Monday, November 21, 2016

As Well As A Kakistocracy, Is The U.S. Now Officially A Kleptocracy As Well? (And NY's Shadiest Address)


The whole notion of Trump and "ethics" just doesn't mix. In his word, ethical concerns are for suckers and ethical codes are part of the hated and derided political correctness he and his supporters so detest. On some level, though, the NY Times and "polite society" are sitll looking at him through a prism of normalcy. Over the weekend, there was a lot of discussion of Trump's obvious conflicts of interest. Eric Lipton took a stab at it in a report about how Trump took time out of vetting potential cabinet appointees to meet with some Indian business partners. Trumpanzee, he wrote "met in the last week in his office at Trump Tower with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded luxury apartment complex south of Mumbai, raising new questions about how he will separate his business dealings from the work of the government once he is in the White House... One of the businessmen, Sagar Chordia, posted photographs on Facebook on Wednesday showing that he also met with Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump. Mr. Trump’s children are helping to run his businesses as they play a part in the presidential transition."

The three Indian executives-- Sagar Chordia, Atul Chordia, and Kalpesh Mehta-- have been quoted in Indian newspapers, including the Economic Times, as saying they have discussed expanding their partnership with the Trump Organization now that Mr. Trump is president-elect.

Sagar Chordia did not respond to a request for a telephone interview. But in a series of text messages with the New York Times early Sunday, he confirmed that the meeting with Mr. Trump and members of his family had taken place, and that an article written about it in the Indian newspaper, which reported that one of his partners said they had discussed the desire to expand the deals with the Trump family, was accurate.

Washington ethics lawyers said that a meeting with Indian real estate partners, regardless of what was discussed, raised conflict of interest questions for Mr. Trump, who could be perceived as using the presidency to advance his business interests.

“There may be people for whom this looks O.K.,” said Robert L. Walker, the former chief counsel of the Senate Ethics Committee, who advises corporations and members of Congress on government ethics issues. “But for a large part of the American public, it is not going to be O.K. His role as president-elect should dictate that someone else handles business matters.”

In an account of the meeting that appeared in the Economic Times, Mr. Trump was quoted as praising the United States’ relationship with India and its prime minister, Narendra Modi.

The Economic Times reported that the meeting occurred on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization would not confirm the day of the meeting.

Internationally, many properties that bear Mr. Trump’s name are the result of marketing deals-- like the one in India-- in which he is paid by someone for the use of his name but does not actually own the underlying property. He has such marketing agreements in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, the Philippines and Turkey, according to a list published by his company.

Atul Chordia and Sagar Chordia are well-known figures in real estate in Pune, a city of about three million people in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Their father, Ishwardas Chordia, was born into a family of sugar traders, but as a young man forged a close friendship with Sharad Pawar, who became an important politician in Maharashtra and now sits in the upper house of India’s Parliament.

Beginning in the 1990s, Chordia businesses built luxury hotels, corporate parks and residential projects in upscale neighborhoods in Pune.

The third executive at the meeting, Mr. Mehta, is the managing partner of a real-estate firm named Tribeca, which is also a part of the Trump projects in India, which go by names including Trump Towers Pune and Trump Towers Mumbai.

Dave Besseling, a former deputy editor at GQ India, hosted an event at Sagar Chordia’s hotel during the 2016 presidential campaign and said Mr. Chordia expressed “elation” about Mr. Trump’s candidacy and the opportunities it would bring.

The same week, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka-- an executive at the Trump Organization hotel chain-- attended a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The move drew criticism from former State Department officials, given that Ms. Trump does not have security clearance and is helping run the family business enterprises.

Separately, the Washington Post reported on Saturday that the recently opened Trump International Hotel in Washington invited representatives from local embassies to the hotel after the election to encourage them to use it when leaders from their countries visited Washington.

Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a liberal government watchdog group in Washington, said the meeting at Trump Tower was inappropriate even if there had not been conversation about business. “Donald Trump’s children and son-in-law have been deeply involved in the transition and selecting who will be part of his administration,” Mr. Bookbinder said. “At the same time they are deeply involved in the business. There does not seem to be any sign of a meaningful separation of Trump government operations and his business operations.”

Ms. Butler, the spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said the family was moving to try to formally separate Mr. Trump from his family’s business ventures.

“Mr. Trump is not going to have dealings in the day-to-day business of that organization,” she said.

Another spokeswoman for the Trump Organization added in a written statement that “the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”

Asked if such a separation had already taken place in the aftermath of the election, she said she did not know.

And, by the way, the Philippine's new trade envoy to the U.S., Jose Antonio, is Trump's Manila business partner, whose company is currently building a 57-story Trump Tower there. DWT Warning: if a Mammadov shows up in DC from Azerbaijan, it's probably time to just send your bank account and youngest daughter to Trump and give up-- or join a guerrilla group.

