And here's a coincidence: The guy was indicted for being part of a global gambling ring run out of Trump Tower.
David Corn and Hannah LevintovaSep. 14, 2016 6:00 AM
How did an alleged and notorious Russian mobster connected to an illegal international gambling ring run out of Trump Tower end up as a special guest at a Donald Trump event in Moscow in 2013? This may be one of the odder questions of the already-odd 2016 presidential campaign.
On April 16, 2013, federal agents burst into a swanky apartment at Trump Tower in New York City as part of a larger raid that rounded up 29 suspected members of two global gambling rings with operations allegedly overseen by a supposed Russian mob boss named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The Russian was not nabbed by US law enforcement. Since being indicted in the United States a decade earlier for allegedly rigging an ice skating competition at the 2002 Olympics, he had been living in Russia, beyond the reach of Western authorities. And this new gambling indictment did not appear to inconvenience Tokhtakhounov. Seven months after the bust, he was a VIP attendee at Donald Trump's Miss Universe 2013 contest held in Moscow. In fact, Tokhtakhounov hit the red carpet within minutes of Trump. An alleged crime lord who was a fugitive from American justice was apparently a celebrity guest at Trump's event.
During the 2016 race, Trump's associations with Russia have sparked assorted controversies. He has praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin and made a series of contradictory remarks regarding his relationship with the autocrat. (In July, Trump said he had never spoken to Putin, but in a 2014 video, he claimed he had.) Trump has insisted on the campaign trail, "I have nothing to do with Russia." Yet he has a long history of attempting—and generally failing—to forge deals in that country. And Trump has been surrounded by campaign aides—including onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort—with close and lucrative business ties to Russia and Putin allies.
Contrary to his claim of having nothing to do with Russia, Trump did pull off one major deal there: staging the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in the nation's capital. At the time, Trump co-owned the contest with NBC. The event landed him in the company of Tokhtakhounov and other high-profile Russians. And Trump hoped it would also bring him close to Putin. Months before the contest, he tweeted, "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?"
Putin didn't show up, but, according to Russian media accounts and photos of the event, Tokhtakhounov did. He was part of a crew of wealthy and powerful Russians who, according to a press report, were treated as VIPs. Also present were Vladimir Kozhin, a top government official and member of Putin's inner circle (who the following year would be hit with US sanctions in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine) and Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire oligarch close to Putin with whom Trump wanted to develop a high-rise in Moscow. (Agalarov played a role in drawing the beauty contest to Moscow; it was held in a concert hall owned by his family business empire, and his son, a middling pop star, performed at the pageant.) After the event, Trump boasted to the New York Post, "Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room."
Asked how Tokhtakhounov came to be part of the red-carpet crowd at the event, a spokeswoman for Miss Universe, which Trump sold in 2015, said she was not familiar with his name.
In a phone interview with Mother Jones, Tokhtakhounov initially said he had not attended the beauty pageant. After being told that there were photos and media reports showing that he had been there, he acknowledged that he had been present at the glitzy gathering. But he denied that he had been a VIP and said he had purchased his own ticket. Tokhtakhounov also said he had no interaction with Trump at the event.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov's tale is an intriguing story of sports, Hollywood stars, poker, and alleged crime. The indictment filed by Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, which triggered the 2013 raid, identified Tokhtakhounov as a vory v zakone—or a vor—a Russian term for a select group of the highest-level Russian crime bosses. A vor receives tributes from other criminals, offers protection, and adjudicates conflicts among other crooks. The indictment charged that Tokhtakhounov used his "substantial influence in the criminal underworld" to protect a high-stakes illegal gambling ring operating out of Trump Tower. He sometimes deployed "explicit threats of violence and economic harm" to handle disputes arising from this gambling operation. The indictment noted that in one two-month period he was paid $10 million by this outfit for his services.
