Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Top 5 This Week

The Art of the Bribe? Trump’s Witness Payoff Scheme Exposed

Donald Trump's past connections to unsavory figures and organized crime resurface after ProPublica exposes a web of lucrative rewards to witnesses in his criminal cases.

Donald Trump witness payoff
Photo: Liam Enea

As the legal battles surrounding former President Donald Trump threaten to derail his political career, a concerning pattern has emerged. ProPublica uncovered that nine different individuals who could hurt him legally have received substantial financial benefits from his businesses and political organizations at critical junctures in his legal cases against him. These perks, ranging from lucrative pay raises and cushy appointments to severance packages with strings attached, raise serious ethical concerns and allegations of witness tampering.

An in-depth analysis by ProPublica has revealed a troubling pattern of financial rewards bestowed upon key figures entangled in Trump’s legal battles. The report highlights nine individuals who have seen their fortunes soar after becoming embroiled in the various criminal probes surrounding Trump.

These benefits often materialized at critical junctures in the legal proceedings, such as when potential witnesses were subpoenaed or compelled to testify before grand juries. One former White House aide, Dan Scavino, received a $600,000 retention bonus and Trump Media shares worth $4 million after being summoned as a key Jan. 6 witness.

Despite their thorough investigation, ProPublica found no direct evidence linking Donald Trump to the approval of substantial financial increments for witnesses. However, Trump’s well-documented micromanagement and penny-pinching habits suggests that he likely maintains close oversight of financial decisions within his enterprises and political operations. 

Trump’s history of dealing with unsavory figures, including his mentor Roy Cohn—known for his mafia affiliations—raises further suspicions. This, combined with the former president’s alleged past links to both Italian and Russian organized crime, paints a picture of a man who may have acquired the knowledge and skills to navigate the murky waters of illegal activities while shielding himself from the long arm of the law.

Loyalty Rewarded with Hefty Payouts

The extension of loyalty to personal and financial benefits offered to staffers within Trump’s circle has significantly afflicted some noteworthy Trump associates.

Allen Weisselberg: Donald Trump’s long-time CFO secured a $2 million severance package that included a clause that prevents him from cooperating with prosecutors. Weisselberg was allegedly present at a meeting with Michael Cohen and Trump, where they arranged the repayment of hush money to Cohen—a matter that led to Trump’s conviction in New York. During the trial, prosecutors highlighted this severance agreement to explain why they weren’t going to call Weisselberg to testify, as he was incentivized against cooperating.

Weisselberg was sentenced to five months at Rikers Island for perjury related to New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil fraud investigation into Trump. The civil charges accused Trump and his associates, including Weisselberg, of inflating financial statements to secure favorable loan terms. Weisselberg admitted that he lied during depositions conducted by the New York Attorney General’s investigators and while he was on the stand in Trump’s civil fraud trial. 

Boris Epshteyn: Epshteyn, a college classmate of Eric Trump, worked on the 2016 campaign and briefly in the White House. He was instrumental in organizing false electors after Trump lost the 2020 election, and his communications have been central to several investigations. 

In 2022, Epshteyn testified before the Georgia grand jury that later indicted Trump for attempts to overturn the election. The FBI seized his phone, and by April 2023, he was interviewed by federal special counsel. In August 2023, the special counsel charged Trump with conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction. Shortly after, Georgia indicted Trump for racketeering. 

From late 2022 to August 2023, Epshteyn’s company, Georgetown Advisory, received $26,000 monthly from the Trump campaign. The month after Trump was indicted, the payment jumped to $50,000 and climbed to $53,500 by October. Despite the pay raise, Epshteyn’s company lacks an office and employees, with payments listed for “communications & legal consulting.” 

Jennifer Little: This Atlanta attorney, representing Trump in the Georgia election interference case, saw her payments significantly surge after being compelled to testify. Shortly after Little was compelled to testify in March 2023, a Trump political action committee paid her $218,000, the largest payment she’d received for her work with Trump. In the year following her testimony, she earned at least $1.3 million from the committee, more than double her earnings from the previous year.

