Investigators probed Trump’s 40-year-old ties to Russian Mobster

A former New York City Mob underboss says that investigators questioned him in recent years about Trump’s ties to a Russian Mobster who purchased five condos in Trump Tower in the 1980s.

Michael Franzese, who left the Mafia after a stint in prison and became a born-again Christian, made the disclosure in a YouTube video posted to his channel on February 8.

In the video, Franzese says he was questioned — although he wouldn’t say by whom — “during the Mueller investigation.” Franzese says investigators wanted to know about his former business partner, a convicted Russian Mobster named David Bogatin.

In the 1980s, Franzese was a capo in the Colombo crime family when he partnered with Bogatin in a massive gasoline tax scam that generated as much as $9 million in cash, per week, according to Franzese’s 1996 testimony before the Senate.

David Bogatin

Franzese revealed in his YouTube video that he had been a silent partner with Bogatin when Bogatin purchased the Trump Tower condos for $5.3 million in 1984. Franzese said Bogatin paid for the condos in cash.

“As a result of that, I got questioned — I’m not gonna tell you by who — during the Mueller investigation because it came out that my friend David was the front guy buying them at that time,” Franzese said.

David Bogatin, center

“They came to me and they tried to establish a Trump connection with Russia as a result of him selling those condos to me and David Bogatin,” he continued.

Franzese said the investigators wanted to know why Trump took cash for the apartments. He says he did not know the answer.

I emailed both Franseze and the Department of Justice to to see if I could find out more. If I get a response, I’ll update this post here.

In his YouTube video, Franzese claimed that Bogatin had a family member in the KGB. This is unlikely given that Bogatin was Jewish. Jews were usually targets of Soviet intelligence, not employees.

Jacob Bogatin

What is certain is that Bogatin had a brother, Jacob, who got indicted in 2002 in a massive stock fraud along with Russian Mob boss Semion Mogilevich.

Mogilevich remains a fugitive and, as a result, Jacob Bogatin, his co-defendant, was never brought to trial.

Last I checked, both Jacob and David Bogatin continue to live in the United States.

Franzese also doesn’t mention some other facts I uncovered while reporting my book: First, it was Trump who convinced Bogatin to invest in Trump Tower. And second, Trump insisted on attending the condo signing.

But if Franzese is telling the truth about the investigators who questioned him about Bogatin and the Trump Tower condos, it’s a sign that, nearly 40 years later, Trump’s shady dealings with Russian Mobsters still haunt him.

Jeffrey Epstein, Leon Black, and Russia

Leon Black, wearing sunglasses, watches the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament with Jared Kushner

Leon Black, co-founder of the private equity giant Apollo Global Management, has agreed to step down from his duties as CEO after an independent review found he had paid $148 million to the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein over a period of four years.

The New York Times notes that Black’s millions bankrolled Epstein after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to a prostitution charge involving a teenage girl. Black’s payments to Epstein were made between 2013 and 2017.

Why would a sophisticated man like Leon Black, a billionaire with a reputation to protect, associate with and pay millions to Epstein?

The independent report commissioned by Apollo from the law firm, Dechert, provides an answer:

Black viewed Epstein as a confirmed bachelor with eclectic tastes, who often employed attractive women. However, Black did not believe that any of the women in Epstein’s employ were underage. Black has no recollection of ever seeing Epstein with an underage woman at any time.

“A confirmed bachelor with ecletic tastes.” OK, sure. And Hannibal Lecter is a erudite psychiatrist with unusual appetites.

The Dechert report notes that Black trusted Epstein and confided in him on “personal matters.” Epstein had intimate knowledge of Black’s personal finances. Black regularly visited Epstein to discuss business or meet “well known businessmen, political figures, diplomats, scientists and celebrities” who gathered at Epstein’s enormous New York townhouse.

For the conspiracy-minded, the connections between the two men are interesting in light of reports that Epstein collected dirt on powerful men and had cameras in his house monitoring private moments.

And let’s not forget Epstein’s ties to intelligence services. Alex Acosta, Trump’s former labor secretary who led the prosecution of Epstein in Florida said he had been told “Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” according to Vicky Ward’s report in The Daily Beast.

No one has yet noted something I pointed out more than a year ago, namely, Black’s numerous ties to Russia, Donald Trump, and Russian money.

Both Black and Trump were friends of Epstein’s at different times. Black also socialized with Trump and Jared Kushner, as the photo at the top shows. Apollo loaned $187 million to Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm.

Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia report establishes that Leon Black accompanied Trump during his 1996 visit to Moscow to pursue real estate deals.