The operations of the gambling scheme were handled by two other men: Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik. The indictment alleged that they and others ran "an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world," used "threats of violence to obtain unpaid gambling debts," and "employed a sophisticated money laundering scheme to move tens of millions of dollars…from the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus into various investments and other shell companies in the United States." According to the US attorney, their enterprise "booked sports bets that reached into the millions of dollars" and laundered approximately $100 million.
Trincher, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was a championship professional poker player who had purchased a Trump Tower apartment located directly below an apartment owned by Donald Trump. In 2009, Trincher had paid $5 million for the posh pad. Two years later, he and his wife had reportedly hoped to hold a fundraiser in the apartment for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, but they had to cancel the event because of the presence of mold caused by a water leak. During one court hearing, the US attorney's office said that Trincher, then 52 years old, directed much of the racketeering enterprise from this Trump Tower apartment. "From his apartment, he oversaw what must have been the world's largest sports book," Assistant US Attorney Harris Fischman remarked. "He catered to millionaires and billionaires."
The indictment also targeted an associated gambling ring operated by Trincher's son Illya, Hillel Nahmad, the son of a billionaire art dealer, and others. (Nahmad also reportedly owned the entire 51st floor of Trump Tower.) This crew managed a high-stakes betting operation and money-laundering shop. The indictment charged another Trincher son named Eugene and several others with running illegal high-stakes poker rooms in and around New York City. This group included Molly Bloom, who had previously earned a reputation as an organizer of private poker games for celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Following the raid, the New York Daily Newsreported that a witness told the paper that "games held by the crew in a Trump Tower apartment…[were] poker 'on steroids,' with cameos by movie and sports stars, including A-Rod."
Shortly after the indictment was issued, Tokhtakhounov told a Russian television channel that the case against him was "yet another fairy tale from the Americans." He claimed the prosecutors had included him in the indictment "to give the situation significance." He acknowledged that he knew two of the defendants and had placed bets with them. "Of course, in conversation," he added, "I might have given them advice on how to do things better."
Tokhtakhounov was trying to depict himself as a victim unfairly targeted by the United States. In 2002, he was indicted for allegedly fixing skating matches at the Salt Lake City Olympics. (The feds believed he had rigged events so that Russians would take home a gold and a French pair would win another gold—and he would pocket a French visa.) He was arrested in Italy, but soon Tokhtakhounov, who denied the charges, was let go and made his way back to Russia.
Something of a celebrity in Russia, Tokhtakhounov has engaged in various enterprises. He once owned casinos in Moscow. He claimed to be an organizer of pop concerts and fashion shows. He represented a modeling association, and he wrote novels. He lived in a high-end apartment building in Moscow and kept a palatial country house outside the city. He is currently wanted by Interpol for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bribery conspiracy, wire fraud, and "bribery in sport contests."
A year following the Trump Tower raid, Trincher and Golubchik, after pleading guilty, were each sentenced to five years in prison. Each man was ordered to forfeit more than $20 million in cash, investments, and property. (Trincher's sons, Nahmad, and Bloom also pled guilty.) Tokhtakhounov, the US attorney's office noted, remained a fugitive.
Trump has cited the 2013 Miss Universe contest as proof he possesses serious foreign policy experience. In May, he told Fox News, "I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, which was a big, big incredible event." And it provided the reality television mogul the opportunity to hobnob with a Putin crony who is now under US sanctions, various oligarchs who are chums with the Russian leader, and an alleged Russian mafioso accused by the US government of protecting a global criminal enterprise that operated directly below one of Trump's own apartments in Trump Tower. What a small world.
The National Rifle Association released a new election ad today attacking Question 3 on Maine's November ballot, which would require background checks on most transfers of guns between owners.
The NRA's ad points out that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now a prominent gun control activist and the founder of Everytown for Gun Safety, "is spending $3 million to try and boss Mainers around with Question 3." The ad opens with a view of a city skyline and the words "The New Yorkers" emblazoned below it. The narrator intones: "The New Yorkers are here and they're trying to tell Mainers how to live." There's just one problem: The skyline in this ad is most definitely San Francisco's, not New York's.
