Thursday, February 08, 2024

Trump Pardon Recipient Fined $20 Million in Predatory Lending Case (NY Times)

Attorney General Robert Francis Kennedy said, "If we do not, on a national scale, attack organized criminals with weapons and techniques, they will destroy us."  From The New York Times;

Trump Pardon Recipient Fined $20 Million in Predatory Lending Case

Jonathan Braun, whose sentence for drug smuggling was commuted in the final hours of the Trump presidency, was fined over separate accusations that he bilked and threatened borrowers.

Shadows are cast on the exterior of the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington.
A judge, citing Jonathan Braun’s “egregious” behavior, nearly doubled the amount a jury advised Mr. Braun should pay in a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission.Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Shadows are cast on the exterior of the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington.

When President Donald J. Trump, in his final hours in the White House in early 2021, commuted a 10-year drug smuggling sentencebeing served by a New Yorker named Jonathan Braun, he made no mention of Mr. Braun’s many other legal problems.

Months earlier, the Federal Trade Commission and the New York State attorney general had filed suits against Mr. Braun saying he swindled and intimidated borrowers who had taken money from a network of predatory lenders he ran, charging usurious interest rates and making violent threats.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York imposed $20 million in fines on Mr. Braun after finding him liable for the accusations made by the trade commission. Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan excoriated Mr. Braun in the ruling, depicting him as a hardened, craven man who “gleefully, with little remorse,” boasted about his illegal conduct and treated it as a “laughing matter” as he threatened the business owners he gouged.

“The court finds that it must consider the utter disregard and contempt that Mr. Braun showed for consumers,” Judge Rakoff said in a 35-page ruling. “The evidence showed that Mr. Braun blatantly ignored or disregarded consumer complaints and spewed vile threats and profanities when a consumer was purportedly unable to pay his debts. Mr. Braun’s conduct toward consumers was completely out of bounds and inappropriate.”

The judge cited a video that one of Mr. Braun’s business associates filmed of him threatening a business owner he claimed owed him money.

“Among other things, Mr. Braun threatened to send the consumer to jail and said, using profanity, that he would spit on” the customer’s face on visiting day, the judge said. “Mr. Braun told the consumer to drive his Honda ‘off a cliff’ and that he hoped the consumer’s wife would leave him.” Throughout the call, the judge said, Mr. Braun also called the consumer names including a “loser,” a “degenerate” and a number of obscenities.

The New York Times reported in November that Mr. Trump’s commutation of Mr. Braun’s 10-year sentence in an unrelated drug case dealt a significant blow to an ambitious criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

That investigation was focused on indicting predatory lenders like Mr. Braun. Mr. Braun’s defense lawyer and prosecutors had been in negotiations for a cooperation deal that would have let him out of prison in exchange for turning on those he worked alongside and even secretly recording their conversations.

But when Mr. Trump freed Mr. Braun, the government lost leverage over him and he has since refused to cooperate with the authorities.

The Times also found that Mr. Braun’s family relied on its connections to the family of Jared Kushner to help open the doors of the White House and ultimately have his case brought before Mr. Trump.

The ruling on Tuesday was related to the lawsuits that were filed against Mr. Braun in June 2020, while he was serving the first months of his sentence on the drug charges in federal prison. The suits — which were publicly filed at the time along with news releases laying out Mr. Braun’s conduct — accused him of using the specter of violence to threaten and intimidate small-business owners at the same time he was essentially stealing money from them.

Judges overseeing both suits ultimately barred Mr. Braun from working in the merchant cash advance business in New York and the entire country.

In the case brought by the Federal Trade Commission, a jury had provided a judge with an advisory verdict that Mr. Braun should pay a total of $11 million. But the judge nearly doubled it, he said, because of how “egregious” Mr. Braun’s behavior was.

The apparent lack of vetting of Mr. Braun by the Trump White House highlighted the slapdash manner in which Mr. Trump made decisions about using his clemency powers. It also underscored how some of those who received pardons or commutations had used connections to get their cases considered, bypassing the traditional system run by the Justice Department to vet and recommend pardon applicants.

Several other recipients of Mr. Trump’s clemency grants have found themselves back in legal trouble.

A pardon wiped away the conviction of the Republican operative Jesse Benton related to an endorsement-buying scheme during the 2012 election. Mr. Benton was sentenced last year to one and a half years in prison for a campaign violation related to the 2016 election — facilitating an illegal contribution from a Russian businessman to help Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump commuted the 24-year prison sentence of a former used-car salesman named Eliyahu Weinstein who had been convicted of investment fraud, including a $200 million Ponzi-style scheme that preyed upon his tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community. Mr. Weinstein was charged last year in a new fraud case that allegedly cheated at least 150 people out of $35 million.

Mr. Trump’s political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, was pardoned in January 2021 for charges related to fund-raising fraud. A year and a half later, he was convicted on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena calling him to testify to the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. He is appealing.

Other recipients of clemency from Mr. Trump who have found themselves back in legal trouble include Ken Kurson, a Trump ally who pleaded guilty in 2022 to charges related to cyberstalking his former wife, and the rapper Kodak Black, who has pleaded not guilty to drug charges.

Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.

Michael S. Schmidt is an investigative reporter for The Times covering Washington. His work focuses on tracking and explaining high-profile federal investigations. More about Michael S. Schmidt

1 comment:

Eric said...

Like Hitler, Trump took all the rot and cess and all the outcasts under his wing and promised to put them in charge instead of being where they belong... away from others. Anyone good would be a liability to his greasy movement. That dishonest grift. All the snake oil salesmen were encouraged to join Trump at the Star Wars Bar