, he pulled down his pants and underwear exposing his genitals, and then attempted to have sexual intercourse with the ATM…Once outside he again exposed himself and engaged in sexual intercourse with the wooden picnic table.”

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard

Kennedy Monore Kennedy
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Director John Ford in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

The Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez is about the heinous and now-legendary murder of Matthew Shepard. It obliquely brings three people to mind: John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

All three are legends apart, so maybe it is not surprising that legends have grown up about all three in various pairings, and even all together on at least one purported occasion. Whether or not Monroe had an affair with either or both of the Kennedys, whether Bobby was with her on the night of her death, whether evidence of those affairs was covered up or destroyed, is almost certainly never going to be incontrovertibly established. Some will say that some of it appears near certain while other of it is sordid and unsubstantiated conjecture. For the most part, we’ve reached a general consensus that none were saints, none were complete role models, but that we liked some of what they did, and we liked them for what they did, including inspiring us, and the rest is just shades of humanity. JFK helped prevent a nuclear war, Bobby Kennedy helped end the Vietnam War, and Marilyn was just Marilyn. If they didn’t live like saints, they died as complex and heartbreaking lessons.

Jimenez has investigated the Matthew Shepard murder for more than a decade. He concludes that this was not a vicious hate crime against a young gay man. Instead, it is a cautionary tale about the epidemic of methamphetamine. According to this report, Shepard was troubled, and was involved in the Laramie meth scene. The killer, who knew Shepard, was a meth head who had been up for a week, and was trying to get information from Shepard about a meth deal. He intended to coerce the information from Shepard, but out of his mind, simply beat Shepard mercilessly and insanely. The killer and his accomplice pled guilty, which kept details of the local meth market and the killer’s gay dealings with Shepard—trading meth for sex—secret.

The police investigation never involved a hate crime. The now-infamous imagining of Shepard being trussed up on a fence in a crucifix position never happened; he was found on the ground, hands tied behind his back. The anti-gay angle for the horrific event was soon added.

This might present a problem.

Jiminez has found himself in an odd position. He is accused of being anti-gay, though he is gay himself, in which case he is accused of being a “traitor” to a cause. He is accused of being a tool of the reactionary right wing, though he himself is far from being a right winger. What he is, he repeats, is a journalist who wants to do what he is supposed to do: find and tell the truth, as best as it ever can be found and told.

Matthew Shepard has become very important to the movement for gay rights. It is a powerful story: the young man who did nothing wrong, who only wanted to live a free and openly gay life, who had the misfortune of running into a black-hearted, hate-filled, intolerant stranger—the sort that fifteen years ago, and today, you can meet anywhere.

If it turns out that some or more than some of what Jimenez concludes is true, what happens to Matthew Shepard, the young man and the legend? In essence, Jimenez says that nothing happens. The issues remain the same, the good fight remains the good fight, but we will be fighting it armed with a little more truth about the story, convenient or not.

That sort of complication should be welcome, but it may not be, at least not everywhere. We like our stories simple, because so much of life is convoluted and mysterious. There are lines that are clear, but simple stories are mostly for children. Grownups have to work and stretch. This is a warts-and-all age, so we take our big characters as they come: flawed but still valuable. People work every day, their entire lives, on establishing equality—some of those people under the Matthew Shepard banner. That cause isn’t going away, and if we have to accept a little bit of historical adjustment, that’s the price we pay for having our eyes open.

The Marijuana Dilemma: It’s About Age

Marijuana
This was going to be a note about the Gallup poll showing that 58% of Americans think that the use of marijuana should be legal, and that 38% have tried it. It would include arguments about how pot stands in relation to other legal intoxicants—alcohol, tobacco, firearms (sorry, that’s the federal law enforcement agency)—and about how our justice system is distorted and how lives are ruined by reflexive, thoughtless, moralistic public policy.

But no. This is about a simple solution. It won’t make everybody happy, particularly those hypocritical it’s-all-bad-for-you-and-society Puritans who apparently missed the Sunday School class where Jesus mentioned getting the log out of your own eye before criticizing someone else’s splinter. But this might work.

Add marijuana to the list of acceptable American intoxicants. Then take the three biggies—alcohol, tobacco and marijuana—and make their distribution to children, particularly younger children, an even bigger deal than it is, so that the jail cells currently filled with marijuana-guilty adults could then be filled by real bad guys. Draconian punishment. Because while adult use of these intoxicants may be equivocal, childhood use of them is not.

We did not need American alcohol prohibition to learn that nothing will stop people using intoxicants. (Another hint: sex, at least if you’re doing it right, is also an intoxicant, the world’s most popular and, yes, one that the Puritans have also tried to circumscribe.) In another missed Sunday School lesson, Jesus did not smash the jars at the wedding at Cana, as he did the moneylender tables at the Temple; he actually made more wine for the celebrants. The poor we have with us always; so too the wine drinkers.

It is widely agreed that none of the three intoxicants are perfect: all of them are abused, all of them have real potential for ruining life and health. (America’s other big intoxicant, coffee, is excepted from this discussion, in part because any regulation of coffee would start a national revolt that really would prompt a new party, the Coffee Party, and in part because it is coffee that makes posts like this possible.) But as much as adolescents want to indulge, and as much as they already find a way to do it, if there’s a beneficial bargain to be made, this may be it. Let the grownups smoke/drink/smoke, let them explain to their kids why it isn’t a good idea for the younger set.

If you are currently a pre-teen or teenager yourself, or you once were, and you indulge in weed or once did, this may seem silly, arbitrary and unworkable. Here’s the news: all social policy is ultimately unworkable, or at least challenging and perplexing. The truth is that marijuana abuse by adolescents, just like alcohol and tobacco abuse by them, really is a bad thing, and really can cause irreversible damage. Adults should be free to get blissed out or ruin their lives (with minimal harm to others); kids shouldn’t be. If we are going to have some sort of marijuana policy, it ought to be a lot more sensible than the one we have now, even if the solution isn’t perfect.
10:39 AM 10/23/2013