Steve Witkoff revealed as “friend” of indicted Russian mobster

Developer wrote letter to condo board for Anatoly Golubchik
By Katherine Clarke | May 10, 2013 11:30AM

Updated at 6:21 p.m.: Real estate mogul Steve Witkoff, whose company is behind glitzy new condos at 10 Madison Park and 150 Charles Street, has a reputation for not being shy about betting the rent in his business ventures. And now there’s evidence that he’s a bit of a risk-taker in his personal life, too.

New documents obtained by The Real Deal show Witkoff submitted a recommendation for indicted Russian mobster Anatoly Golubchik more than two years ago when he applied to live in a condominium building at 971 Madison Avenue.

Golubchik played a key role in a high-stakes gambling ring based out of Trump Tower, according to indictments unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Billionaire art scion Helly Nahmad also submitted a letter for Golubchik; Nahmad is also named in the gambling indictment.

Witkoff, of the Witkoff Group, submitted the letter to the building’s board of directors. In the letter, dated Dec. 3, 2010, Witkoff describes Golubchik as a “friend” and as “a person of strong reputation and integrity.” There are no previous reports of the duo’s friendship.

How Witkoff came to know Golubchik or whether he was involved in gambling activities is not clear. In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, the developer said he had turned his back on gambling when he was 17 after a series of losses forced him to sell a new sports car he’d purchased from previous winnings at the racetrack.

In a statement to The Real Deal, a spokesperson for Witkoff said the executive regretted his actions and denied that he was involved in any gambling activities.

“Mr. Steven Witkoff met Golubchik in 2009 and submitted a recommendation to complete a board package as a favor to a mutual acquaintance,” the statement said. “He knew him tangentially. He regrets providing a reference on his behalf and acknowledges that it was a mistake. Mr. Witkoff has no involvement whatsoever in sports betting or poker games.”

Golubchik is charged with Nahmad, alleged Russian mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and poker pro Vadim Trincher with operating a criminal organization engaged in illegal gambling, money laundering and extortion.

The organization, headquartered at Nahmad’s palatial apartment at Trump Tower at 725 Fifth Avenue, allegedly catered to gambling oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union. Golubchik in particular was accused by federal authorities of extorting money through force and threats of force.

Another recommendation for Golubchik came from Nahmad, who has been slapped with racketeering and money laundering charges as part of the mass indictment, The Real Deal has learned. In his letter, Nahmad said he had conducted “numerous significant business transactions” with Golubchik. “Knowing Anatoly as well as I do, I can sincerely say that he and his wife Yelena will make a wonderful addition to your condominium,” Nahmad’s letter said.

Golubchik, whose main residence is in New Jersey, closed on his purchase of the apartment for $5.03 million in January 2011, according to public property records. The seller was John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of aviation company Dassault Falcon Jet, and his wife, Genevieve.

The apartment is now subject to forfeiture since it was allegedly acquired with funds obtained illegally through racketeering, according to an official complaint filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in federal court last month. The apartment has been empty since the couple purchased it in 2010, sources familiar with the case told The Real Deal.

Golubchik’s failure to disclose that he owned the home prompted the judge to increase his bail amount, from $3 million to $10 million.

Besides his Madison Avenue home, Golubchik has an apartment at Trump Tower in Sunny Isles, Fa., which he purchased in 2010, that also has been forfeited, according to the complaint.

Trincher’s two-unit apartment combination on the 63rd floor at Manhattan’s Trump Tower has been forfeited as well. Nahmad also owns a pad at Trump Tower, which he bought for $8 million last year, but that property does not appear to be subject to forfeiture.