Here's the start of the ad:
To its credit, the NRA did remember to add a Statue of Liberty to its version—and yet somehow didn't notice in the process that the rest of the skyline was wrong, or just didn't care to use the right one.
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman will donate up to $5 million to veterans groups if Trump releases his tax returns.
Hannah LevintovaSep. 12, 2016 5:51 PM
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman just made Donald Trump an offer that should entice the GOP nominee who claims to have donated millions to veterans: If Trump releases his tax returns by October 19, the date of the last presidential debate, Hoffman will donate up to $5 million to veteran groups.
The original idea came from a crowd-funding campaign started by Peter Kiernan, a veteran of the Marines who was once deployed to Afghanistan. Kiernan said he would donate to 10 veteran's groups should Trump release his taxes and began raising money to do so on Crowdpac.com.
In a Medium post published on Monday afternoon, LinkedIn co-founder Hoffman expressed his support for Kiernan's campaign, and upped the ante by promising to quintuple the final total raised by Kiernan, up to $5 million.
Kiernan explained his reasoning on the campaign's site. "Any servicemember who has ever held a security clearance has been subjected to a rigorous background check, including personal finances, affiliations, and drug activity…[T]o be the Commander-in-Chief of this group, you should be held to the same standards."
In his post, Hoffman also noted both the tactic and the actual dollar amount should have special significance to the GOP nominee: In 2012, Trump offered Barack Obama $5 million to release his college transcripts, his passport applications, and other documents.
As BuzzFeed points out, Hoffman's intentions might not just be about the 2016 election. He was an early investor in Crowdpac, the site hosting Kiernan's crowd-funding campaign, so he potentially stands to benefit financially from raising the site's profile.
In January, Trump skipped a Republican primary debate in Iowa and instead held a fundraiser for veterans during the same time slot. (He initially claimed to have donated $6 million from the event to veteran charities, but his campaign has significantly decreased that estimate following reports suggesting the initial figure was inflated.) But the nominee has also been adamant about keeping his tax returns from the public eye: Though he promised to release them in May, he has since reversed his position, saying he would withhold the records because he was being audited by the IRS. (The agency has said that's not necessary.)
As Hoffman explains, the proposal "gives Trump a strong incentive to act but doesn't reward him directly for something he should have already done. Instead, men and women to whom all Americans owe a great debt of gratitude will benefit from any positive action he takes."
"I want to live to see the day that…we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history."
Hannah LevintovaSep. 10, 2016 4:56 PM
GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence spoke to a convention of conservative Christians Saturday, drawing loud applause for his promises that he will work with Donald Trump to restrict abortion rights and appoint right-wing justices to the Supreme Court.
"Let me be clear: People who know me well know I'm pro-life, and I don't apologize for it," said Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana, to the largely evangelical crowd at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC. "I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law, and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs."
Pence's speech provided a stark contrast to his running mate's address at the same summit. On Friday night, Trump asked attendees for their support in November without ever mentioning abortion or marriage. The pair of speeches reinforced this political duo's dynamic, with Pence—a lifelong anti-abortion advocate with a legislative record to prove it—once again providing a salve for religious voters skeptical of the thrice-married, formerly pro-choice Trump.
"Let me be clear: People who know me well know I'm pro-life, and I don't apologize for it."
Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, introduced Pence. She opened with an anecdote about getting a call from a reporter after Trump's selection of Pence. She told the reporter there was one thing people needed to know: On abortion, "Mike Pence has a 100 percent Concerned Women for America voting record, and a zero percentrecord with the National Abortion Rights Action League," also known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group.
The audience roared with applause, and Nance lavished praised on Pence's record both as a congressman and as Indiana Governor. "Mike was a leader in Congress before most people knew Planned Parenthood was the abortion mafia," she said, citing the deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress videos released last summer that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. (So far, four congressional investigations and 12 state-level investigations have found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.)Nance also lauded Pence's efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, both in Congress and as Indiana's governor. By 2014, Pence had cut Planned Parenthood's funding nearly in half in his state, resulting in the closure of five clinics, none of which ever provided abortions.
