Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, currently under investigation for Russian ties, was involved in a strange real estate shell game that law enforcement experts say sounds like money laundering.
Donald Trump's former presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort was part of a scheme that law enforcement experts have compared to the behavior seen in money laundering operations.
Manafort is already under scrutiny for his role in secretly providing support for pro-Russian interests and is slated to testify at congressional hearings into Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, despite White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false claim that Manafort played only a "minor" role in the campaign.
Adding to that cloud of corruption, according to reporting from WNYC, Manafort was involved in a series of covert real estate transactions worth $12 million dollars. On January 17 — three days before Trump was sworn in — Manafort borrowed against three New York City homes he owned. One was in Trump Tower, while the others were in Soho and Brooklyn.
WNYC reports that the deals "follow a pattern" in which "using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and then took out hefty mortgages against them, according to property records." The U.S. Treasury Department has an active program in place, as part of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, that targets "the use of shell companies to buy luxury real estate in 'all-cash' transactions," in exchanges similar to what Manafort did.
The loans also have another Trump connection, as they were facilitated by Steve Calk, who was a fundraiser for Trump's campaign and served as a member of his economic advisory team.
Nine current and former members of law enforcement told WNYC that the unusual transactions by Manafort "merit scrutiny." WNYC also reports, "Some said the purchases follow a pattern used by money launderers: buying properties with all cash through shell companies, then using the properties to obtain 'clean' money through bank loans."
Manafort — who was reportedly recommended to Trump via his former business partner, conservative "dirty trickster", and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone — has been involved in unethical activities involving political office and campaigns before, and once admitted after a congressional investigation that he had been engaged in "influence peddling." And he was fired from the Trump presidential campaign after reports surfaced that Manafort had accepted millions of dollars in cash in exchange for secret lobbying on behalf of pro-Russia figures in Ukraine.
Multiple figures associated with Trump and his presidential campaign — including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — are under scrutiny for their communication and relationships with elements of Vladimir Putin's government in Russia. Republicans in Congress have tried to undermine these investigations, even as an active FBI investigation of the Trump-Russia axis was acknowledged by FBI director James Comey.
And this reporting on Manafort's shady real estate deals only deepen the miasma of malfeasance around the White House.