Who is Evgeny Freidman? Michael Cohen’s ‘Taxi King’ Business Partner May Be Key to Russia Investigation

Prosecutors may have obtained a key witness to aid in their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. 

Michael Cohen’s business partner, 'Taxi King' Evgeny Freidman, will assist government officials in investigations as a possible witness in order to avoid jail time for criminal tax fraud and grand larceny, The New York Times reported citing anonymous sources Tuesday. Freidman's cooperation may put pressure on Cohen, a personal lawyer to President Donald Trump who is under criminal investigation, to comply with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Freidman, a Russian immigrant who managed a taxi business with Cohen, was banned last year from working in the industry and was later disbarred after he was charged with four counts of criminal tax fraud and grand larceny, with a maximum prison sentence each of 25 years. After allegedly agreeing to work as a witness, he pleaded guilty to just one count of evading $50,000 in taxes and will serve five years of probation. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood confirmed that he will also pay $5 million in restitution to New York State.

Freidman told the court that he was very aware of the details of his plea deal, and his lawyer Patrick Egan, said he was pleased with the outcome. 

Freidman, 46, was once the largest operator of taxi medallions, owning about 800 of the plates that allow taxis to operate in New York, and had helped bring Cohen into the taxi business. Together they managed Cohen's 32 taxi medallions.

In 2015, Freidman was separated and divorced from his wife after allegedly throwing her into a wall, and was in need of a new apartment. He moved into Trump Park Avenue, where Cohen and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner lived. Some reports say he moved into an apartment leased to him by Ivanka and Jared

Around the same time, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft began to dominate the New York livery scene and yellow-cab medallions rapidly lost value. Freidman, who had taken out loans against the value of the medallions at their peak was forced to default on a $34 million loan from Citibank and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After he filed, the New York District Attorney opened an investigation on him for unpaid taxes. 

Last year, he was charged by then New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with "failure to remit to the New York State Tax Department over $5 million in 50 cent MTA surcharges between 2012 and 2015."

"The 'Taxi King' built his empire by stealing from New Yorkers—pocketing money that should instead have been invested in our transportation system," said Schneiderman.

Freidman has also been sued for other shady business acts. In 2016, a former business partner accused him of making death threats against his family. That same year, Everett Abitbol, a Philadelphia-based business partner, said that Freidman had paid out $1.6 million to fake drivers and pocketed the money. 

Cohen himself is under investigation. Agents searched his home and office, as well as his hotel room, for documents last month, acting in part on a referral from Mueller's office. 

Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump before the 2016 election. He also allegedly signed consulting contracts promising access to the president. 

GettyImages-88559774 Evgeny Freidman (second from right) is honored at the 2009 Russian Heritage Festival with its co-founder Rina Kirshner and then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with other personalities and honorees, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, on June 17, 2009. Freidman will assist government officials in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to avoid jail time. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images