Pleas and pardons: A look at some real estate players who faced criminal charges

While Trump is first former president to be indicted, other big-timers have been in trouble with the law.

From left: Michael Shvo, Alex Adjmi, Ian Schrager, Donald Trump, Charles Kushner, James Batmasian

From left: Michael Shvo, Alex Adjmi, Ian Schrager, Donald Trump, Charles Kushner, James Batmasian (Getty)

Donald Trump may be the first former U.S. president to be indicted in a criminal case, but he’s far from the first big real estate player to get caught up with law enforcement.

Trump was indicted Thursday for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

A number of other prominent real estate developers have faced charges including bank fraud, tax evasion and witness tampering — and more than one received pardons from the former president who built his fame in their industry, while yet another received a pardon from Trump’s predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama.

Here’s a closer look at who they are, and what happened, in the cases involving well-known real estate players in the nation’s biggest cities.

Charles Kushner

In 2004, multifamily developer and landlord Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including making illegal campaign contributions, falsifying tax returns and witness tampering. He was sentenced to two years in prison and served 14 months, getting released in 2006.

In 2020, Kushner, whose son Jared is Trump’s son-in-law, received a presidential pardon from Trump.

Ian Schrager

Boutique hotel pioneer Ian Schrager was convicted of tax evasion in 1980. The property at issue was Studio 54, the famed Midtown nightclub he co-founded. He served 20 months in prison.

Schrager received a pardon from a different source — President Obama — in the final days of his term in 2017.

Alex Adjmi

Though family ties put Kushner in Trump’s orbit, he’s not the only real estate player the former president pardoned.

In 1996, a federal sting operation convicted Manhattan retail titan Alex Adjmi of laundering $22.5 million for a Colombian drug cartel through a Connecticut brokerage that turned out to be an undercover operation by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The head of A&H Acquisitions served nearly four years in prison. Released in 2000, Adjmi received a pardon from Trump in 2021.

Michael Shvo

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While juggling several prominent development projects, New York real estate broker-turned-developer Michael Shvo was hit with charges in 2016 for allegedly scheming to evade payment of more than $1.4 million in taxes related to the purchase of fine art, furniture, jewelry and a Ferrari.

Shvo pleaded guilty to the criminal tax fraud charges and settled the case for $3.5 million, avoiding any time behind bars, after a 19-month saga that sidelined him from a number of notable projects.

Larry Freed

Chicago real estate developer Larry Freed went from serving as head of one of the largest privately owned shopping center development firms to serving more than two years in federal prison on fraud charges. 

His firm, Joseph Freed and Associates, had obtained a $105 million line of credit for city and suburban developments based on collateral previously pledged to another bank, prosecutors said in 2016. Freed’s three-year sentence was reduced to probation in 2020.

James Batmasian

One of the largest private real estate owners in Boca Raton, Investments Limited founder James Batmasian pleaded guilty in 2008 to evading $250,000 in payroll taxes. He served an eight-month prison sentence.

Batmasian also received a presidential pardon from Trump in 2020. 

José Huizar

Former L.A. city council member José Huizar pleaded guilty in January to operating a pay-to-play scheme to give special treatment to developers who funded and facilitated bribes and other unlawful financial benefits.

The politician’s seat on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee gave him purview over major commercial and residential developments. His plea came after two developers, David Lee’s 940 Hill and Chinese real estate firm Shen Zhen New World I LLC, were found guilty of bribing Huizar.

Huizar faces a sentence of up to 26 years in prison, though federal prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to no more than 13.

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Clockwise from right: Donald Trump, Alvin Bragg, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen
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Trump indicted in Stormy Daniels hush money probe
Jose Huizar (Getty)
Los Angeles
Former LA city councilman José Huizar to plead guilty to bribery and tax evasion
Charles Kushner (Getty)
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New York
Charlie Kushner gets presidential pardon