Flight of the Monarch reveals incompetence

U.S. government Witness Protection contracts and millions of dollars worth of other deals were awarded to an air charter company owned by organized crime associates

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U.S. government Witness Protection contracts and millions of dollars worth of other deals were awarded to an air charter company owned by organized crime associates

An American aviation company that has transported protected witnesses for the U.S. government was once part-owned by two men who worked with a major Russian-American organized crime group.

These men, Anatoly Golubchik and Vadim Trincher, were jailed in 2014 for operating an illegal gambling and extortion ring out of an apartment in Trump Tower in New York City. U.S. prosecutors said they were part of a “far-reaching Russian-American organized crime ring” known as the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization, under the protection of notorious Russian crime boss Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhounov.Пролетая над АмерикойRead a version of this story in Russian from our partner IStories.Read more

Read OCCRP’s coverage of how the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization was busted wide open.

Two other investors who ran the company afterwards also had legal troubles, and one fled a warrant for his arrest in the U.S. and remains on the lam.

Nonetheless, an OCCRP investigation shows Monarch Air Group has won U.S. government contracts worth over $6 million, and was making government flights as recently as September.

Monarch has carried out various tasks for U.S. authorities, including carrying protected witnesses for the Marshals Service and transporting fuel in Israel for the Department of Defense (DoD).

The witness-protection contracts were first reported by blogger Patrick Simpson last year.

The Witness Security Program, authorized by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and amended by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, has successfully protected approximately 19,000 participants–including innocent victim-witnesses and cooperating defendants and their dependent family members–from intimidation and retribution since the program began in 1971.

One of Monarch Air Group’s affiliates, WAB International, also subcontracted jobs transporting passengers and cargo for the Department of Defense in Afghanistan.

“The negligence is startling,” said Gary Kalman, director of the U.S. chapter of Transparency International. “Airlines with a history of criminal affiliation contracted by the government to transport protected witnesses is something we’d expect to see in a spy novel, not in a news report.”

In a 2013 court document, prosecutors claimed Golubchik acted as Tokhtakhounov’s “enforcer,” and accused the men of laundering about $100 million on behalf of “high-level criminals” — some of it through Monarch and another airline company Golubchik and Trincher owned in the U.S. called Skyway International.

On one occasion, customs agents in Miami discovered 16 kilograms of cocaine on one of Monarch’s planes. Prosecutors noted the seizure at Golubchik’s bail hearing in 2013, adding of the airline: “We do not believe this business is legitimate.”

The U.S. Marshals Service told reporters that it placed protected witnesses on Monarch planes through contracts overseen by the General Services Administration (GSA), which provides leasing, management, and other professional services to U.S. government agencies. The GSA did not respond to a request for comment.

Golubchik and Trincher both left Monarch in 2012, before the airline won the DoD and the GSA contracts. Monarch was audited by the GSA in 2013, the same year Golubchik and Trincher’s arrest was widely reported, and the agency awarded the airline a 10-year contract in 2014 under which the U.S. Marshals service employed them to transport protected witnesses. The company is currently owned by the son of Golubchik and Trincher’s former business partner.

A spokesperson for the Defense Logistics Agency, which manages the U.S. military’s supply chains, said the agency followed the proper procedures when vetting Monarch for a contract awarded in 2012 to deliver fuel to a military base in Israel. Neither Golubchik nor Trincher were “involved in the bidding or performance of the contract,” he added in an email.

Federal Acquisition Regulations require contractors like Monarch to provide details of any criminal offenses by its employees, even if they don’t relate directly to the contract, according to Jessica Tillipman, a professor at George Washington University Law School with expertise in anti-corruption and government contracting. The agency is then required to make further enquiries, and it is at their discretion to decide whether to work with the company.

Vadim Trincher, left, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 for operating an illegal gambling, money laundering, and extortion ring.

Alina Gavrushenko, Monarch’s director of marketing and public relations, said the company has not been affiliated with Golubchik or Trincher since 2012.

“Like many startups, especially in aviation, the company has changed ownership and evolved its business model over the years,” she said, adding: “Our business operations are conducted with full integrity and transparency.”

The current owner of Monarch, David Gitman, did not respond to a request for comment.

