Michael Cohen's business partner pleads guilty in criminal investigation involving Philadelphia

A criminal investigation into the New York City “Taxi King” with ties to Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, has reached as far as Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Parking Authority acknowledged Wednesday.

Evgeny Freidman, 46, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Albany to one count of criminal tax fraud for failing to pay $5 million for the Metropolitan Transit Administration from 2012 to 2015. During that time he was chief executive of Taxicab Management Inc., which managed more than 800 cab medallions in New York City, according to the New York State Attorney General’s Office. The amount accumulated through 50-cent levies on each trip taxis made in New York City to raise money for public transportation, prosecutors stated.

In February the New York Attorney General’s Office filed a right-to-know request with the PPA for all documents that agency had in connection with Freidman, said Martin O’Rourke, the PPA spokesman. The PPA complied, providing prosecutors with 10 boxes of documents, O’Rourke said. It took about two months to gather the information.

Freidman was long a force in the Philadelphia taxi industry. The PPA canceled his 67 medallions at the beginning of 2017 because he had pulled the vehicles from service in a dispute with a business partner, O’Rourke said. Meanwhile, financial woes caused banks to seize the medallions over the last 18 months, he said.  Medallions are the auctioned permits that allow a cab to operate.

The New York Attorney General’s Office had not responded Wednesday afternoon to questions about whether its case would spread to Philadelphia, or if it had referred any information to Pennsylvania law enforcement officials.

Freidman’s lawyer downplayed the importance of the document dump from Philadelphia. The lawyer, Patrick Egan, of the Fox Rothschild firm in Philadelphia, said the request was likely part of the state’s preparations for a trial that was avoided with Tuesday’s plea. Egan said he expected no additional charges to be filed against Freidman.

“I wouldn’t have been doing a plea if there was more to come,” he said. “The whole point was to get a resolution of the whole thing.”

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Freidman had agreed to cooperate with government investigators in state or federal matters, something that could have significant implications for the criminal investigation into Michael Cohen, who was himself a New York City cab medallion owner. Freidman managed cabs that Cohen owned, the Times reported.

Cohen’s business practices are under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen also gave a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump.

The PPA reported it had no contacts with Cohen.

Freidman had been co-owner of Philadelphia’s Freedom Taxi Association with Everett Abitbol. In 2016, Freidman became embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with Abitbol, who sought to have the Freedom company dissolved. Abitbol accused Freidman of using business funds to pay personal debts and creating ghost accounts to benefit his family. The suit stated Freidman ordered Abitbol in June 2016 to immediately stop managing 91 medallions and included 28 affidavits that stated drivers were not paid $6,219 in credit card transactions owed to them through work.

The suit is still pending, according to court records. Abitbol did not respond to a request for comment.

The taxi industry has been disrupted by ride-sharing companies. In 2017, taxis made $43 million less than in 2014 in Philadelphia and had 4.2 million fewer fares, according to PPA data. The value of a medallion was $500,000 in 2014, compared with $38,000 in April.