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Austin developer cleared in 6-year-old fraud lawsuit



Austin real estate developer Peter Barlin has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a six-year-old federal fraud lawsuit.
A jury “completely exonerated” Barlin on Feb. 5 after a four-week trial in U.S. Western District Court in Austin presided over by Judge David Ezra, said Barlin’s lawyer, Dan Byrne.
The verdict showed that the claims of plaintiffs Steven Aubrey and Brian Vodicka — which included alleged connections to Russian organized crime and a real estate Ponzi scheme — were baseless, said Byrne, a senior partner at Fritz Byrne Head & Fitzpatrick PLLC in downtown Austin.
 “It was a huge relief to have this finally behind him, to have his name cleared once and for all,” Byrne said of Barlin.
A lawyer for Aubrey and Vodicka could not be reached for comment. Plaintiff attorneys Nicholas Reisch,David Scott, Thomas Watkins and Brian Weil Zimmerman were granted permission Feb. 23 to remove themselves from the case.
Barlin owns many buildings around town, especially in East Austin, and is responsible for the redevelopment of Penn Field and the Tillery Street Theater, among other projects. The Austin Business Journal most recently wrote about one of his properties when Zach Olschwanger turned a Springdale Road building into the Austin Bouldering Project.
There were two other defendants in the case: Sandra Gunn, who was cleared of all charges, and Greg Lahr, who was found partly negligent, said their attorney Anthony Icenogle. An order of final judgement listed a combined $1.57 million in judgements against Lahr.
Lahr is waiting to see how the post-trial period plays out, said Icenogle, a partner at Icenogle & Sullivan LLP. Barlin has filed a motion to throw out those claims and the judge has given Aubrey and Vodicka until March 1 to respond.
But Gunn “was completely vindicated” and felt “a mixture of relief that the case was resolved in her favor and anger that it took so many years and an unbelievable amount of money to resolve it," Icenogle said.
In the lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, Aubrey and Vodicka alleged Barlin and the other defendants orchestrated a real estate Ponzi scheme that resulted in them losing $1 million. They also said Barlin was allegedly linked to a Russian mobster.
Judge Ezra threw out the organized crime charges before the trial even began, Byrne said. The defense is trying to recoup some of the costs of defending those charges, which fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Otherwise, Byrne said, “we have a very limited avenue to try to get a very small portion of our fees back.”
Will Anderson coordinates digital coverage of business news.



