As of Monday afternoon, Paul Manafort’s New York City neighbors did not appear to know that they lived near the former Trump campaign chief — or at least near one of his properties.
“We know nothing. I’ve never talked to, never seen him,” said a man who identified himself as Leo, who operates a private art gallery in the same 29 Howard St. walk-up building as Manafort’s property.
Manafort purchased the fourth-floor, 2,500-square-foot apartment for $2.85 million in 2012, according to Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s 12-count indictment of Manafort on Monday. Manafort and his associate Richard Gates stand accused of “conspiracy against the United States,” money laundering, and failing to register as lobbyists for a foreign government. Both pleaded not guilty before a judge on Monday.
Between January 2015 and 2016, the indictment says, Manafort charged “thousands of dollars a week” on Airbnb for the Howard St. apartment, which is located in a typical SoHo building sandwiched between high-end fashion boutiques and an empty storefront.
None of Manafort’s five neighbors at 29 Howard St. interviewed by VICE News said they had ever seen Manafort in the neighborhood, and they were all shocked to learn he owned property nearby.
One thing that didn’t surprise anyone: that Manafort was renting his property on Airbnb. “I’m sure, that I don’t find to be shocking at all,” said an employee of the home decor boutique Michelle Varian, after calling Manafort a “creep.” Yosi Barzilai, who runs an antique shop at 31 Howard St., didn’t know Manafort but said he “hates” Airbnb.
Past studies have found that neighborhood has a high proportion of illegal Airbnb listings. Airbnb declined to comment.
But it appears Manafort was breaking New York City law as well as the terms of his loan. It is usually illegal in New York City to rent an entire apartment on Airbnb for less than 30 days. The indictment says Manafort stressed to his son-in-law that they needed to keep a low-profile at Howard St, especially because the mortgage on the apartment was issued on the premise that the unit was “owner-occupied.”
“On January 26, 2016, Manafort wrote to his son-in-law to advise him that when the bank appraiser came to assess the condominium, his son-in-law should ‘[r]emember, he believes you and [Manafort’s daughter] are living there,” the indictment said.
The money used to purchase the Howard St. apartment allegedly came from an offshore entity in Cyprus, which Manafort didn’t report to the government; the money in Cyprus, per Mueller, came from unauthorized lobbying activities on behalf of ex-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Vladimir Putin.
Presently, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment appears to be leased (not on Airbnb) for more than $14,000 a month. The agent for the listing did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
Paul Manafort’s family owns a few properties in New York City. There’s a renovated brownstone in his name in the South Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. His daughter and her husband, as of last year, owned a few units in the same building on Broome St. in SoHo; the couple rented out those apartments for $699 a night each, according to the New York Post in October 2016.
The reason for all the Manafort family New York real estate, according to the Mueller indictment, is straightforward. Manafort needed a way to get cash from offshore accounts into the U.S. cleanly, so he turned to a time-honored tradition for money launderers: expensive real estate.
Manafort’s lawyer is set to address reporters in Washington on Monday afternoon.