Trump’s trip to Moscow was organized by investor Bennett LeBow, who was trying to get Trump to develop a site he owned in Moscow. Not only did he serve up a site for Trump, LeBow lined up financing from Apollo Group, a then six-year-old private equity firm.

Black, drink in hand, and Trump in Moscow in 1996.

Black told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he did not recall any compromising behavior during the trip. He also did not recall the event in the photograph above.

Black did recall going to a concert with Trump, followed by a “discotheque.” Black later added that he and Trump “might have been in a strip club together.”

Moscow strip clubs were well-known as a potential source of kompromat or blackmail.

For years in Russia there were a number of Russian government officials or others who were exposed in these strip clubs doing not very nice things that their wives, if they have wives, probably didn’t know about. I think most of us appreciated that there was that risk in these types of clubs.

Peter O’Brien, CFO of the Russian-government controlled oil firm Rosneft, as quoted in Vol. 5 of the Senate intelligence committee’ Russia report.

It’s worth noting that the Moscow trip was not part of Dechert’s investigation into Black’s dealings with Epstein. The report says it reviewed documents dating back to 1998.

In 2011, Black was back in Russia, this time for a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Black committed to help Russia set up a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

It was a privilege to help the fund, Black told Reuters, and described Russia’s “strong political leadership” as an advantage for investors at a time of global economic and financial difficulty. Black was named to the advisory board of the RDIF in 2011.

Four years later, after Russia invaded Crimea, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on the RDIF. `

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the RDIF, makes numerous appearances in the Mueller Report. After Trump’s election, it was Dmitriev who wrote, “Putin has won.” It was also Dmitirev who met in the Seychelles island with Erik Prince after Trump’s election.

Black also knows many Russian oligarchs. He met with the notorious aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska in Russia and the United States prior to Deripaska being sanctioned by the United States in 2018. Black knows Allen Vine, whom Black described as “consigliere” to the Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018.

And he does business with Vladimir Potanin, one of the world’s richest men. Unlike Deripaska and Kerimov, Potanin has not been sanctioned the U.S. government.

Potanin is a large investor in U.S. companies, including Apollo Global. In a 2014 court filing in her divorce, Potanin’s wife, Natalia, listed Apollo Global Management LLC as one of the companies in which her husband has had a financial interest.

Why did Black have such close connections to Russia? Did Epstein, who had an intimate knowledge of Black’s personal affairs, know the answer?

Zero Hedge, Bulgaria, and Me

Much to my surprise, my blog post last month about the popular US website Zero Hedge and its ties to Bulgaria has turned into a big story in Buglaria.

If you can read Bulgarian here’s some of the coverage:

Club.bg story on Zero Hedge and me

Frog News.bg story on Zero Hedge and me

English language Q&A with Frog News’ Diana Yonkova (Bulgarian version)

Here’s what happened: On December 23rd, I received word that a criminal complaint has been filed against me with the general prosecutor in Bulgaria.

The complaint was filed by Krassimir Ivandjiiski, who registered the Zero Hedge website in Bulgaria and manages the company that owns it.

Krassimir’s son, Daniel, runs Zero Hedge, which publishes a mix of finance, global news and pro-Russia commentary and is popular with right-wingers and people like Donald Trump Jr. and Nigel Farage.

Krassimir Ivandjiiski has accused me of various “crimes.” I should note that Mr. Ivandjiiski did not tell me what crimes I had allegedly committed, nor did he inform what country’s laws I may have violated. He also refused to provide me a copy of the complaint, but he did send me an English translation that I have posted here as a PDF.

According to Mr. Ivandjiiski it’s a crime to reveal public information such as Zero Hedge’s domain registration and corporate filings. He is also upset that I pointed out the blatantly anti-Semitic content he publishes on his Buglarian website, Strogo Sekretno (Top Secret).

Krassimir Ivandjiiski demanded that I take down my blog post by December 31st, which I have refused to do. I have hired a lawyer in Bulgaria, Nikolay Hadjigmenov to represent my interests. It would set a terrible precedent if I am charged with a crime for writing a story someone didn’t like.

I’ve set up a GoFundMe to defray the costs of representation, as I make no money from this site and assume the legal risks myself. So if you support this kind of work and value a free press, please consider making a donation.

Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Donald Trump

You can’t always fit everything into a story. This was one of the loose ends that didn’t make it into my recent Rolling Stone piece on Donald Trump’s connections to the world depicted in the Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman. You can read it here.

Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was an underboss in the Gambino crime family, who admitted a role in 19 murders.

After his arrest in 1991, Gravano agreed to testify against his boss, John Gotti, and dozens of other Mafia stalwarts. In exchange, he received a sweetheart deal from prosecutors: five years in prison.

