Tuesday, March 21, 2017


ABC's Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk report on a verified wiretap at Trump Tower -- but it wasn't aimed at the Trump campaign, which it predated by a couple of years:
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....

[Mike] Gaeta, who ran the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime unit of the FBI’s New York office told ABC News at the time that federal agents were closely tracking Tokhtakhounov, whose Russian ring was suspected of moving more than $50 million in illegal money into the United States.

... Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of the 63rd floor unit in the iconic skyscraper –- just three floors below Trump’s penthouse residence -- running what prosecutors called an “international money laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.”
A 2016 Mother Jones story by David Corn and Hannah Levintova tells us more -- and adds a couple of familiar names to the cast of characters:
On April 16, 2013, federal agents burst into a swanky apartment at Trump Tower in New York City as part of a larger raid that rounded up 29 suspected members of two global gambling rings with operations allegedly overseen by a supposed Russian mob boss named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The Russian was not nabbed by US law enforcement. Since being indicted in the United States a decade earlier for allegedly rigging an ice skating competition at the 2002 Olympics, he had been living in Russia, beyond the reach of Western authorities. And this new gambling indictment did not appear to inconvenience Tokhtakhounov. Seven months after the bust, he was a VIP attendee at Donald Trump's Miss Universe 2013 contest held in Moscow. In fact, Tokhtakhounov hit the red carpet within minutes of Trump....

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov's tale is an intriguing story of sports, Hollywood stars, poker, and alleged crime. The indictment filed by Preet Bharara...
Yup, Preet Bharara.
... The indictment filed by Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, which triggered the 2013 raid, identified Tokhtakhounov as a vory v zakone—or a vor—a Russian term for a select group of the highest-level Russian crime bosses. A vor receives tributes from other criminals, offers protection, and adjudicates conflicts among other crooks. The indictment charged that Tokhtakhounov used his "substantial influence in the criminal underworld" to protect a high-stakes illegal gambling ring operating out of Trump Tower. He sometimes deployed "explicit threats of violence and economic harm" to handle disputes arising from this gambling operation. The indictment noted that in one two-month period he was paid $10 million by this outfit for his services.

The operations of the gambling scheme were handled by two other men: Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik. The indictment alleged that they and others ran "an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world," used "threats of violence to obtain unpaid gambling debts," and "employed a sophisticated money laundering scheme to move tens of millions of dollars…from the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus into various investments and other shell companies in the United States."
Cyprus? As in the Bank of Cyprus, the Putin-friendly institution that was rescued after its 2013 collapse by a group led by Wilbur Ross, now Trump's secretary of commerce?
Trincher, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was a championship professional poker player who had purchased a Trump Tower apartment located directly below an apartment owned by Donald Trump. In 2009, Trincher had paid $5 million for the posh pad. Two years later, he and his wife had reportedly hoped to hold a fundraiser in the apartment for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, but they had to cancel the event because of the presence of mold caused by a water leak.
Gingrich? Tied to mobsters? But he seemed so morally outraged by what he called Hillary Clinton's "corruption"!

As for the alleged vor himself, on the basis of this 2013 New York Times profile he seems like quite a mellow guy:

MOSCOW — The waiters hovered as Alimzhan T. Tokhtakhounov worked through a platter of chilled mussels, shrimp and octopus one afternoon last month at the restaurant Palazzo Ducale, one of the finest here. The staff could afford to be attentive: there was no one else to serve....

Like other men whom the American authorities have identified as Russian mobsters, he walks the streets freely, albeit with a bodyguard. He has his picture taken smiling alongside the glitterati at concerts, fashion shows and soccer matches. He invests in real estate and has recently taken up fiction writing. He showed his guest one of his novels, “Angel From Couture,” a semiautobiographical story that focuses on the love affair of a young model and an older man.

Whatever else he may be, he insisted over lunch, he is innocent of all charges against him.

... thieves in law remain a menace in émigré communities abroad, said Sergei Kanev, a reporter covering organized crime at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“Even in America the thieves have a huge influence on former Soviet immigrants,” he said. “Criminal threads still tie them together. All their relatives are here in Russia. A thief might say, ‘Play along, or your uncle and aunt will get it.’ ” ...

[Tokhtakhounov's] Interpol wanted poster accuses him of “bribery in sport contests,” fraud and other malfeasance and says he is affiliated with Semyon Y. Mogilevich, a man the American authorities consider a Russian Mafia godfather who is on the F.B.I.’s Ten Most Wanted list. Mr. Mogilevich also lives freely in Russia.

Mr. Tokhtakhounov denied knowing Mr. Mogilevich.

But he glumly recounted friendships with several others reputed to be Mafia leaders, including those known by the nicknames Grandpa Hassan and Yaponchik, or the Little Japanese, who were killed in recent years in two rare occurrences of mob violence. They were shot by snipers while leaving Moscow restaurants after meals.

At the Palazzo Ducale, as Mr. Tokhtakhounov’s own guard waited, he denied, line by line, the allegations against him. Three waiters continually circled, topping off the water glasses until one wandered too close during conversation and Mr. Tokhtakhounov told him to go away.

“Alimzhan,” the waiter responded, “Don’t worry, you know us: we’re deaf.”
He seems like a fine, upstanding gentleman, doesn't he? I'm sure all of the charges against him are blown completely out of proportion.

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