With the 2008 financial crisis threatening to ground Monarch Air, then a small Florida-based air cargo company, its owner, career pilot Paul Slavin needed an injection of funds.

Slavin, who had worked in the aviation industry for 35 years, started looking around for backers. A “trusted aircraft broker” he knew introduced him to Jacob Gitman and Anatoly Golubchick, who agreed to invest while staying out of the airline’s day-to-day operations. For a while, it seemed an ideal solution.

But they soon invited more investors on board, and within three years the clique had taken control of the company. According to Slavin, they started withholding funds and making “operational decisions that conflicted with my standards.” He says he sold his shares in 2011 for a token amount. The new group began aggressively expanding the business, opening new offices and bidding for U.S. government contracts.

Slavin says he didn’t know that two of his investors had ties to Russian organized crime. “If they were involved in any illegal activity outside of the airline it was never revealed to me,” he said in an email to OCCRP.

David Gitman’s father, Jacob Gitman, was among the first investors to join Monarch Air after it hit financial turbulence in 2008.

The elder Gitman was born in the Soviet Union, where he worked as an engineer before immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1990s. He has been linked to dozens of U.S. businesses in everything from logistics and healthcare to aluminum smelting.

Anatoly Golubchik was convicted of operating what New York prosecutors described as an illegal “large-scale sports book.”

In 2017, Gitman was found liable in a civil lawsuit of misleading investors about technology, expertise, and potential profits from an operation to supposedly convert used tires into fuel. The plaintiff, Blizzard Energy, was awarded $3.8 million in damages, and the case is now under appeal. Gitman declined to comment as the case is still ongoing.

Golubchik also joined as an investor in 2008, while Trincher, his criminal partner in the gambling, money laundering, and extortion ring, came aboard in 2011. Another immigrant from the former Soviet Union, Trincher was a professional card player who has reportedly made more than $1.2 million in live tournament earnings during his career, including winning the 2009 World Poker Tour Foxwoods Poker Classic.

Along with Tokhtakhounov, the Russian crime boss who is still on the run, the two men operated what New York prosecutors described as an illegal “large-scale sports book” that was used to launder approximately $100 million from former Soviet Union countries through Cyprus-registered shell companies. Prosecutors said around $50 million of that sum found its way to the U.S.

“Their clients were multi-millionaires and billionaires, oligarchs in Russia,” the prosecutors noted in court documents.

Molly Bloom, left, was among 34 people indicted for being part of the illegal gambling rings. Here she poses with actress Jessica Chastain, who played her in the film chronicling her experiences, “Molly’s Game.”

Their group also ran a high-stakes poker game that attracted not only clients from Russia, but also major American actors like Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon, according to the industry publication Poker News. The rise and fall of the star-studded poker game was later made into the film “Molly’s Game,” featuring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.

The Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization and its sister crime ring, co-run by Trincher’s son Illya, were broken up in 2013, reportedly after the FBI spent two years collecting information on the Russian money-laundering network using a wiretap hidden inside unit 63A in Trump Tower.

Jacob Gitman told OCCRP he had met Golubchik in 2006, but declined to explain how. He said he had never met or spoken with Trincher. “I don’t have any business relations with them since 2013,” he said in an email.

However, public records show that Gitman partnered with Golubchik and Trincher in at least four aviation companies. Panama-based SkyWay International Holding still lists all three men as corporate officers. Gitman said the Panamanian company was never active, and had never facilitated any transactions or opened bank accounts.

An important addition to Monarch’s team was businessman Boruch “Bob” Freedman, who joined the company in April 2011.

Freedman was already involved in air transport in Afghanistan, but he did not have the certificate or experience to procure direct government contracts. Monarch did. The two decided to join forces and, along with Gitman’s son, David, they formed WAB International, which signed a profit-sharing and reimbursement arrangement with Monarch.

Freedman was well-known in the aviation world as the nephew of Alexander Mashkevich, a Kazakh business titan with links to the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, according to John Dawkins, the head of a logistics company that worked with Freedman on a government contract in Afghanistan.

“Boruch was a middleman,” Dawkins said. “He was plugged into everyone using his uncle’s reputation to gain entry and relevance.”

Freedman, who fled the U.S. after a warrant was issued for his arrest for not paying a court-mandated fine, did not respond to a request for comment.

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