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Out-of-town money pouring into South Florida real estate is as old as Henry Flagler.
But the tale of Igor Zorin offers a 21st-century twist with all the weirdness modern Miami has to offer: Russian cash, a motorcycle club named after Russia’s powerful special forces and a condo tower branded by Donald Trump.
Zorin is a Russian government official who’s spent nearly $8 million on waterfront South Florida homes, hardly financially prudent given his bureaucrat’s salary of $75,000 per year. He runs a state-owned broadcasting company that, among other duties, operates sound systems for the annual military parade that sends columns of soldiers and tanks rumbling through Moscow’s Red Square.
Zorin has other Miami connections, too: His local business associate, Svyatoslav Mangushev, a Russian intelligence officer turned Miami real estate investor, helped found a biker club called Spetsnaz M.C. Spetsnaz is a group of motorcycle-loving South Florida expatriates who named themselves after the Russian equivalent of Delta Force or Seal Team Six.
Spetsnaz members once asked for official recognition from Russia’s biggest biker gang, the Night Wolves, an infamous group that has strong ties to Russia’s security services. The Night Wolves played a role in the Ukrainian uprising, once had their flag flown in outer space by Russian cosmonauts and are under U.S. sanctions.
Zorin and Mangushev have ties in both Russia and the United States: In Russia, security firms that have been linked to Mangushev have won $2.4 million worth of contracts from Zorin’s agency since 2015. In Miami, Mangushev once transferred a Florida company that owned a $1.5 million condo out of his name and into Zorin’s. No deed of sale was recorded, meaning the price paid — if any — is unknown.
The condo is one of three units Zorin owned at Trump Palace, a ritzy tower in Sunny Isles Beach built by a local developer and branded by the Trump Organization. Their total value? $5.4 million. Zorin still owns two condos there, plus a $3.3 million home in Bal Harbour.
It’s like [Zorin] owned a place in Hell.
Ilya Shumanov, Transparency International
But back in Russia, none of those properties appear in the public disclosure forms Zorin is required to fill out as a government official. That’s illegal under Russian law and would trouble Zorin’s bosses, according to Ilya Shumanov, deputy director of the Russian chapter of Transparency International, a global anti-graft watchdog.
Given the contentious state of U.S.-Russia relations, owning properties in the United States is considered a black mark against officials like Zorin, according to Shumanov.
“It’s like he owned a place in Hell,” he said.
Zorin was not an original buyer at Trump Palace, meaning his funds would not have gone to the Trump Organization, which signed lucrative deals to brand several condo towers in South Florida in the early 2000s. The Trump name is attractive to Russian buyers and helped turn Sunny Isles Beach into a high-rise condo haven sometimes called “Little Moscow.”
Mangushev is a former officer in Russia’s security service, the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. He first appeared in Miami around 2010.
In Russia, he ran a group of companies called Alpha-Anticriminal that provided security for some of Russia’s biggest state-owned companies and government agencies. The Alpha-Anticriminal companies were listed under the name of a relative until 2014, according to Russian corporate records.
Alpha Team is an elite Spetsnaz counter-terrorism unit that operates within Russia’s security service. Mangushev told Russian media that he is a former Alpha Team officer and that many of his employees are veterans of Russia’s security service.
Zorin would not comment for this story. A Miami attorney for Mangushev, Olesia Belchenko, declined to answer a list of written questions, except to say that her client sold his Russian security firms in 2013 and has no business relationship with Zorin.
But publicly available records suggest Zorin and Mangushev are connected. In 2011, Zorin wrote a letter of recommendation for Alpha-Anticriminal, posted on the group’s website. While Mangushev’s attorney said he no longer owns Alpha-Anticriminal and its related entities, Russian corporate records still list him as the majority owner of one Alpha-Anticriminal company that is in the process of being dissolved. In addition, he manages a U.S. company called Alpha-Anticriminal. And the website for his South Florida realty firm, Alpha Realty, lists Alpha-Anticriminal as a “partner.”
Mangushev and his affiliated companies own nearly $10 million in South Florida real estate, including a Brickell condo, a Hollywood office building, an Aventura boat slip and a vacant residential lot near Liberty City, according to property records. Court records show he once tried to evict his wife from a unit at the Trump Palace that charged $9,000 per month in rent. The eviction case began one year after he was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor battery and she filed a domestic violence injunction against him, later dropped.
Military veterans are a growing part of America’s biker culture. But few clubs can brag of an association with Russia’s special forces.
Spetsnaz M.C. was founded two years ago by Mangushev and other Russian expatriates, including a decorated Broward Sheriff’s deputy.
Spetsnaz is a broad term in the Russian military that encompasses counter-terrorism strike teams, elite assault forces and special units of the FSB. Veterans of Russia’s security services often rise to high positions in business and government, including President Vladimir Putin, a former director of the FSB.
Zorin is not listed as a Spetsnaz bike club member. However, his disclosure form states that he owns two motorcycles, one made by BMW, the other by Honda. It’s not known if he served in the special forces.
The political views of Spetsnaz club members veer toward nationalism.
In a 2010 interview with a Russian media outlet, Mangushev criticized immigration and its potential to wreak the “rapid destruction of national and cultural identity.” In 2014, the future president of the Spetsnaz club wrote to Russia’s most notorious biker group, the Night Wolves, asking to become an official affiliate.