As you may know, I travel a lot-- and mostly to relatively off-the-beaten path kinds of places. This past summer I was in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and I reported about the gangster family Trump is in business there for the Trump Tower Baku that opened and closed in 3 days and that the Trump partners then tried to burn down for the insurance money. In September we looked at the shady Trump-Baku situation again-- here at DWT. Wherever I go, Trump has a reputation for being in business with powerful and dangerous gangsters. I don't know anything about Kalpesh Mehta and Atul and Sagar Chordia, but I wouldn't hesitate to wager that they have reputations as crooked operators back in India. Trump only deals with crooked operators.

Last summer, Bloomberg did a report about what kind of characters inhabit Trump's buildings here in New York. Short version: the Secret Service must be going insane. Since Trump "took over 40 Wall St. in 1995, prosecutors have filed criminal charges against at least 29 people connected to 12 alleged scams tied to the building. Nine other firms have faced serious regulatory claims. Authorities prevailed in most but not all of the cases. Many were brought against principals, executives and other employees, not the firms themselves. Some are still pending. In his 2008 book Trump Never Give Up Señor Trumpanzee wrote that tenants at 40 Wall St. are "many of the top-notch businesses in the world." That's typical hyped up Trump lie. But Aaron Burr had an office on the site-- when Trump's ancestors were still slopping pigs back in Germany. Maybe that's why he's so obsessed with Hamilton. Today, the garish building itself, which was once owned, surreptitiously, by Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, still has a bad reputation and "offers a cheap way to grab a Wall Street address," rents being about $20 cheaper than the area’s average. It's been foreclosed on numerous times and once a U.S. Army plane crashed into it. Trump bought the rights to lease it for a million dollars a year at a garage sale. Here are some of the worst of Trump's crooked tenants:
Viceroy Capital Funding

Viceroy, which arranges loans to small businesses, was accused in a lawsuit brought by a borrower of charging a 299 percent annualized interest rate. The case was settled out of court. Jonathan Braun, who runs the business according to a person with knowledge of the matter, is awaiting sentencing for running a marijuana-smuggling ring from his parents’ Staten Island house. His lawyer, John Meringolo, confirmed Braun works in cash advance but wouldn’t comment on Viceroy... 28th floor.

DirectView Holdings

CEO Roger Ralston was sentenced to five months in a halfway house in 2001 for bribing government employees to buy video-conferencing equipment. His security-camera company, which wasn’t charged with wrongdoing, now aspires to penny-stock status: Shares trade for about four-hundredths of a cent. “I worked so hard to bring the company public and did most of it myself,” Ralston said... 62nd floor.

Wolf Hedge

Mark Malik, 34, pretended to have died from a heart attack when investors tried to withdraw money from his fake hedge fund, according to the SEC. He’s currently serving 5-15 years for swindling investors out of more than $800,000. He didn’t respond to a letter sent to him at New York’s Mid-State Correctional Facility... 28th floor.

EJS Capital Management

Brokers cold-called investors, pitching a currency-trading strategy, then spent almost all the money they sent in, according to a December civil court ruling. One of the operators, Alex Ekdeshman, 43, is serving a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to another foreign-exchange fraud last year. He didn’t respond to a letter... 28th floor.

Barclay Metals

The CFTC barred Sean Stropp from the commodities industry for five years in 2013 for this alleged precious-metals scam, which used a 40 Wall St. address. New York prosecutors also charged him that year with fraud. He was convicted and served almost two years in prison. Stropp didn’t respond to e-mails... 28th floor.

Rosabianca & Associates

Real estate lawyer Luigi Rosabianca catered to foreign clients who sometimes paid with suitcases full of cash, he told New York magazine in 2014. “Real estate is a wonderful way to cleanse money,” he said. A year later, he was disbarred and charged with stealing $4.4 million from six clients. Rosabianca pleaded guilty to grand larceny and will be sentenced this month to four to 12 years, according to his lawyer, Robert Schalk... 30th floor.

Spyker Consulting

Spyker principal Luis Ferreira was on supervised release from prison for a telemarketing scam when the firm leased space in the building around 2009. He was arrested in 2010 for violating his parole with the new scheme. He fled rather than return to jail, and is now on the FBI’s white-collar most-wanted list... 30th floor.

Essex & York

The heads of this brokerage firm and six employees were accused in 2006 of running a $13 million pump-and-dump scheme. They allegedly cold-called investors and convinced them to invest in a temp agency, then sold their own shares when the stock rose. Seven pleaded guilty and one died before his case was resolved... 33rd floor.

First Merger Capital

The heads of this defunct brokerage took a $350,000 payment from a Chinese kitchen-appliance company and pushed its stock to investors, according to regulators. One of the co-heads filed an appeal this year after the SEC sided with Finra against the two men. Their partner Ronen Zakai, 45, spent most of last year in prison after being convicted of stealing the $705,000 he raised to invest in the Facebook IPO. Zakai didn’t respond to a Facebook message... 34th floor.

Evergreen International Spot Trading

The firm’s currency-trading scam came to light when customers asked about their money after the Sept. 11 attacks. Prosecutors called one of the four executives convicted of cheating investors “the Michael Jordan of investment fraud” and said another faked his suicide after wiring money to Azerbaijan... 37th floor.

