Remember: Michael Cohen Is a Very Rich Dude

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Cohen is schedule to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

We have another nugget of news on the Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels front. Cohen says he got the money to pay Daniels from a home equity line of credit. “The funds were taken from my home equity line and transferred internally to my LLC account in the same bank,” he told ABC News. Fair enough. I have no reason to reject that claim. But this raises a key point about Michael Cohen. He’s just Trump’s lawyer. He may make a good salary. But he’s not a plutocrat himself who has six figure sums he can toss out like you or I might spend a hundred bucks. But as we’ve discussed before with Michael Cohen, that’s not really true. He appears to be a very, very wealthy man.

As I’ve described before, I was very surprised to learn this at first. I thought he was just Trump’s bully lawyer who yells at people on TV. But Cohen has extensive business interests across real estate, taxis and at least in the past casino boats and business interests in Ukraine.

A few examples: Back in 2015 Cohen purchased an Upper East Side Manhattan apartment building for $58 million. During a short period in the middle of the last decade, he and and members of his family purchased at least 12 apartment units in various Trump buildings over a short period of time. These are just examples from an extensive portfolio of Manhattan and New York City real estate which Cohen owns personally and runs at least into many tens of millions of dollars.

Then there’s taxis, where Cohen appears to have made his original fortune. In the early years of this century Cohen listed himself as the co-owner of a fleet of “more than 200 taxis”. This was at a time when taxi licenses ran about a quarter of a million dollars a piece. Cohen later sold his share of the taxi business to his co-owner, notorious taxi magnate Symon Garber, a Ukrainian emigre. This was in a period when taxi medallions were starting to spike in value. But legal documents reviewed by TPM show that in the late aughts and the early years of this decade Cohen was receiving more than a $1 million a year from Garber for the management of the taxi medallions Cohen still owned after selling his stake in the joint business to Garber. That’s a million a year from a business Cohen had already largely left behind. And that’s just from one business partner he got in a legal fight with.

Then there’s Cohen’s business interests in Ukraine. There was the ethanol concern he owned there with his family – particularly Alex Oronov, a naturalized citizen from Ukraine whose daughter is married to Cohen’s brother Bryan and became a major player in Ukrainian agro-business. Both Cohen brothers are married to women from Ukraine.

Of course, Cohen must have made a tidy salary from the Trump Organization, where he worked for the last decade prior to Trump’s election. But I suspect that accounts for only part of his income, probably a small part. Of course, we don’t know how leveraged Cohen is or how much liquid cash he has on hand. Did Cohen just cut a personal check for $58 million to buy that building? Unlikely. As I’ve explained here, Cohen’s main asset over the course of almost three decades in business has been access to capital from people in Russia and Ukraine and emigres from those countries living in the United States. That is how he first came to Trump’s attention and appears to be the reason Trump brought him into the Trump Organization.

It’s not the hugest part of this story. But on the surface you wouldn’t guess the scale of Cohen’s personal wealth. Or at least I didn’t. He’s a very wealthy man and beyond his personal wealth he clearly has ready access to many streams of cash from many sources.

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