Dan Scavino: Once Trump’s social media guru and witness to the January 6th events, found himself appointed to the board of Trump Media a month after the Jan. 6 congressional committee convened. This position, correlating with his required testimony, came bundled with a massive retention bonus of $600,000 and stock grants worth $4 million, underlining the troubling intertwining of loyalty, reward, and Trump’s legalistic troubles.

Susie Wiles: Wiles, head of Trump’s campaign and a seasoned political consultant in Florida, was allegedly present when Trump improperly displayed classified documents to individuals without security clearances. The indictment detailed Trump showing Wiles a classified military map, acknowledging he shouldn’t be displaying it.

In June, Right Coast Strategies, Wiles’s consulting firm, was paid $75,000 by the Trump campaign, its highest monthly payment. Subsequently, Wiles’s daughter, Caroline, secured a $222,000 position with the Trump campaign, including a housing stipend.

Evan Corcoran: Corcoran’s notes—obtained by investigators—described Trump making a “plucking motion” while seemingly instructing Corcoran to withhold classified documents from officials. His notes became central to the indictment, and his descriptions of the meetings are likely to be a significant part of the prosecution’s case. 

Following his forced testimony, Corcoran recused himself from the classified documents case. Despite stepping back, his firm received a significant bump in compensation. Right after his grand jury testimony in March, the Trump campaign made two payments totaling $786,000 to his firm—the largest single-day payment from Trump. 

Margo Martin: Martin, a Trump aide with firsthand experience of Trump’s mishandling classified documents, experienced a 20% raise with a salary uplift that aligned inconveniently closely with key legal proceedings.

Shady Business as Usual: Trump’s Ties To Organized Crime

Trump’s current legal entanglements are hardly his first brush with dubious conduct. His connections to organized crime trace back decades, revealing a deeply entrenched pattern of mingling with mobsters and corrupt officials. Trump behaves like a mob boss too. Trump once said that he doesn’t like flippers (informants) and that “It almost ought to be illegal.” 

Perhaps even more concerning than his connections is Trump’s own behavior, which seems to mirror that of a mob boss. His disdain for those who cooperate with law enforcement—”flippers” as he calls them—was made clear when he mused that acting as an informant “almost ought to be illegal.” Tony Soprano and Donald Trump are on the same page here.  

In his book, former FBI Director James Comey likened his visit to Trump Tower to the New York mafia social clubs he encountered as a prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s. “The silent circle of assent, the boss in complete control, loyalty oaths, an us-versus-them worldview, and lying about everything, large and small, to uphold a code that placed the organization above morality and truth,” Comey wrote. 

Trump’s Alleged Russian Mob Ties

Bayrock, a real estate development firm operating from the 24th floor of Trump Tower, significantly reshaped Donald Trump’s business model. Owned by Tevfik Arif and managed by Felix Sater, who had close ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian intelligence, the company partnered with Trump in 2005. This alliance came at a critical time for Trump, who was struggling with a $4 billion debt from his Atlantic City casino bankruptcies and unable to secure bank loans from Western financial institutions.

Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater
Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater

Bayrock’s model allowed Trump to franchise his name for 18-25% royalties with no need to invest upfront or manage development, promising substantial returns. Sater, operating out of Trump Tower, frequently traveled to Russia, laying the groundwork for real estate ventures in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. 

However, Bayrock soon courted controversy. The firm was reportedly funded by a corrupt group of oligarchs known as “The Trio”, and Arif faced allegations of running a prostitution ring, though he was acquitted. A lawsuit by former Bayrock executives accused the company of being an oligarch-backed money laundering operation. Despite knowing Sater’s criminal past by 2007, Trump continued his association, even giving Sater a Trump Organization business card in 2010.

