REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 29, 2017

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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March 29, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 28, 2017

Manafort’s Real Estate Deals

By David Reiss

Paul Manafort

WNYC quoted me in Paul Manafort’s Puzzling New York Real Estate Purchases. The story opens,

Paul J. Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager facing multiple investigations for his political and financial ties to Russia, has engaged in a series of puzzling real estate deals in New York City over the past 11 years.

Real estate and law enforcement experts say some of these transactions fit a pattern used in money laundering; together, they raise questions about Manafort’s activities in the New York City property market while he also was consulting for business and political leaders in the former Soviet Union.

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three homes in New York City, paying the full amount each time, so there was no mortgage.

Then, between April 2015 and January 2017 – a time span that included his service with the Trump campaign – Manafort borrowed about $12 million against those three New York City homes: one in Trump Tower, one in Soho, and one in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Manafort’s New York City transactions follow a pattern: Using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and then took out hefty mortgages against them, according to property records.

Buying properties using limited liability companies – LLCs – isn’t unusual in New York City, nor is borrowing against a home to extract money. And there’s no indication that Manafort’s New York real estate borrowing spree has come to the attention of investigators. In an emailed statement, Manafort said: “My investments in real estate are personal and all reflect arm’s-length transactions.”

Three Purchases, Lots of Questions

Manafort’s 2006 purchase of a Trump Tower apartment for all cash coincided with his firm’s signing of a $10 million contract with a pro-Putin Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, that was revealed last week in an investigative report by The Associated Press.

For the Carroll Gardens home, a brownstone on Union Street, Manafort recently borrowed nearly $7 million on a house that was purchased four years ago for just $3 million. The loans – dated January 17, three days before President Trump’s inauguration – were made by a Chicago-based bank run by Steve Calk, a Trump fundraiser and economic advisor.

Nine current and former law enforcement and real estate experts told WNYC that Manafort’s deals merit scrutiny. Some said the purchases follow a pattern used by money launderers: buying properties with all cash through shell companies, then using the properties to obtain “clean” money through bank loans. In addition, given that Manafort is already under investigation for his foreign financial and political ties, his New York property transactions should also be reviewed, multiple experts said.

One federal agent not connected with the probes, but with experience in complex financial investigations, said after reviewing the real estate documents that this pattern of purchases was “worth looking into.” The agent did not want to speak for attribution. There are active investigations of Manafort’s Russian entanglements by the FBI, Treasury, and House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence. Manafort has denied wrongdoing and has called some of the allegations “innuendo.”

Debra LaPrevotte, a former FBI agent, said the purchases could be entirely legitimate if the money used to acquire the properties was “clean” money. But, she added, “If the source of the money to buy properties was derived from criminal conduct, then you could look at the exact same conduct and say, ‘Oh, this could be a means of laundering ill-gotten gains.’”

Last spring, the Obama Treasury Department was so alarmed by the growing flow of hard-to-trace foreign capital being used to purchase real estate through shell companies that it launched a special program to examine the practice within its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCen. The General Targeting Order, or GTO, required that limited liability company disclose the identity of the true buyer, or “beneficial owner,” in property transactions.

In February, FinCen reported initial results from its monitoring program: “about 30 percent of the transactions covered by the GTOs involve a beneficial owner or purchaser representative that is also the subject of a previous suspicious activity report,” it said. The Trump Treasury Department said it would continue the monitoring program.

Friends and Business Partners

According to reports, Manafort was first introduced to Donald Trump in the 1970s by Roy Cohn, the former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy who went on to become a prominent and controversial New York attorney.

Long active in GOP politics, Manafort also worked as a lobbyist for clients who wanted something from the politicians he helped elect. His former firm – Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly – represented dictators like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire.

In the 2000s, Manafort created a new firm with partner Rick Davis. According to the recent investigative report by The Associated Press, Manafort and Davis began pursuing work in 2005 with Oleg Deripaska, one of the richest businessmen in Russia. Manafort and Davis pitched a plan to influence U.S. politics and news coverage in a pro-Putin direction, The AP said.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in a confidential strategy memo obtained by The AP.

In 2006, Manafort and Davis signed a contract to work with Deripaska worth $10 million a year, The AP reported.

Also that year, a shell company called “John Hannah LLC” purchased apartment 43-G in Trump Tower, about 20 stories down from Donald Trump’s own triplex penthouse. Manafort confirmed that “John Hannah” is a combination of Manafort’s and Davis’s respective middle names.

The LLC was set up in Virginia at the same address as Davis Manafort and of a Delaware corporation, LOAV, Ltd., for which there are virtually no public records. It was LOAV that signed the contract with Deripaska – not the “public-facing consulting firm Davis Manafort,” as the AP put it.

A lawyer for John Hannah LLC signed the deed on apartment 43-G for $3.675 million in November of 2006. But Manafort’s name did not become associated formally with the Trump Tower apartment until March of 2015, three months before Trump announced he was entering the presidential race in the lobby 40 stories down. On March 5, John Hannah LLC transferred the apartment for $0 to Manafort. A month later, he borrowed $3 million against the condo, according to New York City public records.

