Two Cooley associates have been investigating and blogging for months about allegedly suspicious loans tied to a Brooklyn brownstone owned by Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.
Matt Termine and Julian Russo run the blog 377Union.com—named for the address of the Union Street brownstone in Carroll Gardens owned by a limited liability company belonging to Manafort, according to court documents. At Cooley, the two lawyers focus on emerging technology companies, according to their biographies on their firm’s website.
The pair, who declined to be interviewed by the New York Law Journal for this story, began their query into the building in February after another local blogger, Katia Kelly, discovered that the home that was an eyesore in the community was linked to Manafort and solicited help from readers in uncovering more information about the building. The New Yorker magazine picked up Kelly’s scoop in March, as Manafort’s legal problems were escalating.
On Oct. 30, Manafort’s troubles came to a head when he was indicted on conspiracy charges stemming from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.
Three properties and related transactions Termine and Russo had blogged about were included in the 31-page indictment, which alleges money laundering, tax evasion and unregistered foreign lobbying. Manafort is accused of using “hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.”
On Page 22, Article 36 of the indictment, the government alleges that in 2012, Manafort used a corporate vehicle called “MC Brooklyn Holdings LLC” that he and his family owned to buy the Union Street brownstone for $3 million in cash, which came from a Manafort entity in Cyprus. They began renovations to transform the multifamily dwelling into a single-family home, then sought to borrow against the home from late 2015 through early 2016. The indictment alleges that Manafort took out $5 million in construction loans against the estimated value of the home upon completion of about $8 million, after promising the lenders that $1.4 million of the loan would be used solely for construction. The indictment alleges that Manafort “never intended” to use the proceeds for that purpose and instead used the money to make a down payment on another property and to help pay the mortgage on another property.
Following the indictment, Russo told the Daily Beast,“This feels today like sort of a climactic culmination of all this time we spent along with other people we connected with through our website,” in an interview.
Russo and Termine also have tweeted about their blog. A Cooley spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Russo, who joined Cooley as an associate in August from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, focuses on “representing emerging growth technology companies and their investors,” according to his bio on the firm’s website, with a concentration in corporate and securities law.
Termine, who also joined Cooley in August from Wilson Sonsini, “focuses his practice on representing emerging growth technology companies and venture capital funds in venture capital financings, mergers and acquisitions and corporate governance matters,” his bio states.
Over the summer, Cooley poached several corporate tech attorneys from their rival Wilson Sonsini, boosting the firm’s technology-related practices.
The pair told the Daily Beast last week they were “actually not able to comment” on whether they had been contacted by Mueller’s investigators in recent months.
Russo and Termine’s sleuthing was done outside of their jobs at Cooley, according to a person familiar with the situation. It is not known if the firm knew about the blog Russo and Termine were running in their off-hours.