In 2015, Felix Sater emailed Michael Cohen, expressing confidence in Donald Trump’s presidential prospects. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Trump Allies Caught Funneling Russian Money into Super PAC 

Rudy Giuliani—Donald Trump’s close ally and former attorney—collaborated with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born businessmen with connections in Ukraine. On October 10, the pair was arrested in Virginia as they attempted to board a one-way flight to Vienna, shortly after having lunch with Giuliani at Trump’s Washington hotel. Federal prosecutors indicted Parnas and Fruman for funneling Russian money of uncertain origins into a pro-Trump super PAC.

Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, associates of Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani
Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman. Parnas and Fruman were business associates of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s former lawyer.

Parnas worked with attorneys Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who are vocal Trump supporters. They hired Parnas as a translator for Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition to the U.S. and identified by U.S. prosecutors as an “upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime.” Firtash once planned to redevelop New York’s Drake Hotel with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. 

While officially representing Firtash, Toensing and diGenova also aided Trump’s efforts. They utilized a deposition from a Ukrainian official, whose credibility is contested, to claim that charges against Firtash were politically motivated by Joe Biden. 

Recent revelations from Lev Parnas indicate Firtash’s involvement in efforts to smear Joe Biden stemmed from a quid pro quo. Parnas told MSNBC that in exchange for Firtash’s assistance, he assured the oligarch that his U.S. legal troubles would vanish. Firtash complied, providing a discredited affidavit from a Ukrainian prosecutor accusing Biden of wrongdoing. The falsified affidavit that Firtash acquired was later used by Republicans in the House as a part of their impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, along with intelligence from an FBI informant with ties to Russian intelligence who was later indicted for lying to the FBI. 

Giuliani’s reliance on questionable figures like Firtash to undermine Biden and the Democratic impeachment case underscores the corruption within Trump’s circle. Firtash’s immense wealth, alleged ties to Russian organized crime, and history of diverting natural gas profits to pro-Russian politicians spotlight the shadowy connections Trump’s associates leverage. 

Roy Cohn: Mob Lawyer and Trump’s Mentor

Donald Trump and Roy Cohn
Donald Trump and Roy Cohn

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Donald Trump quickly made allies with some of New York’s most notorious figures—including the infamous lawyer Roy Cohn—who became Trump’s mentor. Cohn, once the lead counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, had evolved into a mob consigliere with clients like Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family. 

These connections proved invaluable when Trump embarked on constructing Trump Tower, a project heavily dependent on mob-controlled concrete. According to Wayne Barrett’s book on Trump’s real estate dealings, Trump allegedly met with Anthony Salerno at Roy Cohn’s townhouse. When Salerno was later convicted of racketeering, the indictment listed an $8 million concrete contract for Trump Plaza.  

FBI Probes Trump’s Ties to Gambino-Linked Teamsters Boss

In 1980, the FBI issued a subpoena to Donald Trump as part of an investigation into his connections with John Cody, a prominent Teamsters official with close ties to the Gambino crime family. The probe centered on suspicions that Cody, known for his significant influence in the concrete industry, may have received complimentary apartments within Trump Tower, a claim Trump refuted. 

Curiously a woman who was friends with Cody acquired three units directly below Trump’s triplex despite lacking the income required to make such a significant purchase. These properties were frequented by Cody, who invested $500,000 in the units. 

During the tumultuous summer of 1982, John Cody, facing legal troubles, instigated a citywide strike, yet construction at Trump Tower continued without any issues. Following Cody’s conviction on racketeering charges and his subsequent imprisonment, Trump initiated a $250,000 lawsuit against the woman for alteration work. The woman then filed a $20 million countersuit, asserting that Trump’s alleged kickbacks could warrant an attorney general’s investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing. Faced with these serious allegations, Trump swiftly settled the matter, paying the woman $500,000. 

The Price of Allegiance: Trump’s Allies Receive Timely Payouts

While no smoking gun directly links Trump to these financial windfalls, they look extremely suspicous and cast a long shadow over the former president’s dealings. These revelations fuel speculation that Trump and his inner circle may be orchestrating a complex scheme to shield him from the consequences of his actions, adding another layer of intrigue to the ongoing legal drama surrounding Trumpworld.