Money Laundering Part 5 of 5

The video below is the final conclusion to our introductory explainer on money laundering. We deal specifically with how you, as a citizen, can spot money laundering that may be going on around you. With a little caution and common sense, we can connect dots that prosecutors and journalists can’t.

Click here if you’d like to know more about who RAGEPATH is and what we’re about. If you support our mission to expose public corruption, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps!

Money Laundering Part 4 of 5

The video below is the fourth part of our video explainer series on money laundering. We discuss “integration,” the last step of the process where criminals finally get to collect their laundered cash.

Click here if you’d like to know more about who RAGEPATH is and what we’re about. If you support our mission to expose public corruption, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps!

Money Laundering Part 3 of 5

The video below is the third segment in our explanation of money laundering. We discuss the “layering” phase, where crooks try to throw investigators off their trail by moving their money around the world and back in a series of bogus transactions.

Click here if you’d like to know more about who RAGEPATH is and what we’re about. If you support our mission to expose public corruption, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps!

Money Laundering – Part 2 of 5

Below is the second part of our video explainer series on money laundering. We look in greater detail at the first step of the money laundering process, “placement.” Basically, this is how criminal first get their money from a crime scene into a bank:

Click here if you’d like to know more about who RAGEPATH is and what we’re about. If you support our mission to expose public corruption, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps!

Intro to Money Laundering – Part 1 of 5

Here at RAGEPATH, we’ve learned that there’s a mismatch between people’s interest in money laundering and the information available to understand it clearly. So, we’ve worked pretty hard to put together the following video explainer, aimed at giving you basic literacy about what money laundering is, how people do it, and why it’s a crime.

Click here if you’d like to know more about who RAGEPATH is and what we’re about. If you support our mission to expose public corruption, please consider making a small donation. Every little bit helps!

Our thanks to the following, who helped produce these videos:

Producer/Post Production by S.D.
Production Coordination by J.C.
Music Direction and Original Music by David R.
Camera by Chris R.
Gaffer by Luka M.
Written and Presented by Geoff A.
Logo and Typography by Volunteers
Project Management by S.A.

RAGEPATH Filed an Official Ethics Complaint Today

Today, RAGEPATH submitted a formal sworn complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s financial disclosures and campaign finance reports.

The complaint details six apparent violations of the California Political Reform Act. Each pertains to possibly inaccurate or incomplete documentation of Ms. Garcia’s financial interests or her campaign finances.

The potential violations we have identified could be quite serious. They include: (1) the undisclosed gift of an entire apartment building worth more than $400,000 (California law prohibits gifts larger than $250); (2) loans of $180,000 from out-of-state residents backed in part by real estate that Ms. Garcia acquired for free during an election campaign; and (3) the use of campaign funds to pay for stays in out-of-state luxury hotels on trips with no clear campaign purpose.

It is our hope that Ms. Garcia will be able to provide further information that shows no violations of California law have occurred. We further hope that Ms. Garcia will be able to provide the public with a clearer picture of her campaign and personal finances.

At RAGEPATH, we believe that public office is a sacred trust and that public officials are rightfully called upon to place that trust above their personal interests. We believe that elected officials should be held to an even higher standard than private citizens, one that reflects both the values and the concerns of the citizenry that has chosen them to serve as representatives.

California law imposes a duty of transparency and disclosure on elected officials, because a complete and accurate understanding of our representatives is necessary for us, as citizens, to give our informed consent and to prevent conflicts of interest.

We consider today’s request for an investigation to be all the more necessary because local newspapers suffering economic duress often lack the resources and headcount to provide the level of scrutiny that we, as citizens, need of our elected officials. For too many Californians, inadequate local media coverage combines with low voter engagement to deliver inevitable candidates who have not been properly vetted.

We, as citizens, have the power and the duty to step up and provide that scrutiny when nobody else can or will.

