MANHATTAN (CN) – Signaling added pressure on embattled Trump attorney Michael Cohen, prosecutors confirmed Tuesday that a former business partner of Cohen’s has struck a plea deal.
The New York Times dropped the bombshell about a possible secret cooperating agreement this afternoon after so-called “Taxi King” Evgeny Freidman pleaded guilty in Albany to a single count of evading $50,000 in taxes.
A Russian immigrant who had partnered with Cohen for years in the taxi business, Freidman was charged last year with failing to pay more than $5 million in taxes. Though the charges carried a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, the Times notes that Freidman is not expected to see any jail time as part of the plea deal confirmed this evening by newly minted New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment on the Times report, which broke shortly after an attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels accused Cohen of leaking audio tapes to the press.
“We have reason to believe that plaintiff Michael Cohen, or members of his team, have begun to leak select audio recordings to the media that were seized in the FBI raids,” Avenatti’s 1-page letter says. “We further have reason to believe that these recordings may relate to our client.”
It is unclear whether any news outlet published such a recording by press time, but such a disclosure would have a heavy irony.
After Avenatti released a report describing $4.4 million in suspicious transactions through Cohen’s shell company Columbus Nova LLC, Cohen has sought to bar Avenatti from participating in an upcoming hearing by questioning how Avenatti obtained the information.
The payments Avenatti tracked include transactions linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and Fortune 500 companies like Novartis and AT&T. Avenatti’s report had been silent on Cohen’s well-publicized taxi medallion business, which the Times suggested prosecutors could leverage against Cohen with a new witness by their side.
Outside the taxi industry, Cohen’s other business dealings have taken a bruising from Avenatti’s recently disclosed report.
While Cohen initially disputed its accuracy, AT&T and Novartis were among several entities featured in Avenatti’s report that quickly confirmed and apologized for the payments. Cohen then claimed that Avenatti’s report relied upon illicitly obtained documents, but Avenatti told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood on Tuesday that Cohen’s protests would be undermined by leak reports.
“Such leaks would plainly call into question the seriousness of Mr. Cohen’s arguments opposing my pro hac vice motion,” Avenatti said, referring to his motion to appear for the occasion in New York federal court.
California-based Avenatti is not licensed to practice law in New York but he wants permission to do so to protect what he claims to be his client’s privileged material seized in the FBI raid of Cohen’s home.
“Further, if the materials publicly disclosed relate to our client, the disclosures would also have relevance to our motion to intervene,” he said.
“We think that these select leaks are meant to paint a false narrative relating to Mr. Cohen and his business dealings at the same time he is not disclosing numerous other recordings of him speaking with individuals such as Mr. Trump,” the letter states.
Neither Avenatti nor Cohen’s legal team responded to email and telephone requests for comment.
Shortly before Avenatti filed his letter, the Los Angeles Times reported that a U.S. bankruptcy judge slapped his law firm with a $10 million judgment for a broken promise to a former colleague.
The article also reported that the Department of Justice accused him of defaulting on back taxes that the firm promised to pay under the terms of another bankruptcy settlement.
Judge Wood had been set to preside over a hearing in the Cohen matter on Thursday. That proceeding was rescheduled this afternoon for May 30, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.