British ex-spy Christopher Steele wrongly believed that an upmarket clothing store frequented by Paul Manafort was a money-laundering ice cream shop, according to a new book.
Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence, worked for Oleg Deripaska in early 2016, helping recover millions of dollars the Russian oligarch claimed Manafort, Donald Trump’s future campaign chairman, stole. Steele sought help from the intelligence firm Fusion GPS, its co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch wrote in their book Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.
“Steele didn’t have much to offer in terms of leads, but he did say that Manafort appeared to have spent huge amounts at a Manhattan tailor known in corporate records as Fortunato & Venanzi,” Simpson and Fritsch wrote. “Owing to a clerical mistake, F&V was classified in business records as an ice cream shop, prompting Steele to theorize that Manafort must be using it to launder money.”
One of the first Google search results for “Fortunato & Venanzi” is a listing at the free business website Manta categorizing the clothing store as “bulk ice cream.” Manta and other free sites accept submissions for details about businesses and often contain out-of-date or incorrect details.
Results for a search of “Venanzi” and the business address or phone number show the location was an upscale clothing store owned by Eugene Venanzi, that has since closed, where Manafort, 70, appears to have used off-shore accounts to buy suits. Prosecutors said Manafort spent more than $1.3 million on expensive clothing, including a $15,000 ostrich jacket, from retailers around the United States.
Deripaska sued Manafort in 2018, alleging he and his business partner, Rick Gates, “vanished more than $18.9 million” of his money. The billionaire, who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is mentioned 64 times in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and the U.S. intelligence community reportedly believes the Kremlin relied on Deripaska to spread disinformation casting doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Manafort is serving a nearly seven-year prison sentence for concealing millions of dollars of overseas income, conspiracy, and obstructing justice.
Steele, who would go on to investigate Trump's ties to Russia for Fusion GPS, did not tell the opposition research firm whom his client was, something Simpson and Fritsch said wasn't unusual.
"The identity of the client is not particularly relevant or important,” they wrote.
Steele admitted in a July 2018 British court deposition he'd relied on unverified user-generated articles on CNN iReport, a now-defunct platform, to research allegations made about Webzilla, thought to be used by Russia to hack Democratic emails.