On March 10, 1993, Gravano testified before the Senate as part of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation’s probe into corruption in professional boxing. Trump, who owned several casinos in Atlantic City that staged big fights, comes up several times in Gravano’s testimony.

Here, Gravano tells the Senate how he would “reach” Donald Trump.

Zero Hedge, Russia, and the Business of Conspiracies

Note: On December 23, 2019, I was notified that a criminal complaint (see English summary here) had been filed against me with the Bulgarian prosecutor general’s office by the subject of this piece, Krassimir Ivandjiiski. I was given a deadline of December 31 to take down this piece. I refuse to do so.

For my lastest story in The New Republic magazine, I tried to figure out where conspiracy theories come from. The answer took me on a strange reporting journey that led to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It’s a long read, but a good one, and you can read it here.

The story mentions Zero Hedge, a popular financial blog. There wasn’t room in the TNR piece to get into it, but Zero Hedge and What Does It Mean have a lot in common. They have both found that Russia and conspiracies are good for business.

Zero Hedge, with its mix of gloom-and-doom financial analysis, current events, conspiracies, and pro-Russia commentary, is one of the most popular sites on the Internet. It ranks in the top 2,000 of all Internet sites worldwide, meaning that it pulls in more than a million views every day.

Zero Hedge says its mission is “to widen the scope of financial, economic and political information available to the professional investing public” and it does that by refusing to follow what it calls the “pro-US script.”

Instead it follows the pro-Russia script.

It runs stories that hew the Kremlin line, such as how the poisoning of a double agent in England was staged by British intelligence operation or how the Steele Dossier was created by Internet trolls. Throw in commentary from a self-described “Kremlin troll” and writings from Russia Insider (which the Trump State Department describes as “an English-language publication linked to pro-[Russian] government oligarchs”) and you see how many think Zero Hedge is some kind of Russian disinformation operation.

Despite its pro-Russia leanings, or perhaps because of them, Zero Hedge a critical part of the right-wing conspiracy ecosystem. This became clear when Facebook temporarily blocked Zero Hedge in March, prompting howls of outrage from people in President Trump’s circle like his son, Don Jr., Nigel Farage, and Katie Hopkins. (The ban was lifted, and Facebook told Breibart that it was the result of a “mistake with our automation to detect spam.”)

A few days later, Australian Internet providers blocked customer access to Zero Hedge after a gunman killed 51 people in a New Zealand mosque.

The Australian ISP ban had less to do with the site and more to do more with the people who read it.

Zero Hedge readers were sharing links to the shooter’s live-streamed video of the massacre, which many of them thought was a hoax.

Yes, these are people who are so narcissistic that they think the mass slaying of 51 unarmed people in a mosque is all about them.

Who is behind Zero Hedge?

All posts on Zero Hedge are written under the pseudonym of Tyler Durden, the character played by Brad Pitt in the film Fight Club. “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” reads the Zero Hedge “manifesto.”

Of course, anonymity is also a shield for someone who has something to hide.

In a 2016, a former Zero Hedge employee named Colin Lokey, who wrote much of the site’s political content, told Bloomberg that he felt pressure to frame issues on the site in a way that felt disingenuous.

“I tried to inject as much truth as I could into my posts, but there’s no room for it,” Lokey explained. “Russia=good. Obama=idiot. Bashar al-Assad=benevolent leader. John Kerry= dunce. Vladimir Putin=greatest leader in the history of statecraft.”

Lokey identified the other Durdens at Zero Hedge as Dan Ivandjiiski, a Bulgarian-born financial analyst banned from the industry in 2008 for insider trading, and Tim Blackshall, a credit derivatives strategist in San Francisco. In a telephone interview, Ivandjiiski told Bloomberg that he and Blackshall had been “on the payroll.”

Neither Ivandjiiski nor Blackshall own Zero Hedge directly. The site is owned by ABC Media Ltd. In one lawsuit, ABC Media was identified as a Bulgarian company.

Cornerstone Macro v Ivandjiiski

Indeed, ABC Media Ltd. is listed on Bulgaria’s corporate registry.

Founded in 2011, ABC Media (АБЦ Медия) is a single member LLC. The sole proprietor is Daniel’s father Krassimir Ivandjiiski (Красимир Иванджийски).

If you can read Bulgarian, here’s the company’s corporate filing.

In addition, Zero Hedge’s domain name is registered under Krassimir’s name at an address in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Who is Krassimir Ivandjiiski?

Krassimir Ivandjiiski

Krassimir Ivandjiiski has an interesting background.

