Throughout the beginning parts of 2018, the walls have been closing in around Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. First, it was revealed that he had facilitated a payment of $130,000 in hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels covering an affair she had with Trump.
Since then, he has faced federal raids and an ensuing revelation of a federal criminal investigation and further revelations about the questionable business practices that he has engaged in.
Now, there is another revelation. In addition to the consulting work that Cohen did for companies like AT&T and Novartis, Cohen engaged in a referral scheme that saw him pocket large amounts of cash for pointing a Florida firm towards a particular lobbying firm. In the end — unlike in many of his other endeavors — Cohen was successful in helping the firm get what it wanted, at least for the time being.
The Florida business in question is the U.S. Immigration Fund, owned by Nicholas Mastroianni II. The company connects foreign investors with domestic firms that aim to use those investors’ cash as a part of the controversial EB-5 visa program, which grants foreigners permanent residency visas if they put $500,000 into certain United States real estate developments.
The program might be familiar to some because of the Kushner family business aiming since Donald Trump took office to use it to attract investors to their activities. Seeing in large part as the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner serves in the White House, that practice came under scrutiny for seeming to represent the Kushners personally profiting off of the Trump presidency and has since been ended.
The issues with the program go beyond that, however. The regulations meant to govern it demand that projects receiving the foreign investments be in areas with high unemployment in an effort to boost the American infrastructure.
Although that might sound nice in theory, in practice, those involved in the program — like Mastroianni — engage in gerrymandering to get around the fact that developments in areas with high unemployment aren’t nearly as likely to attract foreign investors as those in areas with low unemployment and more robust local economies. Developers construct maps that suit their needs and in theory alone follow the law, and people like Mastroianni find investors to go along with the developments, pocketing large sums of cash along the way.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, interests in Congress like Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have sought to rein in abuse of the program. Those efforts have, for the time being, stalled — which is where Cohen comes in.
He referred Mastroianni to the lobbyists at Squire Patton Boggs last year, and in March, Congress voted to extend the EB-5 program by six months, marking a temporal victory for interests like Mastroianni and USIF.
Although what precisely Squire Patton Boggs did for USIF is not immediately publicly known, the Associated Press reports:
‘Federal reports show that USIF, based in Jupiter, Florida, ended up paying $370,000 to Squire Patton Boggs, an undisclosed cut of which went to Cohen.’
For the Trump lawyer currently facing issues ranging from the aforementioned government criminal investigation to a number of other legal challenges from Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti, the apparent success story of his work for USIF is certainly rather unique.
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