Mr. Evgeny A. Freidman pled guilty in federal court in Albany, N.Y. this week to criminal tax fraud, to wit; failure to pay New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Administration $5 million in taxes. The New York Times reports that Freidman is a “significant business partner” of Michael Cohen, embattled attorney of Donald Trump, “and has agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness.”
What is left unstated in the Times report, but what they clearly want us to infer, is that Mr. Friedman has agreed to be a witness against Mr. Cohen. The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman joins in with similar reportage:
A New York taxi operator pleaded guilty Tuesday to improperly pocketing $5 million in state tax money and has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as they investigate President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, according to a person familiar with the case.
Notice the juxtaposition there. He has agreed to co-operate with federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors are investigating Trump’s attorney Cohen. If he has agreed to co-operate with prosecutors testifying against Cohen, why not state that, instead of alluding to it without support? The Times’ source was “a person briefed on the matter.”
New York City issues a limited number of taxicab operating permits called medallions. These medallions may be bought and sold, and the artificial scarcity imposed by the city creates supply shortages driving taxi fares up to the benefit of those medallion owners. Mr. Friedman has been called the “Taxi King” because he is, or was, the largest medallion owner, with more than 800. The medallions themselves were valued in excess of a million dollars each, before recent and massive devaluations brought about by popular ridesharing technology such as Lyft and Uber. Medallions can be had now for as little as $200,000.
While both papers refer to Friedman as Mr. Cohen’s “business partner,” Cohen disputed the assertions. Himself a medallion owner, Cohen offers that Friedman was a manager of his medallions and not a business partner, Tweeting:
“I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate my medallions according to the rules of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other. #MediaWrongAgain”
“I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate my medallions according to the rules of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.” #MediaWrongAgain
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) May 23, 2018
This has not been a good week for Mr. Cohen. In addition to the stories regarding Mr. Friedman, the BBC reports:
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.
Can federal prosecutors use Mr. Friedman to apply enough leverage to Mr. Cohen to have him turn on and implicate President Trump in criminal activity? That’s clearly what the implication of these pieces is. What specific criminality that may be is, perhaps purposely, left unsaid.