In a stunning development that could lead to new breaks in the Donald Trump Russia collusion investigation, the longtime Russian business partner of Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, Evgeny “Gene” Freidman — New York’s so-called “taxi king” — has taken a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the criminal case against Cohen and possibly other federal investigations, according to a scoop published by The New York Times on Tuesday afternoon.
Freidman emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States at the age of 5 in 1976 when his father, a thermonuclear engineer, fled the U.S.S.R. to escape anti-Semitism there. But when he arrived in the U.S., the elder Freidman did not put his experience with nuclear technology to work but instead entered the rough-and-tumble taxi business in New York City.
Freidman’s father built a moderate-sized business, but when Evgeny Freidman took over the taxi operation he quickly expanded, eventually owning as many as 800 taxi medallions, the valuable licenses required to operate a taxi cab in New York. He ran the second-largest taxi fleet in the city and raked in up to $120 million per year by 2008.
Freidman helped Cohen enter the taxi business and mentored the future Trump lawyer, managing Cohen’s own investment in numerous medallions. As recently as last year, Freidman told reporters that he spoke to Cohen on a daily basis.
Freidman faced accusations that he failed to pay more than $5 million in taxes, and he had been charged with four counts of fraud and one of grand larceny. But he pleaded guilty only to evading $50,000 in taxes and will serve just five years of probation and no prison time.
Freidman told The New York Daily News that his plea has “nothing to do with Michael Cohen.”
“It is shameful,” he told the paper. “I plead guilty to a felony, I am humbled and shamed! This is me taking responsibility for my actions.” But why prosecutors would allow Freidman to bargain down from a potential 100-year sentence — 25 years for each of the four fraud counts — to no jail time at all without the promise that he could offer significant cooperation and information is unclear.
Exactly what evidence against Cohen that Freidman may possess remains uncertain, but given the longtime relationship between the two, it would appear to be significant. Cohen not only faces a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York but has become a central figure in the Trump Russia collusion investigation. As The Inquisitr reported on Monday, Cohen made a trip to Europe in July 2016, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is believed to possess evidence that Cohen traveled to Prague during that time.
According to allegations in the Christopher Steele dossier, the private intelligence file posted at this link alleging deep ties between Trump and Russia, Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague and discussed with them Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump.
Cohen was also deeply involved with an effort to build a Trump Tower Moscow, a potentially massive real estate project that was active through the presidential campaign at a time when Trump repeatedly claimed that he had no business deals or interests in Russia.
According to the New York Times report, the plea deal taken by Freidman “could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.”
The possibility that Cohen himself will “flip” and serve as a witness against Trump in the Russia probe has long been a subject of widespread speculation in the media and law enforcement circles.