In the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the Fusion GPS co-founder references someone whose name has gone largely unmentioned in the Trump-Russia scandal so far, but whose connections to the President are fascinating:
Adam Schiff (D-CA): If we are to get to the bottom of the issue of whether Russian organized crime money was used in the flipping of these properties…what institutions would you use that process with to get to the bottom of it?
Simpson: The first thing that I would do would beg to subpoena the brokers and…the other people who were involved in the transactions, and the title companies and the other intermediaries that would have that kind of information…And I would subpoena the company that was run by Elena Baronoff, who was the true person behind a lot of those deals.
Part of the reason Elena Baronoff has not come up much is because she died of leukemia in 2015, so she can’t be brought in to testify. But her involvement with the Trump Organization speaks volumes to the Russian’s ability to play a long game, cultivating Trump as an asset for their interests.
Elena Baronoff was VP of Customer Relations at Trump Grande in Sunny Isles Beach, a rich area of Miami, and one of the President’s best salespersons. Before that, she came to the United States from the Soviet Union as a “Cultural Attache in Public Diplomacy for the Russian Government,” a suspicious title that carries overtones of espionage. According to Ania, the website which reported on the story in May of last year, “Her entire job was to introduce Russians from all over the world to the Trump organization – allegedly to launder their money by buying real estate.”
Baronoff was brought on by Michael Dezer, who, with his son Gil, signed a deal in 2001 to develop a series of Florida properties that the real estate mogul would slap his name on. According to Baronoff’s LinkedIn page (still active two years after her death) she came on to the Trump Grande in December 2003. This coincides with Simpson’s assertion in the transcript that by this point, Trump had transitioned from associating with Italian mafia figures to Russian ones, so it would make sense for him to bring someone in who could make connections with wealthy Russians. In a Reuters report from last March, a team of reporters established that at least 63 people with Russian passports and addresses bought Trump properties in Miami through LLCs, spending at least $98.4 million. Some of these buyers include:
Anatoly Golubchik – Nicknamed “Taiwanchik” in the Simpson transcript, Golubchik was later arrested for running a high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower in New York.
Vadim Valeryvich Gataullin – Gataullin used an LLC, bought a unit in Trump Hollywood for $3.5 million and sold it for $4.1 million to a Delaware LLC (which are like candy for money launderers, since if you own one, you’re not required to disclose any information about yourself), and made a similar turnaround with another unit in 2012. He’s spent at least $28 million in Florida real estate.
Oleg Miserva – A coal baron who bought a Miami unit for $6.8 million through his corporation, Swiss Residence Alliance Inc.
Alexey Ustaev – Founder of Viking Bank in St. Petersburg, he bought two units in 2009 and 2011 for $1.2 and $5.2 million, respectively.
Andrey Truskov – Bought an apartment in Trump Hollywood for $1.4 million through his holding company, Absolute Group LLC.
At this time, Baronoff was the face of the Trump Organization to the Russians, traveling with them as a “Sunny Isles Ambassador” to new cities where they wanted to develop. Many of these trips were shams – as Rachel Maddow stated in her report Monday night, we know that Trump would often go to Eastern European cities to announce deals and leave without properties ever being built, merely there to take money from corrupt oligarchs and their entities. Most shocking of all, we have photographic evidence that Baronoff accompanied all three Trump children in their trips to Moscow, such as in the photo atop this article, and in these ones below, most likely taken between 2003-04:
Although what Baronoff sponsored is shady, very little of it is illegal, since lobbyists deregulated the provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that forces real estate companies to screen potential clients for money laundering. Still, revelations like this one don’t help the President’s case when he sends out tweets asserting his innocence:
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Since her death, Baronoff’s real estate company has been run by her son George, who spells his last name Baronov, and worked with his mother as a broker for the Trump Organization. He takes pride in how they helped turn Sunny Isles into a haven for Russians, earning the neighborhood the nickname “Little Moscow.” In his transcript, Simpson testifies that Baronov would still have access to the records of these transactions. Let’s hope that Robert Mueller takes note.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.