Yesterday we noted that Michael Cohen grew up around the Brooklyn social club that served as the headquarters of the bosses of the Russian mob from the 1970s to the 1990s. Today we discussed the role of Cohen’s father-in-law Fima Shusterman, an immigrant from Ukraine. Shusterman had been in the taxi business for decades before Cohen got into the business and it was with loans and medallions from Shusterman that Cohen got his start. According to a former federal investigator who spoke to Seth Hettena, Cohen “was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman.”
Shusterman pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to defraud the IRS the year before Michael Cohen married Shusterman’s daughter Laura in 1994.
As we’ve discussed many times, Cohen got his role in the Trump Organization because he was a conduit for Russian and Ukrainian money. Shusterman appears to have been the one who really controlled a lot of that cash or had the connections to make it available to him.
Now, let’s fast forward to the events of recent days. Cabs have come up a number of times in the wake of the Cohen raids on April 9th. We noted that Cohen was once heavily involved in the taxicab business and still owns over 30 medallions in New York City and more than 20 in Chicago. Most of those are now managed by the man who was once the biggest player in the New York City taxicab business, Evgeny “Gene” Friedman. Cohen used to be in business with another taxi magnate, Simon Garber, another Soviet emigre who was also once loaned money by Shusterman.
Cohen and Garber had a rough falling out in 2011.
The key thing to understand about the taxicab business is that it was phenomenally lucrative until it peaked around 2014. Medallions have collapsed in value since then. They’re now worth only about a third or less what they were worth only four years ago. All the current transactions must be seen in that light.
A particular focus of prosecutors’ attention has been the Chicago taxicab business of Semyon and Yasya Shtayner, two more Ukrainian immigrants who live in New York City. They manage a taxicab fleet (Chicago Medallion Management Corp) of 368 taxis in Chicago. Twenty-two of those cabs use medallions leased from Cohen. Cohen has apparently also loaned them money.
Now we learn from The Chicago Sun-Times that over the last eight months, Fima Shusterman has made loans to the Shtayners with a value of at least $20 million and as much as $40 million. The Shtayners put up three luxury high-rise condos as collateral. Even in the taxi business, which requires access to lots of cash, those are huge amounts of money.
The Shtayner’s taxicab business also appears to be in some distress (as most are today). They are currently being sued by a taxi industry based federal credit union trying to collect on a loan of $3.5 million.
More to come …