When Pence took the podium, he sharply criticized Hillary Clinton. He cited the Benghazi investigation—a popular topic among many of the speakers. Pence also blasted Clinton's comments at a New York fundraiser Friday night, in which she said that "half" of Trump's supporters represented "a basket of deplorables."
"Donald Trump will appoint justices to the Supreme Court of the United States who will strictly construe the constitution of the United States in the tradition of the late and great Justice Antonin Scalia."
"Let me just say from the bottom of my heart: Hillary, they are not a basket of anything," Pence said. "They are Americans and they deserve your respect." Pence added that he hadn't heard "that level of disdain for Americans" since 2008, when Barack Obama said that residents of Midwestern towns with high unemployment "get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Pence went on to promise that a Trump administration would shore up the military, stand with Israel, and cut a variety of taxes. But soon, he turned back to abortion. Citing his own extensive record—including his funding for crisis pregnancy centers in Indiana and state legislation prohibiting women from obtaining an abortion because of the race, gender, or disability of the fetus—Pence outlined the Trump team's plan for reproductive health access.
He promised to work with Congress to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection act, a bill that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions only for cases of rape, incest, and threats to the woman's life. (These kinds of abortions are rare and often happen when a serious fetal disability is discovered late in pregnancy.) "We will end late-term abortions nationwide," Pence said. The post-20-week abortion ban failed in the Senate in September 2015, but was resurrected with a hearing in March.
Pence promised to uphold the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, and to defund Planned Parenthood. "The days of public funding for Planned Parenthood are over when the Trump-Pence administration arrives in Washington, DC," he said.
And finally, Pence returned to Trump's main selling point with evangelicals: the Supreme Court. "When it comes to life and our liberties," he declared, "Donald Trump will appoint justices to the Supreme Court of the United States who will strictly construe the constitution of the United States in the tradition of the late and great Justice Antonin Scalia."
This is at least the fourth time in recent months that courts have awarded fees.
Hannah LevintovaSep. 8, 2016 12:18 PM
The Wisconsin Department of Justice agreed Thursday to pay $1.6 million in attorney fees and other legal costs to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and several other plaintiffs who successfully challenged one of the state's abortion laws.
The case challenged the requirement that abortion providers in Wisconsin have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. In March 2015, a district court judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The state of Wisconsin twice appealed the case, driving up legal costs for the plaintiffs. In both appeals, the state lost: The circuit court agreed with the initial court's decision, as did the US Supreme Court this June, rejecting the case the day after it overturned a similar admitting-privileges provision in Texas. Now Wisconsin taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the legal costs from the appeals.
"This settlement should send a message to politicians that laws that are designed to obstruct a woman's access to an abortion are not only unconstitutional, but they are a misuse of taxpayer resources," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the reproductive freedom project at the ACLU, in an emailed statement to Mother Jones.
This settlement comes on the heels of similar legal fee awards in three other states. In March, North Carolina had to pay $1 million to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU after losing a federal lawsuit over a law requiring providers to show women seeking abortions ultrasound images of their fetuses, accompanied by a description of the image contents from their physician, at least four hours before getting the procedure. The state also appealed the decision multiple times, driving up the legal tab. Ultimately, North Carolina had to dip into an emergency fund to pay the settlement.
In August, Alabama agreed to pay $1.7 million in legal costs to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups after they successfully challenged a state law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers. In the same week, a Missouri district court required the state to pay $156,000 in legal fees to Planned Parenthood Great Plains after the court struck down the state's admitting-privileges law.
"Not only are these laws devastating to women's health, but politicians are also seeing the steep price for taxpayers," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an emailed statement. "It is time to stop these political attacks on people's health and rights."