Ms. Garcia is one of 120 state legislators in California, all of whom should be held to the highest standards of conduct. There can be no accountability without transparency. We encourage California residents – indeed, residents of any state – to demand transparency and accountability from their elected officials at all levels of government – from their local City Council chamber all the way to the Oval Office.

Official statement regarding Cristina Garcia

RAGEPATH is the research project of a nonprofit established in 2017, called the Public Research and Education Project (PREP). PREP’s mission is to scrutinize the record of public officials, especially those who have not been vetted by a competitive election process.  

We are opposed to corruption, the abuse of power, the victimization of others, and the impunity of public officials. We oppose these things wherever we find them, regardless of party affiliation.

PREP is a registered California non-profit. The politicians we investigate are powerful and frequently retaliate against their accusers, so it is especially important that we protect the identities of those we work with.

Cristina Garcia is an elected official from an uncompetitive district in an area of Los Angeles that has been plagued by past corruption scandals. Garcia has not had a credible opponent for the past several election cycles, nor has she received the same level of scrutiny that politicians in hotly contested elections receive. This class of public officials is of especial interest to PREP, because the possibility for unchecked corruption is highest where public scrutiny is lowest.

It is not our place to tell the story of Cristina Garcia’s victims. They are telling their own stories, and they deserve to be heard. The story here is not, “Who has asked questions about Garcia’s conduct?” The real story is,What was Garcia’s conduct?”

The recently published news accounts about that matter reflect the stories of real people. Those stories have been verified by professional reporters working for established and reputable news outlets. These factual accounts have been subjected to multiple levels of verification and corroboration. If you have legitimate journalistic questions about the allegations against Garcia, we suggest you speak with the victims who have come forward publicly or the attorneys retained to represent them.

PREP’s investigations are ongoing. It would be unwise to comment on the details of unfinished research. If we confirm credible evidence of wrongdoing, we will bring that information to the public. Until that time, we will provide no further comment.

Trump and the Elephant-Hide Wall Coverings

Trump’s administration has recently proposed lifting a ban on the import of elephants killed as sport trophies. Suddenly, endangered species have become a major political issue. As of this writing, Trump had issued a policy reversal by Tweet. The full effect of Trump’s tweet is not yet clear. There seems to be confusion about whether the things Trump does on Twitter are “really happening” or not.

Trump’s sudden concern for elephants is inconsistent with his documented history of cruelty to animals. As elephants faced extinction in 1989, Trump was using their hides to coat the walls and floors of rooms in his properties. Trump’s sons have controversially engaged in the sport-hunting of endangered African species, including elephants. One of Trump’s Russian business associates once pled guilty to smuggling endangered animal carcasses into the United States. The prosecutor who approved the plea deal is now a member of Trump’s Cabinet.

Cruelty to Animals

Trump is scheduled to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey later this week, which may be his first documented act of mercy towards an animal. In over a year of full-time research, I haven’t yet found an instance of Trump showing kindness or empathy toward an animal (the kind treatment of people has been pretty rare also).  I have come across deeply troubling anecdotes, though.

Walls and Ceilings Covered In Elephant Hide

I first discovered allegations of Trump using elephant-hide wall coverings in a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald from June of 1989. The reader had written in to express indignation at a television news segment that had casually featured “elephant hides used as wall-coverings” in the lobby of Trump Tower. I’m still working to verify that claim and find the original source.

Confirmation of Trump’s use of elephant-hides for interior decor can be found in a 1989 Miami Herald article about visitors regaled by a trip to Trump’s yacht.  The article noted that “even the richest of millionaires was impressed by the elephant-skin ceiling in the movie theater” aboard the yacht. At the time Trump was cladding his walls with their hides, the population of African elephants was plunging dramatically. To stem the mass slaughter of elephants, the United States banned the import of elephant parts in 1990.

Slaughtering Endangered Animals for Sport

While I have not yet “strongly verified” claims of Trump coating his walls in elephant hides, I soon found more recent (and widely known) photographs of Trump’s sons killing various endangered African animals (elephants included) for sport. (GothamistMarch 13, 2012)

Exposure of the photographs prompted Trump to publicly defend his sons, noting they’re hunters and donate the meat of the animals they kill to  “the local tribes.”

