- A blogger in Brooklyn, New York, wrote about suspicious information related to Paul Manafort's brownstone in February.
- On Monday, Manafort surrendered to law enforcement authorities to face money laundering charges related to the purchase of the property.
- Someone placed a sign on the brownstone designating it "The House That Brought Down A President."
And it's all because Manafort wasn't a very good neighbor.
"I noticed this brownstone, it was really dilapidated, it had a lot of construction debris," said Katia Kelly, who runs a neighborhood blog called Pardon Me for Asking. "It was just like gee, poor neighbors."
That's how Kelly first noticed a property owned by Manafort that would turn out to be evidence of an alleged multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme. Kelly wrote about how she traced ownership of the property in an article she published in February.
After a neighbor tipped her off to the news that Manafort owned the home, Kelly tried to prove it. The task wasn't easy, she said, because most of the transactions were conducted by limited liability companies.
The property was purchased by a corporate vehicle named "MC Brooklyn Holdings LLC," according to an indictment unsealed Monday.
Eventually, Kelly was able to find a permit with Manafort's name on it.
Some of the details Kelly found seemed odd, she said. For instance, the mortgage on the home exceeded the market value of the property in its dilapidated state.
"I don't know what to make of all of this," she wrote in the blog. "Maybe one of my readers can interpret these transactions?"
Her post was the subject of a good amount of chatter in her Brooklyn community, she said. At one point, Kelly said, she was approached by two young lawyers who told her that what she uncovered looked very strange. Those two attorneys, Julian Russo and Matthew Termine, published their research on their own website.
On Monday, Manafort surrendered to law enforcement authorities to face charges, including some related to his ownership of the Brooklyn brownstone. The Justice Department's indictment has 12 counts against the former Trump campaign official, including conspiracy to launder money. Manafort's business associate Rick Gates also was indicted.
Manafort and Gates both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Kelly is proud of her role in the investigation. In her latest article, published Tuesday, she wrote that someone placed a sign on the brownstone designating it "The House That Brought Down A President."
"I have to say that I probably didn't realize that my little blog post was going to go ahead and have a part in a national investigation," she said. "Now that I know, I feel kind of proud of myself, and my kids are proud of me."
Here's what the federal indictment had to say about the Brooklyn brownstone:
"Also in 2012, MANAFORT — through a corporate vehicle called "MC Brooklyn Holdings, LLC" similarly owned by him and his family — bought a brownstone on Union Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, New York. He paid approximately $3,000,000 in cash for the property. All of that money came from a MANAFORT entity in Cyprus. After purchase of the property, MANAFORT began renovations to transform it from a multi-family dwelling into a single family home. In late 2015 through early 2016, MANAFORT sought to borrow cash against the property. The institution MANAFORT went to for the loan provided greater loan amounts for 22 "construction loans" — that is, loans that required the loan amounts to be used to pay solely for construction of the property and thus increase the value of the property serving as the loan's collateral. The institution would thus loan money against the expected completed value of the property, which in the case of the Union Street property was estimated to be $8,000,000. In early 2016, MANAFORT was able to obtain a loan of approximately $5,000,000, after promising thebank that approximately $1,400,000 of the loan would be used solely for construction of the Union Street property. However, MANAFORT never intended to limit use of the proceeds to construction as required by the loan contracts. 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 [another Manafort apartment] mortgage in full. ..." 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."