Direct Access Partners

This bond-trading firm went bust after a bribery scheme surfaced in 2013. Prosecutors said executives conspired to make payments to a Venezuelan state bank official. Former CEO Benito Chinea is serving a four-year prison sentence, and four other employees also pleaded guilty to criminal charges... 42nd floor.

The David Firm

Earl David, a lawyer, was sentenced to prison in 2013 after using phony employment claims in what officials called one of the largest immigration frauds in U.S. history...60th floor.

Stilas International Law

Matthew Bennett Greene was banned from practicing law in Virginia in 2009 after two clients claimed they paid for services he didn’t deliver. In 2013, Connecticut’s banking commissioner fined him for violating securities law related to investments in a B movie that promised investors 1,000 percent returns... 28th floor.

Aegis Capital

The brokerage was fined $950,000 by Finra last year for helping a financier unload billions of unregistered shares of penny stocks... 46th floor.

John Carris Investments

George Carris, who owned the firm, was expelled last year by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority for selling shares of his brokerage without disclosing it was short of capital and for manipulating a penny stock. Regulators also alleged he spent company money on tattoos, liquor and motorcycles... 17th floor.

Banc de Binary

This Cyprus-based firm operated an unlicensed binary-options brokerage in the U.S., soliciting investors with YouTube videos and spam e-mails to bet on whether stocks would rise or fall, according to the SEC, which sued in 2013. The firm and affiliates agreed to pay $11 million this year to settle regulators’ claims without admitting or denying the allegations... 28th floor.

Your Trading Room

This currency-trading firm advertised that it taught secrets that “will change your life.” An Australian court ordered it liquidated in 2012 after a report that it was run by someone who had been banned by the country’s securities regulator... 28th floor.

New York Global Group

Benjamin Wey helped Chinese companies raise tens of millions of dollars in the U.S. before he was arrested last year and accused of securities fraud. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called him a “master of manipulation.” Wey has pleaded not guilty. He said in a court filing last month that his business was legitimate and the case against him is based on an illegal FBI search of 40 Wall St...38th floor.
This is a perfect collection of the type of characters Trump is in business everyone he lands. This is his world-- and thanks to just over 100,000 voters (or votes) in Macomb County Michigan, Duval County, Florida, Union County, North Carolina, York County, Pennsylvania, Brown and Outagamie counties, Wisconsin and Montgomery County, Ohio, it's now all of our world's. Bloomberg:
A hedge-fund manager on the 28th floor who pretended to be dead when investors asked for their money reported to prison in January. A few weeks later, an investment adviser on the 17th floor was accused of running a Ponzi-like scheme. Thirteen floors up, a lawyer pleaded guilty this month to stealing millions of dollars from clients.

It was all happening at 40 Wall St., across from the New York Stock Exchange, behind golden capital letters proclaiming that this is THE TRUMP BUILDING.

“Iconic and wonderful,” Donald J. Trump said at a South Carolina town hall event last year, praising the 86-year-old Art Deco tower as one of his great possessions. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also told fans in Maine that critics who mock his failed companies should focus instead on the Manhattan skyscraper. “They don’t want to talk about 40 Wall Street,” he said.

But the 72-story building has housed frauds, thieves, boiler rooms and penny-stock schemers since Trump took it over in 1995 in what may be the best deal of his career. No single property in his portfolio is more valuable than 40 Wall St., according to a Bloomberg valuation of his assets last year. And no U.S. address has been home to more of the unregistered brokerages that investors complain about, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s current public alert list.

...“They want that Wall Street address,” Donald Trump Jr., who’s in charge of leasing for the Trump Organization, which manages the building, told Commercial Property Executive in 2010. “We’re basically catty-corner from the stock market.”

Eleven new tenants were cited in that interview. Since then, the heads of four of them have been charged with fraud.

The billionaire’s son said in an e-mail that prices for 40 Wall St. beat the market for comparable downtown buildings, without specifying which ones he’s talking about. “40 Wall’s average annual rent continues to achieve a record of immense success with 97 percent occupancy, a vacancy rate virtually unheard of in downtown Manhattan,” he added. He and his father didn’t respond to other questions.

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At 2:55 PM, Blogger VG said...

Excellent piece, as ever, Howie.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Bravo Howie!

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This should be sent to all media entities for publication and broadcasting.

At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) I suggest the "the type of characters" with whom Herr hair conducts business with is, until proof is presented to the contrary, fairly representative of the general type of characters in business. My rule of thumb is: anyone worth more than $10 million must be considered a crook until proven otherwise.

2) So the issue seems to be outrage that an incoming president may use his/her new-found influence to enhance his/her preexisitng business interests as opposed to using said influence to cultivate interests de novo?

John Puma

At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the cheney/bush admin, nobody said anything about cheney/haliburton nor numbsfeld/any of his bid'ness concerns as both became naked war profiteers.

The wikileaks validation of the naked corruption of the Clinton foundation and some of the content of $hillbillary's paid wall street talks .. and 60 million still voted for her.

And drumpf has a record of being openly corrupt and a fraud, yet almost 60 million voted for him.

In today's usa, corruption and conflicts of interest are normalized and accepted and affirmed by the electorate. Have been for decades.


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