Estonian Residence Permit Scandal: 5 Years After


helencraig Mar 1, 2016 Crime, News

Residence permits in first-class countries have always been a hot product for wealthy Russians. They crave legal protection for their assets and in case things go too wrong in their home country – an ability to flee somewhere where they would at least have a day in proper court if extradition is requested.
Those reasons are perfectly acceptable if the migrants themselves are legitimate businessmen and investors. But as we have learnt over the years, a great deal of Russian exiles are anything but that: hordes of corrupt officials and their relatives, fraudsters, embezzlers, organized crime figures and other undesirables are successfully acquiring residence rights in the EU and other Rule-of-law adhering States.
About five years ago a scandal broke out in Estonia, a European Union member bordering northern Russia, which shows just how bad the Russian criminal emigration problem is.
In December 2011 it was revealed that two Estonian consulting firms (Advisory Partners and Integer Invest) affiliated with and run by prominent Estonian politicians created a scheme allowing wealthy Russians to obtain investment-based Estonian residence permits without actually going through the normal procedure of making a proper investment.
The residence-permit seeking applicants were asked to pay around 65,000 Euro per person as ‘investment’ into one of the 78 allegedly sham companies registered at a single address in Tallinn. The PEP-affiliated consulting firms then handled all the paperwork and permits were issued.
When Estonian media uncovered the scheme, the two politicians stepped down. However what appeared to be most interesting were not the corruption allegations, but the list of the successful applicants who got their EU residency through the scheme, which was made public in the wake of the scandal.
The Estonian Police said in 2011 that it was launching investigation into allegedly illegal acquisition of residence permits. However, after that not much happened. Many of the ‘new residents’ kept their permits, as the political stir subsided.
This year I did some current research on the people on the original 2011 list. The news which accumulated over the past years reveal now that a good deal of those ‘investors’ were dubious, corruption-linked or outright criminal individuals.
Below is some open-source information to substantiate that uncomfortable conclusion. All the persons mentioned are from the 2011 Estonian investor residence visa scandal list.
Sergei Lalakin (Сергей Лалакин) was a leader in the Podolsk organized crime group, a powerful Russian gang of 1990s. He is residing abroad and not subject to any current criminal proceedings. In 2011 he obtained Estonian residency for himself and several members of his family, all as ‘investors’.
Dmitry Akulinin (Дмитрий Акулинин), ex-shareholder and executive of the Bank of Moscow, was charged in 2012 with multiple counts of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, billions of roubles in alleged damages. Indictments mention the stealing of shares of a Russian insurance company, stealing loans of the Bank of Moscow and laundering the proceeds offshore. Wanted by the Interpol (red notice).
Andrey Butorin, Sergey Kadanov, Ruslan Maksimenko, Igor Sitnikov and Alexander Veligodsky (Андрей Буторин, Сергей Каданов, Руслан Максименко, Игорь Ситников и Александр Велигодский) were direct and indirect shareholders in a Russian bank «Russian Financial Traditions» whose license was revoked by the Russian Central Bank for breaches of the money laundering law. Kadanov was reported to have been twice indicted for fraud.
Maria Kuzminova (Мария Кузьминова) and the previously-mentioned Sitnikov, Maksimenko and Veligodsky are beneficiaries of InvestTrustBank, a Russian financial institution. Its license was revoked in October 2015 for involvement in money laundering schemes.
Viacheslav Gubernatorov (Вячеслав Губернаторов), a Saint Petersburg businessman was indicted in June 2015 for large scale VAT refund fraud by a St. Petersburg court. His partner Andrei Kulev was arrested, while Gubernatorov absconded and is currently wanted internationally.
Evgeny Mulyukov (Евгений Мулюков), Russian businessman, currently subject to police investigation in Russia for large scale extortion (Interpol blue notice). Open court records from Russia reveal that this individual has a pattern of behaviour in line with these criminal charges: he was found to have caused damage to a local oil company by spreading damaging false information. He still has a valid Estonian residence permit and owns local real estate.
Yulia Artiakova and Dmitry Artiakov (Юлия Артякова и Дмитрий Артяков) are children of the ex-Governor of Samara Region (Russia) Vladimir Vladimirovich Artiakov. At the time of making the investments in Estonia they hardly possessed any capital earned independently of their father, a high-profile PEP. After Artiakov Sr. left the Governor post he was appointed deputy director in a huge State-owned corporation, Rostechnologii, headed by Sergei Chemezov. It would come as no surprise that Artiakov’s son Dmitry and Chemezov’s son Stanislav were revealed to be holding partner shares in an important hotel investment (Meridian hotel in Gelenjik). Any proper investigation would have a hard time proving that the origin of wealth of those Estonian investors has nothing to do with Russian PEP enrichment.
Bers Dzhambulatov (Берс Джамбулатов) is deputy general director for economy and finance in a Gazprom-controlled company, ZTP MOEK. This entity controls commercial access to heating network of Gazprom-controlled MOEK, an energy company. Obtaining swift access to monopoly-controlled energy networks is generally considered very corruption-intensive by Moscow commercial enterprises and property developers.
Gleb Ognyannikov (Глеб Огнянников) is a close person to, and some believe, a front man for, Mr. Leonid Reiman, ex-Minister of Telecommunications of Russia who is subject to multiple investigations for money laundering internationally. His corporate investment vehicles include Eventis Telecom and Sloane Square Capital Partners.
Valery Suraev (Валерий Сураев) is ex-head of an important department in the Russian Ministry of Fisheries responsible for regulating fishing fleet, sea fishing ports and allocation of funding for fleet repairs.
Anatoly Valetov (Анатолий Валетов) is an acting State official in the city of Moscow; he is deputy head of department of foreign economic and international relations of the city of Moscow since August 2011.
What I find peculiar about all of this is that much of the information on the likely real source of funds of those visa applicants and on their potential criminal affiliations was publicly available at the time they made their applications. Whoever created the visa scheme was greedy enough not to check.
Another conclusion one may draw from researching scandals like this one is how double-faced our policies are. We sign conventions on the prevention of money laundering and corruption with one hand, while opening the door to the holders of dirty money with the other.

Alleged leader of Russian gang released on bail by Austrian court - report



MOSCOW, March 3 (RAPSI) – A court in Vienna released Aslan Gagiyev, an alleged leader of Russia's organized-crime syndicate that is suspected of being involved in multiple murders, after paying bail of 100,000 euros, Kommersant newspaper reported on Thursday.
Earlier, press-secretary of Vienna Regional Court for Criminal Matters told the newspaper that Austrian authorities granted permission for Gagiyev’s extradition to Bulgaria where he is charged in absentia with documents’ forgery.
Austria is yet to review Russian extradition request for the second time. In the summer of 2015 extradition request was granted by the Austrian court, but later it was appealed by Gagiyev.
Bulgarian request has been appealed as well, according to Kommersant.
Russian investigators claim that Georgian-born Aslan Gagiyev’s gang has been operating since 2004 and includes over 50 members.
Members of the gang committed more than 40 counts of murder in Moscow and North Ossetia. Some of them have already been convicted and are serving long prison terms. Over ten of them have been arrested, and an additional thirteen suspects are wanted by Interpol and federal law enforcement agencies.
Three more members, including the gang’s leader Aslan Gagiyev were arrested in other foreign states and are to be extradited.
Gagiyev who was arrested in Austria in January 2015 faces life sentence in Russia.