Feds’ hush-hush Hamptons hunt
A unique gathering took place on the cusp of Labor Day weekend within the high hedges of Southampton’s estate section. There were boldfaced names involved — but it wasn’t a fundraiser.
FBI and Homeland Security investigators on Thursday searched 19 Duck Pond Lane along with posh properties in Manhattan and Miami, all linked to billionaire Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, long a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vekselberg has been subjected to tighter U.S. sanctions, and in April, his $120 million yacht called The Tango was seized in Spain, with officials charging money laundering and bank fraud in connection with allegedly hiding its ownership.
Last week, Miami-based FBI spokesman Jim Marshall ambiguously described the raids to reporters as “court-ordered law enforcement activity.” On Tuesday, four days later, no further public details were forthcoming about the raid and its possible connection to sanctions or perhaps other matters.
Real estate and tax databases checked by The Point show the Southampton manse as having nine bedrooms, 11 baths, with pool and garage. The total calculated assessed value is $12.9 million. It last sold in 2008 for $11.4 million and had been offered for sale at around $15 million last year before being pulled off the market. Service of process for the owner is a Manhattan attorney’s office.
Over the years, Vekselberg and his cousin and business associate Andrew Intrater have repeatedly come up in the news regarding former President Donald Trump.
In 2017, while the Trump-Russia scandal escalated, Vekselberg met with then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The Mueller investigation turned up 320 phone calls and 920 text messages between Intrater and Cohen beginning on Election Day 2016. Intrater has been a top official in Columbus Nova — a private-equity fund operator associated with Vekselberg.
Five years ago, it was disclosed that Columbus Nova moved $500,000 to an entity that Cohen set up. Also, Intrater made a $250,000 donation to the Trump inauguration committee.
Four years ago — before the Ukraine war and during the Trump administration — the Treasury Department had Vekselberg placed on a list of sanctioned Russians.
Whatever value Thursday’s raid on Duck Pond Lane had for federal investigators, there will be quite a back story — at some point.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1 in New York State, which provides a challenge for those running on the GOP line in this era: Independents or even some Democrats essentially have to be courted to win statewide.
Lee Zeldin’s list of Democratic or Democratic-appearing endorsers is not long, but a few have emerged in recent weeks: Bronx City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., former Assemb. Dov Hikind, of Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn-based club New Era Democrats.
None of these endorsers is a particularly partisan lefty Democrat. Hikind made waves for saying he’d vote for Donald Trump in 2020. Diaz Sr. has endorsed New York Republicans like George Pataki and Rick Lazio, and is known for a string of controversial statements and stances including the 2019 take that much of the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community.”
The New Era “Democrats” have also endorsed Republicans and, according to their website, call themselves Democrats “not because of who we are or who we support, because that we believe that in a democratic republic such as ours no virtue of birth or wealth of social standing is necessary for political aspirants except that virtue mattering most — that of individual worth” [sic].
Whether or not these supporters bring many other voters with them, they do hold conservative viewpoints that Zeldin has been focusing on during his run. In a Tuesday interview with The Point, Diaz Sr. blamed state Democrats for changes to the criminal justice system: “They are protecting criminals instead of protecting the decent families.”
Diaz thinks there are votes to be had in some portions of his Bronx territory: “The Hispanic community is a conservative community," he says. Some conservative strategists agree.
The cross tabs of some recent polls show Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul leading with Latino New Yorkers, though her margin there is much smaller than it is among Black voters.
Other data from the cross tabs, however, suggests much more definitive conclusions: Just a tiny percentage of opposite-party voters say they’d vote for Hochul or Zeldin: 12% on each side in a July Siena College poll, and less than 10% according to a SurveyUSA poll in August.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
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Houston has a problem
- NASA called off a second attempt to launch a new moon rocket, again due to a dangerous fuel leak. Shouldn’t a dangerous fuel leak be something you know about long before you get the rocket on the launchpad and prepare for liftoff?
- Another redistricting committee, this time in Brookhaven Town, is mired in another controversy over maps. At this point it’s clear: With redistricting committees, controversy is a feature, not a bug.
- After years of talk about prekindergarten, only about 30% of Long Island’s 4-year-olds have access to such classes. And our region is supposed to be an education powerhouse?
- Companies like Uber and Lyft that drive to and from Manhattan want to be exempt from paying congestion pricing fees. Given that they contribute mightily to congestion and air pollution, two things congestion pricing was devised to address, it doesn’t seem like they have a winning argument.
- The current heat wave in California is being described as a “heat wave for the ages.” Which is true only if “ages” is no longer measured by centuries, or even decades.
- Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says what most worries the nation’s election officials are “violence and disruption” in the midterms. They must be reading the social media posts and hearing the speeches calling for violence and disruption or warnings about it.
- Germany’s president apologized for his nation’s many failures before, during and after Palestinian militant attacks killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Well, that only took 50 years.
- After riptides and sharks, if you had bet on mauve stinger jellyfish as the next threat to Long Island beachgoers, congratulations. You should have played lotto.
— Michael Dobie @mwdobie