It’s unclear to me where this tribe of African villagers subsisting off the donated kills of wealthy safari hunters lives.  If you spend too long listening to Trump, even the most outlandish things begin to seem plausible, so please take a few moments to wrap your head around the staggering implausibility of the Trumps’ official defense of their conduct. Slaughtering cheetahs for sport would be a convoluted approach to the policy problem of rural hunger in Africa. Nearly any child between the ages of 7 and 10 could explain quite clearly why hunting big-game cats for meat is wrong. 

Doing Business with a Smuggler of Endangered Animal Carcasses

Craziest of all, however, is that the international trade of endangered animal parts actually ties in directly with Trump’s Russian business associates. Trump once had a business partner named Tamir Sapir (who passed away in 2014). The relationship between Trump and Sapir goes back a long way and is pretty complicated. But to keep it simple, let’s point out that Sapir was a key partner in Trump Soho, a big Trump-branded development in New York City that is controversial. Two of Trump’s children were nearly indicted for their role in the building’s development and their business partners have been credibly accused of money laundering.

During all of the other sketchiness and fraud going on at Trump SoHo, Tamir Sapir was caught with a yacht full of endangered animal carcasses. Officials reportedly discovered “barstools upholstered with python … skins, seven carved elephant tusks, … a zebra-skin-lined children’s bed, and a cigar box wrapped in elephant hide.” The billionaire pled guilty in 2009 and was punished with a fine of $150,000. The prosecutor in Sapir’s case, Alex Acosta, is now Trump’s Secretary of Labor.

That NYC cab driver turned billionaire has pleaded guilty to charges that he violated the Endangered Species Act by attempting to import 29 rare dead animals into the US aboard his yacht. You may recall Tamir Sapir as the Georgian man who rose from immigrant hack to Russian oil and real estate tycoon, ultimately buying the city’s most expensive townhouse across from the Metropolitan Museum for $40 million in 2006. But Florida Customs officers who peered inside his yacht in 2007 know him better as a dealer in dead endangered wildlife.

According to the Post, Fish and Wildlife Service investigators confiscated the following items: Barstools upholstered with python and anaconda skins, seven carved elephant tusks, hides of jaguars, tigers and zebras, a fully stuffed and mounted lion, a cigarette holder made from python skin, a zebra-skin-lined children’s bed, and a cigar box wrapped in elephant hide. Speaking to reporters, US District Attorney Alex Acosta said, “Personally, I think these items are rather creepy items. And I would not want them in my house, but some people like them and are willing to buy them. The reason laws exist is because there is a market.”

(Gothamist, May 15, 2009)

Summary

So, to recap what we know so far:

(1) Trump doesn’t have a good track record on caring for animals.

(2) Trump has a past history of importing endangered animal parts.

(3) Trump’s sons have gone to Africa to kill endangered animals for sport.

(4) One of Trump’s business partners admitted to illegally importing endangered animal parts.

(5) Trump’s Administration has proposed loosening restrictions on the import of endangered animal parts.

 

Iran Sanctions Good for Trump Business Partners

The Trump Administration has been trying to break a deal with Iran lately. Under the deal, Iran doesn’t try to develop nuclear weapons. In return, America doesn’t impose some economic sanctions on Iran.

It’s hard to understand what Trump is thinking. Why would we encourage Iran to resume developing nuclear weapons, just so that we can put sanctions back on them?

Normally, the purpose of sanctions is to create economic pain that will force another country to change its policies. But Iran has already abandoned its nuclear program! Undermining American progress on the denuclearization of Iran just to reimpose sanctions seems like a case of putting the cart before the horse.

So, why the eagerness to reimpose sanctions on Iran, when they’re not actually developing nuclear weapon capacities?