A year later, Manafort was working on Trump’s campaign, first as a delegate wrangler, then as campaign manager. Trump’s friend and neighbor had become a top advisor.

In a text message that was hacked and later obtained by Politico, Manafort’s adult daughter, Jessica Manafort, wrote last April: “Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together.”

In August 2016, The New York Times published a lengthy investigation of Manafort, alleging he’d accepted $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from a pro-Putin, Ukrainian political party between 2007 and 2012. Manafort resigned as campaign manager, but according to multiple reports, didn’t break off ties with Trump, who remained his upstairs neighbor.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said last week that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited period of time” in the Trump campaign.

Davis did not return WNYC’s calls for comment, but in an email exchange with The AP, he disavowed any connection with the effort to burnish Putin’s image. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said.

Buy. Borrow. Repeat.

Trump Tower 43-G was not Manafort’s only New York property.

In 2012, another shell company linked to Manafort, “MC Soho Holdings LLC,” purchased a fourth floor loft in a former industrial building on Howard Street, on the border of Soho and Chinatown, for $2.85 million. In April 2016, just as he was ascending to become Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort transferred the unit into his own name and borrowed $3.4 million against it, according to publicly available property records.

The following year, yet another Manafort-linked shell company, “MC Brooklyn Holdings,” purchased a townhouse at 377 Union Street in Carroll Gardens for $2,995,000. This transaction followed the same pattern: the home was paid for in full at the time of purchase, with no mortgage. And on February 9, 2016, just after Trump won decisive victories in Michigan and Mississippi, Manafort took out $5.3 million of loans on the property.  (Some of these transactions were first reported by the blog Pardon Me For Asking, and by two citizen journalists at 377union.com.)

Though the deals could ultimately be traced to Manafort, his connection to the shell companies would not likely have emerged had Manafort not become entangled in multiple investigations.

Public records dated just days before Trump was sworn in as President show that Manafort transferred the Carroll Gardens brownstone from MC Brooklyn Holdings to his own name and refinanced the loans with The Federal Savings Bank, in the process taking on more debt. He now has $6.8 million in loans on a building he bought for $3 million, records show.

David Reiss, a professor of real estate law at Brooklyn [Law School], initially expressed bafflement when asked about the transactions. Reiss then looked up the home’s value on Zillow, a popular source for estimating real estate values. The home’s “zestimate” is $4.5 to $5 million.

Reiss said unless there is another source of collateral, it is extremely unusual for a home loan to exceed the value of the property. “I do think that transaction raises yellow flags that are worth investigating,” he said.

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March 28, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Friday proposed a rule change that would give mortgage lenders more flexibility in collecting information about the ethnicity and race of potential borrowers, potentially making it easier for lenders to comply with a key fair lending law.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are scheduled to send their latest dividend payment to the Department of the Treasury later this month, but if a consortium of community groups and lenders has their way, that money will stay with the government-sponsored enterprises to help rebuild their dwindling capital base. In a letter sent Thursday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mel Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, a group that includes the Community Home Lenders Association, the Community Mortgage Lenders of America, and the NAACP asked the government to suspend the GSEs’ upcoming dividend payment to avoid the future need for another GSE bailout.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it is reassessing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in order to provide lenders with additional flexibility when collecting consumer ethnicity and race information. The bureau’s proposed amendments are intended to give lenders needed clarity on their obligations under the law, while promoting compliance with rules intended to ensure consumers are treated fairly.

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March 28, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 27, 2017

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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March 27, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 24, 2017

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released its new guidelines for the Section 108 loan of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The CDBG is a grant that provides financial resourcexs for large-scale real estate development projects, housing needs, and “financing for economic development.”
  • Freddie Mac mortgage rates decreased despite a vote for a mortgage rate increase by the federal government. This is the greatest fall in mortgage rates within the past 60 days. The Freddie Mac rate is 4.23% which is down from the 4.31% rate of last month. Despite the decrease, the low rate of 3.71% at the end of the Obama administration has not been matched.
  • Freddie Mac is helping borrowers without a credit score gain access to home loans. “The mortgage giant” will allow borrowers to use payment references and rent payment records to prove their history of timely payments.

 

 

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March 24, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 23, 2017

Light Bloggin’ Through March

By David Reiss

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March 23, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Dan Green writes an article entitled, “FHA Loan With 3.5% Down vs Conventional 97 Loan With 3% Down” which analyzes the benefits and drawbacks to each of the loan types mentioned. Based on the research, the conventional 97 loan seem to be more cost efficient over time for borrowers with higher credit scores; however, if an individual will not keep their initial home for a lifetime, then the FHA loan may be a better deal.
  • Although the Trump Administration would like to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the agency’s reform is not as pressing according to staffers of the Senate’s Banking Committee. “Dodd-Frank financial” reform and flooding relief are more of a priority for legislative reform.
  • Harlem’s Community Board 11 has approved a potential 68 floor tower in the East Harlem community. This approval is contingent upon 50% of the units being affordable, members of the community board 11 having a preference when applying, and creating three new school buildings in the surrounding areas.

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March 23, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments