CNBC is reporting that Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election of 2016 had help from a most unlikely source. Paul Manafort, one of the most obvious targets of the inquiry, was indicted Monday. Yet the evidence used to indict him was provided by a most unlikely source.
As CNBC writes, Manafort was exposed by “a blogger in Brooklyn, New York. And it’s all because Manafort wasn’t a very good neighbor.”
“I noticed this brownstone, it was really dilapidated, it had a lot of construction debris,” said Katia Kelly. Kelly runs a neighborhood blog she calls Pardon Me for Asking. “It was just like gee, poor neighbors.”
The property wasn’t being kept up well, so Kelly traced back the ownership to see who she might alert to its condition.
“The Intercept, an online news outlet, cited Kelly’s article shortly after it was published,” CNBC writes. “After the indictment, Kelly’s story was cited by publications including Vanity Fair.”
A neighbor knew the property belonged to Manafort, and told as much to Kelly, who then had to trace ownership back through a line of limited liability companies. “MC Brooklyn Holdings LLC,” held the title.
And Kelly, through her search, found a building permit with Manafort’s name on it. There was something about the mortgage on the property, though, that wasn’t right. It far exceeded the market value for the neighborhood.
“I don’t know what to make of all of this,” Kelly wrote in her blog. “Maybe one of my readers can interpret these transactions?”
Kelly was approached by two lawyers. “Those two attorneys, Julian Russo and Matthew Termine,” CNBC writes “published their research on their own website.”
Kelly’s search is mentioned in the indictment, though not directly. And the neighborhood has taken notice. After the indictment Monday, someone posted a sign on the brownstone that reads “The House That Brought Down A President.”
“I have to say that I probably didn’t realize that my little blog post was going to go ahead and have a part in a national investigation,” Kelly said. “Now that I know, I feel kind of proud of myself, and my kids are proud of me.”
Here’s the text from the indictment.
“Also in 2012, MANAFORT — through a corporate vehicle called “MC Brooklyn Holdings, LLC” similarly owned by him and his family — bought a brownstone on Union Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, New York. He paid approximately $3,000,000 in cash for the property. All of that money came from a MANAFORT entity in Cyprus. After purchase of the property, MANAFORT began renovations to transform it from a multi-family dwelling into a single family home. In late 2015 through early 2016, MANAFORT sought to borrow cash against the property. The institution MANAFORT went to for the loan provided greater loan amounts for 22 “construction loans” — that is, loans that required the loan amounts to be used to pay solely for construction of the property and thus increase the value of the property serving as the loan’s collateral. The institution would thus loan money against the expected completed value of the property, which in the case of the Union Street property was estimated to be $8,000,000. In early 2016, MANAFORT was able to obtain a loan of approximately $5,000,000, after promising thebank that approximately $1,400,000 of the loan would be used solely for construction of the Union Street property. However, MANAFORT never intended to limit use of the proceeds to construction as required by the loan contracts. In December 2015, before the loan was made, MANAFORT wrote his tax preparer, among others, that the construction loan “will allow me to pay back the [another Manafort apartment] mortgage in full. …” Further, when the construction loan closed, MANAFORT used hundreds of thousands of dollars from the construction loan to make a down payment on another property in California.”