The letter was penned by German Bickbau, a Broward Sheriff’s deputy who has received several commendations for his law enforcement work, according to his personnel file.
“There’s a spirit in the Night Wolves,” Bickbau wrote in Russian in 2014, according to the Night Wolves website. “There’s something that’s not in the other groups. There’s the spirit of Russia. That is why we are awaiting [your] decision.”
During the invasion of Crimea and uprising in Ukraine, the Night Wolves took their hogs to the road to join Russian-backed separatist fighters. Their leader, Alexander Zaldostanov, a plastic surgery specialist nicknamed “the Surgeon,” has been decorated by Putin. He is considered a close ally of the Kremlin. In 2015, Russian cosmonauts flew the Night Wolves’ flag above the International Space Station.
The United States has a less charitable view: In 2014, the Treasury Department put Zaldostanov and the Night Wolves under sanction for their role in the Ukrainian conflict. U.S. officials said the Night Wolves had abducted a Ukrainian border guard, stormed a Ukrainian naval base and smuggled a senior Ukrainian official out of the country.
In addition, “the Night Wolves have been closely connected to the Russian special services [and] have helped to recruit separatist fighters,” a Treasury news release said.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration unveiled new Ukraine-related sanctions against 38 individuals and groups, including two Night Wolves administrators and two organizations affiliated with the gang.
It’s not known if the group ever agreed to recognize Spetsnaz.
In South Florida, Spetsnaz members have performed charity work and ridden up and down the East Coast, according to the group’s website. They met with New York City Russian-American law enforcement officers and have opened a Moscow chapter. Corporate paperwork filed in Florida says Spetsnaz members are “family-oriented motorcycle enthusiasts from [the] former Soviet Union who served in [the] armed forces and like-minded individuals” who wish to promote motorcycle safety in Russia and the United States.
Mangushev repeatedly hung up the phone when contacted by reporters at a Miami number. He is involved in civil litigation with his business partners, Gennady Alekseenko and Inessa Pozdnyakova, over his local real estate company.
Bickbau, who resigned as president last year, did not return calls.
Home away from home
Corruption is a major problem in Russia, sparking massive opposition-led protests in March. And South Florida figures big as a hiding place for mysterious funds. Russian organized crime groups are known to operate in the region.
“If a person needs to hide dirty money, my bet is that this person is going to South Florida,” said Shumanov of Transparency International. “It is an ideal place for … laundering money through luxury real estate. The prices are rising, the investment is protected and there are dozens of ways to hide the beneficial owner of an expensive condominium, house or villa.”
All that money rushing into Miami has helped push home prices far beyond what most locals can afford.
U.S. law enforcement is taking note of Miami’s reputation as a lock-box for suspect money. Among the highest-profile incidents that have left the local real estate industry feeling under siege: unprecedented federal monitoring of shell companies buying pricey homes in cash. A wave of disclosures from the release of the secret offshore files known as the Panama Papers. And now a special prosecutor-led investigation that could focus on potential links between Russian operatives and President Donald Trump’s business empire, with its large South Florida footprint.
None of Zorin’s property purchases used bank financing, meaning he most likely paid cash. He made roughly $75,000 in 2015 and $159,000 in 2016, according to his latest disclosure forms.
The Trump unit he got from Mangushev was later sold to a woman who appears to be Mangushev’s relative for $1.5 million, Florida records show.
Meanwhile, Alpha-Anticriminal has won dozens of contracts from Zorin’s government firm, according to official records examined by the Herald in Russia. In his disclosures, Zorin failed to mention his South Florida business connection with Mangushev.
“It is a conflict of interest that should have been reported to [Zorin’s] superior,” Shumanov said.
Russian government officials are supposed to report any properties they own overseas, thanks to anti-corruption reforms signed by Putin. Starting in July, a new law will ban officials from owning shares of foreign businesses, such as the Florida limited liability companies Zorin used to buy his Miami-area homes or a used-tire business that Miami-Dade court records show he once tried to purchase. Officials are already prohibited from owning foreign bank accounts.
Zorin did not respond to questions in Russian about his Florida assets that were hand-delivered to his Moscow office by a reporter. His agency, the state-owned Russian Broadcasting and Alert Network (RSVO), did not respond to an email.
RSVO broadcasts state radio programs, operates emergency alert networks, provides infrastructure for telecommunication firms and handles acoustic technology for major government events, according to its website. That includes the famous Victory Day parade through Red Square celebrating the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Two weeks after the Herald began asking questions about Spetsnaz, the motorcycle club filed paperwork with the state of Florida to shut down.
Dobrovolskaya reported from Moscow. Nehamas and Miami Herald writer Olga Yakovleva reported from Miami.
The Russia chapter of Transparency International obtained the Russian public records referenced in this story and provided them to the Miami Herald. Transparency International is a global nonprofit that advocates for anti-corruption measures in government. In 1999, it opened a Moscow office and now has 40 employees around the country. Globally, the group has more than 100 chapters with a main office in Berlin.
“Russian public officials hide their property in foreign jurisdictions and we want to raise awareness to this huge problem,” said Ilia Shumanov, the group’s deputy director in Moscow. “We try to achieve three main goals: transparency, accountability and integrity of civil society, business and government.”