Trump lawyer lent money to cab mogul involved in legal pot industry
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NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, whose business dealings are being investigated by the FBI, and the lawyer’s father-in-law have lent $26 million in recent years to a taxi mogul with Chicago ties who is shifting into the legalized marijuana industry, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Semyon “Sam” Shtayner, a longtime business associate of Michael Cohen’s father-in-law Fima Shusterman, created Nevada-based Cannaboss LLC a day before the 2016 election.
A few months later, Shtayner took a majority position in a company that’s provisionally licensed to cultivate medicinal marijuana and produce edibles, the records show.
“He personally manages over 500 taxi medallions, but he is looking to transition from the medallion business to the cannibas” [sic], according to the personal narrative that Shtayner submitted in October to city officials in Henderson, Nevada.
It couldn’t be determined whether Shtayner used any of the loans — $6 million of which have come directly from Cohen since 2014 — to finance his grow operation.
Earlier this month, FBI agents searched Cohen’s hotel, office and home seeking banking records, as well as records related to his dealings in the taxi industry.
Records show Shtayner’s wife Yasya Shtayner and companies they control have used their properties in Chicago and Sunny Isles, Florida, as collateral for the loans from Cohen and his father-in-law, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.
Neither Cohen nor his lawyer responded to phone messages or an email seeking comment.
An attorney representing the Ukraine-born Shtayner, 63, in his Nevada marijuana ventures said his client had no comment.
Reached on his cellphone, Shusterman declined to discuss his loans or Shtayner.
News of Shtayner’s ties to the medical marijuana industry comes as the Trump administration finds itself somewhat split on marijuana policy.
Trump recently indicated he’ll support a law protecting states that already have legalized the drug — a position counter to that of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who stridently opposes any such effort and in January lifted restrictions that had kept federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against those complying with state marijuana laws.
Marijuana use is fully legal in Nevada, seven other states and Washington, D.C., and 38 states, including Illinois, allow medicinal or other limited uses.
The rapid rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft has disrupted the taxi industry, and Shtayner is among a handful of prominent taxi owners facing lawsuits from creditors who once lent liberally to medallion owners.
The value of medallions — the physical plates affixed to cabs that owners are required to display — have dropped precipitously in recent years. That’s left many taxi medallion owners overleveraged.
One former Cohen business partner, who managed Cohen’s taxis for years, is accused in a lawsuit by creditors of hiding his assets in financial disclosures to his bank — including a luxury apartment in a Trump skyscraper.
Another former manager of Cohen’s cabs has declared bankruptcy and is facing criminal charges from state prosecutors in New York, who accuse him of pocketing nearly $5 million in taxes.
The business relationship among Cohen, Shusterman and Shtayner stretches back years. Property records in New York show Shtayner and Shusterman were among investors in an upper Manhattan taxi garage and auto repair shop in the 1990s.
Last August, Shusterman lent at least $12 million against Chicago properties owned by Yasya Shtayner or their companies, the Sun-Times has reported. In a second series of four transactions in March, Shusterman lent the Shtayners or their companies an additional $8 million.
Four of the loans were made to Shtayner’s wife and four others were directed to two Chicago taxi companies she manages, according to corporate documents.
Cohen has a fleet of 22 cabs in Chicago and, with his wife and father-in-law, has owned 30 medallions in New York after initially going into business with his father-in-law, records show.
Shusterman — who, like Shtayner, started as a cab driver after emigrating from Ukraine — pleaded guilty in 1993 to federal money-laundering charges in a tax-evasion case involving cab drivers and a Brooklyn accountant.
Shtayner’s Chicago cab empire has grown rapidly, though 99 of his medallions are in foreclosure, and 15 have some sort of violation. Forty-nine have been taken over by the city for failure to pay taxes and fees.
Though Shtayner has been sued by creditors, operates a taxi business in a harrowing time for his industry and is borrowing heavily in nontraditional loans, the city of Henderson decided that he is adequately liquid financially. The city’s business operation division found that Shtayner and his business partner, a Las Vegas steel and aluminum provider, each had liquid assets that exceed the state’s requirement that they be able to free up to $250,000 within 30 days if needed, records show.