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FBI probing Manafort financial deals

FBI probing Manafort financial deals
© Greg Nash

The FBI is investigating financial transactions made by President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, according to a New York Times report. The investigation centers around Yohai's alleged financing of luxury houses and apartments in New York and California using money from Manafort and other investors, including actor Dustin Hoffman.

Yohai, who married Manafort's daughter Jessica in 2013, formed shell companies to purchase luxury properties in the Hollywood Hills with money from Manafort. Hacked text messages stolen from the phone of Manafort's other daughter, Andrea, reveal that Manafort had a "50/50" stake in the company with Yohai and that Andrea suspected her brother-in-law was running a Ponzi scheme.

“Her hubby is running a Ponzi scheme,” Andrea Manafort wrote in the hacked texts. “I’m sure of it.”

Yohai was accused of running a Ponzi scheme in 2016 in a lawsuit filed by Guy Aroch, a fashion photographer who says he invested $2.9 million in Yohai and Paul Manafort's business, according to the report. Yohai denied the accusations in a court filing.

The lawsuit also accuses Yohai of using his connection to Manafort to meet celebrity investors for the scheme. It's unclear how Yohai secured the $3 million investment from Hoffman and his son, Jacob, but the Times reports that a photo shows Yohai and Jacob Hoffman together at a website launch party in 2015. Hoffman's lawyer didn't respond to the Times' request for a statement.

“This allegation that I participated in fraud and criminal activity is obviously an extremely derogatory accusation that will harm my reputation,” Yohai wrote.

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Aroch's lawsuit accuses Yohai of creating a “web of dozens of limited liability companies”  to repay investors with new money from newer investors to give the illusion of quick returns on investments.

According to the report, it's unclear whether the FBI investigation into these financial transactions is related to the broader FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Many of Manafort's real estate purchases were related to his lobbying work for a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine.

Jessica Manafort filed for divorce from Yohai in March, and it's unclear if the partnership between Paul Manafort and Yohai is still active.