Miami Construction Firm Gets Tangled Up In Paul Manafort Saga
Munilla Construction Management, also known as MCM, has built schools, airports and highways all around the United States. Its projects have included terminals at PortMiami, various city halls and police stations, and the bridges connecting Las Olas Boulevard to the finger islands in Fort Lauderdale.
Now the Miami-based firm, owned by six brothers, is playing a bit part in a national saga: the investigation of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Manafort managed Trump's presidential campaign from June to August 2016. He quit amid allegations that he had been paid millions of dollars under the table for consulting deals in Ukraine, and now he is facing scrutiny over a number of real estate deals. The saga has several ties to South Florida.
Manafort has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but news reports have suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his wide-ranging probe into the 2016 election, is investigating whether Manafort's gains were ill-gotten and/or whether profits were laundered through real estate. Manafort reportedly owed $17M to Russian interests when he took the Trump gig, which he worked for free.
Manafort initially rose to prominence as a partner in Black, Manafort & Stone — a D.C. firm he ran with notorious political consultant Roger Stone. Stone lives part time in South Florida, and Manafort owns a home in Palm Beach Gardens. Manafort lists his Florida home as his primary residence and uses it to vote. He is also an officer for numerous corporations registered in Florida.
Federal investigators are reportedly looking into real estate deals in which Manafort's son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, used shell companies to invest in numerous properties. In 2016, New York fashion photographer Guy Aroch sued Yohai for fraud, alleging that Yohai misspent $2.9M he had invested. Actor Dustin Hoffman likewise went to court against Yohai, hoping to recover $3M he had invested in a botched deal on a Los Angeles property. Both cases are still pending. Manafort was also an investor in Yohai's ventures. Manafort's Washington, D.C., home was raided by the FBI this July.
Around the time the Feds raided his home this summer, Manafort was reportedly meeting with Yan Jiehe, head of Pacific Construction Group, China’s largest, privately owned builder. The reason? Pacific was looking to buy U.S.-based construction firms, and Miami's Munilla Construction Management was floated as an option, The Real Deal reported.
- A photo of Manafort, Jiehe, and Jorge and Fernando Munilla, along with other dealmakers, was posted on the website of Brad Zackson, a real estate player who reportedly brought the men together. Zackson was a protégé of Fred Trump, Donald's father, who had once been in charge of renting out The Trump Organization's properties in Queens. Zackson was arrested in 1981 for allegedly attempting to shoot a club bouncer. He took a plea deal and served almost five years in prison. Zackson went on to found his own brokerage and investment firm, called Dynamic Group.
TRD described Zackson as Manafort's real estate fixer and said the two met in the Hamptons. Zackson once touted a project called Biscayne Shores on a 14-acre parcel near Miami Shores, but the project never came to fruition.
Manafort and Zackson became partners in a company called CMZ, which touted other big real estate projects that never came to pass. Attorney Kenneth McCallion, who represented Yanukovych's political adversary, said that CMZ "ended up being one big money-laundering operation.” CMZ's dealings are reportedly being investigated by Mueller's team.
It is unclear what ultimately happened with Munilla and the Chinese firm. Munilla did not immediately return a call for comment. But TRD noted any such sale could draw scrutiny from the Treasury Department — or more specifically, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which examines foreign investments for national security risks.
Munila won a $66M contract from the Pentagon in 2016 to build a state-of-the-art school at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay. Foreign involvement in such a sensitive project could be problematic.