Multiple defendant cases often resemble a lethal form of musical chairs as targets grab deals — leaving the loser still standing to face a full array of charges and cooperating witnesses. Trump former counsel Michael D. Cohen must be feeling like the music is about to stop after his close business associate Evgeny A. Freidman decided to take a deal from prosecutors. Freidman may be the only figure who could compete with Cohen on the higher Richter scale of sleaze. Update: Cohen denies that Freidman was ever this “partner” but does not address prior associations.
Called the the Taxi King, Freidman is a remarkably disreputable individual. It is always interesting how such characters tend to find each other. Friedman was disbarred earlier this month and spent time in prison after an earlier arrest in Illinois (shown in the mugshot above).
Freidman came from a Jewish family in Leningrad and immigrated to the United States as political refugees in 1976. He graduated from Skidmore College in 1992 and received his J.D. degree from Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Freidman was an incredible success given his origins and eventually acquired 900 cabs by 2015. His company is worth $120 million in 2009.
Cohen’s taxi medallion business is one of the areas of greatest scrutiny for federal prosecutors. The medallion business is known as one of the most corrupt in New York and has been the subject of repeated crackdowns. Not surprisingly, Cohen was drawn to it. Given their histories, I would be astonished if business deals involving both of these men did not ultimately involve a myriad of criminal allegations. Some of these charges can be brought in the state system, as was Freidman’s plea. This means that Trump cannot entirely protect Cohen from jail time — a consideration that could push him to consider a deal himself with federal prosecutors.
Friedman was accused of failing to pay $5 million in taxes and was facing up to 25 years for criminal tax fraud and grand larceny. His deal allowed him to plead guilty to a single count of evading only $50,000 worth of taxes in exchange for his cooperation. He will also face five years of probation.
Cohen got into the taxi business through marriage. His father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, is a Ukrainian former taxi driver who acquired medallions. When Cohen married his daughter Laura, he helped Cohen buy medallions. Notably, Cohen’s father-in-law reportedly loaned $20 million to the wife of a Chicago cab mogul who was also named in the warrant the FBI used to raid Cohen’s office. Shusterman gave the money to Yasya Shtayner, whose family owns Chicago Medallion Management Corp.
None of this is good for Cohen and it could prove equally bad for Trump. As Cohen’s business dealings are scrutinized, there is a rising chance of both state and federal charges. With his former business partner dodging 25 years, he had to promise something valuable. If not, there will be significant questions raised by prosecutors would give a sweetheart deal to a truly sleazy convicted felon.
With Cohen’s shady efforts to sell access to Trump, his seedy business associations speaks loudly about his character and ethics. In the same vein, Trump’s association with Cohen will long taint his own legacy.