Born in Bulgaria in 1947, he was educated at the First English Language School in Sofia and the Warsaw School of Economics.

As a young man, Ivandjiiski worked in the Bulgarian the Ministry of Foreign Trade, before leaving to join the military and begin a career as a journalist. He became a “special envoy before 1990 to the most important political and military conflicts.” He spent more than 12 years abroad as a foreign in Prague, Warsaw and Vienna, then in Africa — Harare and Addis Ababa.

Craig Pirrong, who blogs at Street Wise Professor, wrote that this is the perfect resume for a spy:

That is an intel operative’s CV with probability 1. Probability 1. Every one of those jobs was a classic cover. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever—none—that Mr. Ivandjiiski senior was a member of the Bulgarian Committee for State Security (Държавна сигурност or DS for short)—the Bulgarian equivalent of the KGB. And remember that Bulgarian DS was the USSR KGB’s most reliable allied service during the Cold War. It carried out wet work in western countries, notably the “umbrella murder” of Georgi Markov in London. It was linked to the plot to assassinate the Pope; although in the topsy-turvy world of intelligence, it is also alleged that the CIA fabricated the case against the DS. Regardless of the truth about the links to the attempt on John Paul II, it was a very, very, very nasty operation. (The African stops in Ivandjiiski’s resume makes it highly likely that his path intersected that of another charmer, Igor Sechin, who was a “translator” in Africa.)

On his website, Krassimir Ivandjiiski assures us that he had nothing to do with the KGB and he will sue anyone who says otherwise. Zero Hedge has attacked Pirrong as “the world’s favorite finance ‘expert’ for Wall Street hire.”

In 1994, after the Soviet Union collapsed, he began publishing a Bulgarian tabloid, Strogo Sekretno (Top Secret), which describes itself as the country’s only independent newspaper. Strogo Sekretno is published by a separate company, Primex-7 Ltd., also owned by Ivandjiiski, senior.

I found out about Strogo Sekretno because it often runs the fake conspiracy stories created by What Does It Mean. Krassimir Ivandjiiski also published Bulgaria Confidential which has run stories that have nothing to do with Bulgaria such as drug trafficking in Montana.

The site is also filled with pro-Putin, anti-Semitic garbage:

  • “The US dollar is built on the so-called ‘Jewish Mafia’. This is not some racial prejudice, but a proven truth.” Source
  • Millions of people in Russia and around the world were stunned to see Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Victory Parade in Moscow on 9 May. This hideous spectacle let the genie out of the bottle: “What is it? What’s going on with the Zionist Netanyahu and at whose expense?” Source
  • “Chabad is a “racist, criminal Jewish supremacist doomsday cult.” Source
  • “It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Talmudic behavior is the real cause of Anti-Semitism.” Source

Zero Hedge, for the most part, steers clear of such outright anti-Semitism, but is nevertheless very popular with the sort of people who like the hatred Krassimir Ivandjiiski likes to spew.

Just look at the Zero Hedge comments section: a lot of racists and crackpots are reading. Don’t believe me? Do a search for the n-word or “joo” in the Zero Hedge comments section.

What Is This All About?

In a word, money.

“They care what generates page views. Clicks. Money,” Colin Lokey, the former Zero Hedge employee, told Bloomberg.

Zero Hedge says they have nothing to do with the Russian government or any government. “We have also never accepted a dollar of outside funding from either public or private organization – we have prided ourselves in our financial independence because we have been profitable since inception,” the site wrote.

As my story on What Does It Mean shows, this may very well be true. It would be nice if Vladimir Putin were secretly running things, but the sad truth is sites like Zero Hedge don’t need to take marching orders from Russia; they gravitate to it on their own because it keeps the audience happy.

And keeping the audience happy is what really matters. An audience comprised of racists, anti-Semites, extreme right-wingers, and conspiracy wingnuts is a valuable one. They are all credulous fools, and, as all dime-store preachers know, the credulous are easily monetized.

Krassimir Ivandjiiski, who did not respond to emails sent to ABC Media and Strogo Sekretrno, wrote on his site that the only reason his name is connected to Zero Hedge is because “they even did not have $30 for the initial registration.”

That may have been true at one time, but the web domain registration fee is spare change for Zero Hedge today. Dan Ivandjiiksi, who didn’t respond to questions, lives in a multi-million dollar mansion.

It’s possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria because it’s somehow connected to a Kremlin disinformation operation. It’s also possible that Zero Hedge is registered in Bulgaria for financial (tax?) reasons.

The bottom here is the bottom line. Conspiracies are big business.