A “significant” business partner of President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen has agreed to serve as a potential witness for the government, The New York Times reported Tuesday evening.
Citing a person briefed on the matter, the Times reports that as a result of the agreement, the partner, Evgeny A. “Gene” Freidman, would avoid jail time in return for assistance to federal or state prosecutors.
Freidman, a Russian immigrant, is known as the “Taxi King,” managed a taxi business with Cohen, owning “hundreds” of the valuable New York City taxi medallions allowing cabs to be operated within the city. That is, until he was banned from working in the industry last year after being charged with tax fraud. Per CBS News:
Democratic State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the 46-year-old, dubbed the “Taxi King,” didn’t pay more than $5 million in taxes he owed. Officials said the taxes are from 50-cent Metropolitan Transportation Authority surcharges between 2012 and 2015.
Freidman pleaded guilty to the charges on Tuesday.
Financial and Personal Woes
The rise of app-based driving services like Uber and Lyft has led to a decline in the cab scene, but the last few years have been particularly turbulent for the Taxi King.
In 2013, for example, Freidman agreed to pay $750,000 in restitution to drivers working for his three taxi companies for overcharging them, and another $500,000 in fines as part of a settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Freidman was then hit with another lawsuit from the New York AG for failing to meet the settlement’s terms, which in turn was resolved with Freidman and his companies agreeing to pay over $250,000 “in fines, damages, and restitution.”
Freidman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016 to protect 46 of his 900 taxi medallions from foreclosures, after already having handed over 44 of them to pay debts to Citibank and other creditors. His wife filed for a divorce and custody of their 1-year old daughter that same year.
One of Freidman’s businesses was also evicted from its headquarters in 2016, after Freidman “stiffed the landlord, Pradera Realty, on the $15,265 a month rent.”
According to the New York Post, “The state attorney general’s office appointed a trustee to oversee his businesses,” because “he can’t be trusted to run them himself.”
In 2017, Freidman was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of one of his former assistants, Elaine Gutierrez.
And in another turn of events, Freidman, who last year represented himself in a lawsuit against a former business partner (whose entire family he was also charged with threatening to kill) saw his law license suspended in 2017:
A Manhattan appeals panel suspended the hack honcho from the bar “until further order” in part because of bad checks he allegedly wrote.
Freidman — who was stripped of 800 medallions by the Taxi & Limousine Commission in April, shortly before he was arrested for tax fraud — didn’t comply with a judicial probe into the check scheme, according to a ruling released Thursday by the Appellate Division.
In addition, Freidman “failed to provide information” about a contempt motion involving Citibank, the decision states.
Freidman was then disbarred on May 1.
Faced with five B felonies, including four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, Freidman accepted the generous deal, according to the Times:
Instead, he appeared in court in Albany on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a single count of evading only $50,000 worth of taxes; he faces five years of probation if he fulfills the terms of his agreement, the judge, Patrick Lynch of Albany County court, said during the roughly 20-minute proceeding.
“Do you understand the nature of the benefit your attorneys have accomplished on your behalf?” the judge asked Mr. Freidman during the proceeding on Tuesday.
“I greatly understand that and appreciate it,” Mr. Freidman replied.
Why It Matters
It has been speculated that the move spells bad news for Cohen, whose business activities are currently the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by New York City federal prosecutors.
The Times also suggested that the development could be used as leverage by prosecutors to encourage Cohen to “flip” on his former partners and assist special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential campaign. As The News Blender has covered previously, this has been a concern of Trump’s associates for some time now.
As for what it is they are afraid Cohen might divulge, it’s starting to look like it could just be a matter of time before we find out.