The media is in a tizzy this morning after news leaked out that the feds have cut a deal with one of Michael Cohen’s buddies. This time it’s Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, better known in the Big Apple as “the Taxi King.” (Is it just me, or does this entire investigation seem to revolve around people with names that sound like they came straight out of Central Casting for a mob movie?) Freidman was facing some very serious charges of stealing millions of dollars in government fees while managing a fleet of taxi medallions, but will now reportedly be “cooperating” with federal officials. This has led to unconfirmed speculation that he’s got some dirt on Cohen (and presumably President Trump) that he’s willing to share. (Associated Press)
Yellow cab magnate Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, the so-called Taxi King of New York, pleaded guilty to a single count of tax fraud in an Albany courthouse, almost a year after state prosecutors and tax authorities charged him with pocketing $5 million in mandatory, per-ride transportation fees.
For years, Freidman has managed hundreds of taxi medallions, the physical plates affixed to cabs that owners are required to display, including more than two dozen owned by Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer. The two men, both lawyers, also have been close personally for decades — Freidman told the real estate publication the Real Deal last February that Cohen helped him name his eldest son.
Still, it wasn’t immediately clear what if any information Freidman could provide to investigators probing Cohen’s financial dealings. His lawyer, Patrick Egan, declined to discuss the deal and said he couldn’t comment on what the plea “indicates regarding any case other than my client’s.”
This news immediately raises a herd of questions. First of all, if the Mueller probe has anything to do with this deal whatsoever we need to find out what the connection is. Assuming it does, the special investigation has now gone from looking for proof of Russian interference in an election and possible collusion with the President’s campaign team to… taxi medallion fraud in New York City?
Of course, federal prosecutors commonly work together if they have information which can help another case, so we’d have to know what Freidman has and is willing to give up. The guy was reportedly looking at more than twenty years in prison and massive fines. Now he’s going to walk with probation and an order to give back the money he stole? You’ve got to be offering up something good to get a deal like that. Also, Freidman is a Russian-American businessman who still has ties to the old country. So the plot thickens yet again.
Also worth noting is the fact that Freidman has been involved in political scandals and trouble with the law before. Back in 2013, he was identified as one of the top political fundraisers for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at the same time that he was ordered to pay more than a million dollars for swindling his taxi drivers by overcharging them for medallion fees. He later went on to be investigated in 2015 for possibly forging his ex-wife’s signature on millions of dollars in loans he then defaulted on. In short, this guy is a real piece of work.
Is it possible that this plea deal is entirely unrelated to Mueller? I suppose so. The taxi medallion system in New York City is corrupt on a legendary scale. Cohen had bought up a significant number of medallions via his friendship with Friedman, so maybe they’re just investigation the taxi industry and the Cohen connection is just a coincidence? Sure, that’s one possibility, but you should be immediately suspicious of coincidences when you’re talking about politics. The problem is that nobody is talking on the record yet about what Freidman is giving up or who it pertains to.
One part of me wants to say that if he had anything that could be used to really hit Trump we’d already know about it because Mueller’s team leaks like a sieve and they love handing out goodies to the press about the President. But this one might have come in from so far out of left field that they’re still processing what they’ve gotten hold of. If this guy has a tale to tell that significantly moves the Russia, Russia, Russia story forward I suspect we’ll know about it soon enough. Otherwise, this might be nothing more than yet another story of corruption in the New York City taxi industry.