Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal lawyer and self-described "fixer," is now at the center of an FBI criminal investigation, as well as the Russia collusion probe. But according to a report published Tuesday by Josh Marshall, editor and founder of the long-running political site Talking Points Memo, Cohen's apparent ties to Russian organized crime in New York go back decades.
In fact, Cohen himself held shares in a "social club" owned and operated by his uncle, Brooklyn doctor Morton Levine, that served as a headquarters for three consecutive top bosses of the Russian mob in America — the El Caribe Country Club in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood settled heavily by Russian immigrants.
Levine himself has never been accused of wrongdoing. He told the Associated Press that though all of his nieces and nephews owned shares in the notorious mob hangout, Cohen "gave up his stake" after Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
What went on in the El Caribe? According to a 1994 New York Magazine article, the first United States Russian mob godfather, Evsei Agron, used his "modest office" at the El Caribe to operate "a vicious extortion ring that terrorized the Russian emigré community and by 1980 was bringing in more than $50,000 a week." That's the equivalent of more than $160,000 per week in 2018 cash.
Agron met an unfortunate end in 1985, thanks to a pair of bullets fired into his head inside his apartment building in Brooklyn's upscale Park Slope neighborhood. But his successor, Marat Balagula, quickly moved into Agron's former El Caribe office. Six years later Balagula was convicted on a fraud charge and his place in the El Caribe office — and atop the Russian organized crime family tree in the U.S. — was taken by his former bodyguard, Boris Nayfeld.
Nayfeld, 70, who was released recently from prison after serving his third term behind bars, is now the most infamous living Russian mobster in America and told the Associated Press that he lives on a $750 per month Social Security check, avoiding all of his old hangouts — including the El Caribe.
But the El Caribe is not Cohen's only apparent connection to the Russian mob. In 1999, he received a mysterious check for $350,000 from a Russian pro hockey player, Vladimir Malakhov, who was then a defenseman for the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. According to a BuzzFeed report, Cohen cashed the check — but now claims that he doesn't remember anything about the bizarre payment.
Malakhov "attracted the attention of Russian organized crime," the BuzzFeed report said. "During Senate hearings, a former gangster testified that someone tried to shake down Malakhov at a restaurant in Brooklyn's heavily Russian neighborhood, Brighton Beach. The man who made the threats reportedly worked for Vyacheslav Ivankov, a notorious Russian mafia boss who was later assassinated in 2009," BuzzFeed reported.
Cohen's Russian mob connection that seems to connect most directly to Trump, however, is the now-notorious Felix Sater a childhood friend of Cohen. Sater is reputedly connected to the Mogilevich organization, Russia's most powerful crime syndicate.
Sater was also a top executive of Bayrock Group, who partnered with Trump in his failed Trump Tower Soho, a scandal-plagued building that was bombarded by lawsuits from investors demanding their money back, until the "tower" went into foreclosure in 2014, six years after it opened, and was purchased by a California firm.
It was also Sater who partnered with Trump and Cohen in the never-realized Trump Tower Moscow project — a project that remained active even as Trump claimed on the 2016 campaign trail that he had no business dealings in Russia. In one email to Cohen as they were attempting to develop the Moscow Trump project, Sater told his childhood friend that, "Our boy (i.e. Trump) can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."