One of the side effects of sanctions is that they create demand for money launderers. Sanctions separate bad people from their money. If the bad people want to get their money back, they need to turn to money launderers, who will make the money look like it’s clean and no longer covered by sanctions.

Does Donald Trump have business partners who have been accused of helping Iran circumvent sanctions? Yes. Does Donald Trump have business partners who have profited from the sale of weapons to the Iranian regime? Yes.

There are at least six clear examples that I know of:

  1. Trump earned at least $5.3 million from business partners in Azerbaijan who have been accused by United States diplomats of laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
  2. Trump’s Russian business partner in Toronto partially owned a subsidiary of Russian arms manufacturer Rosoboronexport, which sold weapons to the Iranian and North Korean regimes and participated in an Azerbaijani money laundering operation.
  3. Trump was once the New York City landlord for a state-owned Iranian bank that was accused by American officials of financing Iran’s nuclear program and terrorist activities orchestrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
  4. Trump once had extensive business ties with a company run by the Crown Prince of Dubai, a province of the United Arab Emirates that played an active role smuggling nuclear components and other sanctioned goods into Iran.
  5. Trump had multiple business dealings with Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer who helped broker the Iran Contra arms swap, in which the Reagan Administration secretly traded weapons to Iran to secure the release of American hostages.
  6. Trump partnered with the Silk Road Group on development projects in Georgia and Kazakhstan, a company that controlled a joint-venture project in the Iranian oil sector that was later targeted by sanctions.

As far as I’m aware, Trump’s connections to Iranian business interests haven’t all been reported out together in a single integrated way.  A lot of these cases are frustratingly complex and difficult to explain. Unfortunately, that’s how money laundering is supposed to work. You move a pile of dirty cash around through a bunch of shell companies until people become so confused that they give up trying to figure out where it all started from. But despite its complexity, the overall record is clear. Trump has consistently profited off business with partners who were involved in circumventing sanctions on Iran.

Calling All Junior Mystery Solvers

Today I found something totally unexpected in a San Diego Courthouse. It’s also totally strange. I’d like to enlist your help explaining what I’ve found. Click here now to see the case file while your eyes are still fresh!

It appears to be a debt collection action by Fred C. Trump that somehow turned into bench warrants and a police manhunt for an elderly couple who owed Trump slightly over $1,000. The entire case is deeply unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it. Several people hanging out with me in the basement of the San Diego Hall of Justice this afternoon agreed it seems most unusual.

So let’s do a quick walk-through of the weird. First, let’s look at the amount of money at stake. Even by the standards of 1982, a debt of $1,310.10 wasn’t huge.

Next, pay close attention to the address of his attorney. For a two-bit collection action in San Diego, Trump hires an attorney with an office in Beverly Hills. That’s 100 miles north of San Diego and some of the priciest real estate in America. This doesn’t look like a cheap attorney.

OK, so next Fred Trump’s presumably high-priced attorney asks the court to schedule a hearing about issuing a “writ of execution” against Sam and Betty Tobias. But they don’t come to the hearing. So the judge issues a bench warrant for their arrest. I’ve seen a lot of collection actions in my career. I’ve never seen them pushed this far.

Now take a look at the arrest warrant itself. Police are searching for a 75-year-old retiree with a receding hairline and a 9 year old car. To arrest him (and his wife!) over a $1,300 debt owed to a landlord 3,000 miles away.

The final filings were barely legible on microfilm (and even less legible after printing and scanning). But they’re an account by the marshal of his unsuccessful efforts to apprehend our fugitives.

This case is one of the dozens of bizarre things you find when you start looking into Trump. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time or money (yet!) to chase down every lead. I’ve given several of my most promising leads to journalists and I’m working on several by myself.

Would you like to try your hand at running this one down? Can you find evidence that would help to explain Fred C. Trump’s motives for launching such a punitive cross-continental quest for such a small sum of money? If so, please send me an email at ragepath.project@gmail.com explaining your theory and the evidence that supports it. No attachments, please.