Even as the indictment of Paul Manafort was being unsealed, a crew of uncommonly skilled and efficient workers was laboring with devoutly honest grace at the Brooklyn brownstone the former Trump campaign manager allegedly purchased with laundered money, then used as collateral for fraudulent loans.
“He has not been here for a week and three days,” the contractor from Contreras Innovations said Monday morning.
The contractor, who gave his name only as Marti, was unaware that Manafort had been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“You’re kidding,” he said when The Daily Beast told him.
He examined a copy of the indictment, United States of America v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., that charged Manafort had, among other things, used two wire transfers from a Cyprus shell company to purchase the brownstone at 377 Union Street in Carroll Gardens in 2012. He had then secured a $5,000,000 loan from Federal Savings Bank with the guarantee that he would use $1,400,000 of it solely for renovation of the property.
“However, MANAFORT never intended to limit use of the proceeds to construction as required by the loan contracts,” the indictment charges. “In December 2015, before the loan was made, MANAFORT wrote his tax preparer, among others, that the construction loan ‘will allow me to pay back the mortgage [on another Manafort apartment] in full…’”
The indictment continues, “Further, when the construction loan closed, MANAFORT used hundreds of thousands of dollars from the construction loan to make a down payment on another property in California.”
As was first reported by The New York Times in September, Manafort was told he could expect to be indicted following an early-morning raid on his home in Virginia in July. He likely figured that the possible charges could involve the guarantee accompanying the brownstone loan. He may have been seeking to head that off when he hired Contreras to renovate 377 Union Street.
“Two weeks and one day ago,” Marti said on Monday.
The timing suggests that Manafort may have only been seeking to duck a possible felony fraud charge. That would explain why he did not marvel at the speed and quality of the work when he came by the property.
“Few words,” Marti recalled on Monday.
Marti reported that he had already been paid, which made sense if Manafort’s primary purpose was to make it seem he had intended to make good on his guarantee to use the loan money for construction.
Marti remained so scrupulous that he insisted that credit go to whom it was due when a reporter complimented him on the stone work out front.
“It was not me,” he said. “It was them.”
Marti meant his crew, who appeared to be Spanish-speaking immigrants. He himself was not slow to marvel at their work. He further remarked on the city’s bounty of skilled and willing workers.
“There are so many out there,” he told The Daily Beast.
He allowed that he has often been surprised by workers who do not appear at all remarkable until they set to work.
“Then you see what they can do,” he said. “Amazing.”
He now had a whole crew of such workers. He figured the job will soon be all but done.
“In a week, it will be nice and painted,” he said.
The ultimate beneficiary may be the U.S. government if Manafort is convicted. The Manafort holdings subject to forfeiture as listed by the indictment include:
“The real property and premises commonly known as 377 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11231 (Block 429, Lot 65), including all appurtenances, improvements, and attachments thereon, and any property traceable thereto.”
Meanwhile, as the country buzzed about the Manafort indictment, Marti’s crew remained busy with the very opposite of crime.
Whether or not Manafort had only hired them in an effort to avoid being charged with turning a brownstone into a house of alleged felonies, the workers were making it into a testament to honest labor.
A man with muscles that come from construction, not the gym, was using a flat-bladed shovel to mix an expert batch of cement, not too dry, not too wet.
He imparted the crew’s secret, which is no secret at all and shames those who seek to make a fortune with schemes rather than a living with wholehearted effort. This is the same secret-that-is-no-secret of America’s greatness, acquired immigrant by immigrant.
“Hard work,” he said.