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Rilling campaign attracts out-of-town Russian cash

A screen grab of Feinstein & Partners’ website.

NORWALK, Conn. — A mysterious set of big contributors to Mayor Harry Rilling’s re-election campaign have connections to the “BJ’s site,” an Internet search shows. Many, perhaps all, have ties to Russia.

Public records indicate that six $1,000 contributors are connected to New York City Attorney Albert Feinstein, who, according to the Connecticut Secretary of State’s website, is the manager for Main Norwalk LLC, a developer looking to build a big box store at 272-280 Main Ave., known to many in Norwalk as “the BJ’s site.” Feinstein has an office in Moscow, according to his website.

Rilling had more than $100,000 in his campaign war chest at the end of this year’s first quarter, when an accounting was mandated by state law. The January-March filing showed more than 10 $1,000 contributors whose names raised eyebrows as they have no apparent connection to Norwalk, nor a history of donating to Norwalk mayoral campaigns.

NancyOnNorwalk received multiple inquiries about the contributors, questions about “mysterious” people.

Asked about this last month, Rilling referred inquiries to DNA campaigns and said his campaign arranges fundraisers. Many people are interested in Norwalk because of the activity going on, he said.

DNA campaign manager Patrick Romano did not return a Tuesday phone call. Rilling declined further comment.

NancyOnNorwalk called Feinstein’s New York office on Tuesday.

“We are not interested. Thank you,” the woman who answered the phone said.

A listing on the Connecticut Secretary of State website.

NoN has previously run a list of Rilling’s contributors from the 2017 first quarter. Here is the list of $1,000 contributors again, with the “mysterious” names in bold:

 

  • Veronika Ardemasova, a Greenwich real estate broker
  • Zufar Faynshteyn, a Staten Island real estate investor
  • Galina Feinstein, a Staten Island doctor, with the same address as Faynshteyn
  • Joseph Fiorillo of Purchase, N.Y.
  • Andy Frank, a Westport developer
  • Samvel Gezalian of Brooklyn, an ice skating coach
  • Halina Gezalian of Brooklyn
  • William Gilmore, a Norwalker
  • Anatoly Grinshteyn of Hewlett Harbor, N.Y., BWH Construction
  • Svetlana Grinshteyn, his wife
  • Paxton Kinol of Belpointe Capital, developer of the Waypointe apartments
  • Regina Kudoyarova, a Greenwich housewife
  • Phil Mendence, a Norwalker, Crystal Ice plant manager
  • William McRae of Old Greenwich, an attorney
  • Yelena McRae, his wife
  • Alexander Merson of Greenwich, Advanced American Technical Group
  • Irina Merson, his wife
  • Robin Penna, a Norwalker, co-owner of A.J. Penna & Son
  • Inna Post, a New York City self-employed real estate broker
  • Abraham Post, a New York City real estate broker
  • Stanley Seligson, Norwalk developer
  • Yelena Sushko, Old Greenwich restauranteur
  • Anthony Terenzio of New Canaan, City Carting partner
  • Michael Varhisky, Greenwich trader
  • Ella Weisbord of Richmond Hill, N.Y., IT project manager, National Grid
  • Ilya Weisbord, Richmond Hill, NY, banker, Signature Bank
  • Glib Zaslavsky, a New York City attorney

There was a previous campaign filing, for the last quarter of 2016. A list of $1,000 contributors:

  • Evgeniy Ardimasova of Greenwich
  • Jerry Crowley
  • Bryan Dietz of Stamford, EMD/LLC real estate developer
  • Ennio Dinino of Stamford
  • Elena Feinstein of New York City, listed as Manhattan Property Group principal owner
  • Paul Garavel of Garavel Auto Group
  • Hariklia Gavrilidis
  • Chris Gavrilidis
  • Barry Goldberg of Wilton
  • James Manafort of Plainville, Manafort Brothers Construction
  • Richard McGonigal
  • Nicolas Pichotta of Southport
  • John Stafstrom of Bridgeport, an attorney with Pullman and Comley

 

The research

Glib Zaslavsky donated $1,000 to the Rilling campaign, as listed above, on March 23.

A Google search does not turn up any listings under Glib Zaslavsky, but a Gleb Zaslavsky is a Feinstein & Partners PLLC associate, according to Zoom Info. NYS Attorney Search lists Glib Zaslavasky as Feinstein’s associate, while Gleb Zaslavasky’s LinkedIn page says he works at Feinstein & Partners.

Elena Feinstein, who contributed $1,000 on Nov. 22, is listed on the campaign form with the same East 66th St. address that Albert Feinstein lists on his Feinstein & Partners website.

A screengrab from the Albert Feinstein Real Estate website.

A Google search for Zofar Faynshteyn turned up a MyLife listing for an Albert Faynshteyn, also known as Albert Feinstein.

Intelius, an Internet provider of public data about people, and WhitePages.com also say that Albert Feinstein is also known as Albert Faynshteyn.

WhitePages says that Feinstein has a Zufar Faynshteyn as a family member. Also listed as a family member is a Galina Feinstein.

A Galina Feinstein gave Rilling $1,000 on March 20. The New York City Finance Department provides a 2006 Power of Attorney document linking a Galina Feinstein, with a Staten Island address, with Albert Feinstein.

Intelius and White Pages both say Albert Feinstein has a business called bidonthecity.com. Put bidonthecity.com into a browser and you get Albert Feinstein Real Estate.

Brokers listed on Albert Feinstein Real Estate include Inna Post and Elena Lubarskaya.

Inna Post, as listed above, contributed $1,000 to Rilling, on March 20. Post has many relatives with the last name Pustilnik, according to Intelius.

Abraham Post, who is listed with the same address as Inna Post, contributed $1,000 to Rilling on March 21.

Veronika Ardemasova is listed on the campaign papers as working for Selana Lubarskaya. The Real Deal lists a Jelena Ljubarskaja as an associate broker with Feinstein.

Evgeniy Ardimasova, with the same address as Veronika Ardemasova, is listed by White Pages as being “linked by address” to Albert Feinstein  (having shared an address with Feinstein).

Veronika Ardemasova’s contribution came on March 9. Evgeniy Ardimasova donated $1,000 on Nov. 22.

 

Perspective

In recent years, election observers have become concerned about “political bundling.”

“Bundling is a form of political fundraising in which one person or a small group of people convince their friends, coworkers and other like-minded donors to write checks to a candidate for public office,” ThoughtCo reported in 2016.

“Bundling is a common practice and is, in fact, legal,” Attorney C. Simon Davidson wrote on RollCall in 2015. “…One of the reasons bundling can be important is because the law limits the amount of money an individual can contribute to a particular campaign.”

The maximum amount of money you can contribute to a Connecticut mayoral campaign is $1,000.

BJ’s Wholesale Club had sought to build a store at 272-280 Main Ave. in 2013, but a community outcry prompted the withdrawal of the application. Main Norwalk recently won Zoning approval for “The Village,” a big box store disguised by a street-friendly front. No tenant was named for the store.

When Rilling ran for mayor in 2013 he denounced the BJ’s Wholesale Club. Now, as mayor, Rilling is legally prohibited from involvement with Zoning decisions.

Public commentary on Zoning matters would provide grounds for a lawsuit.

The next campaign filing is due July 10.

A screengrab from the Albert Feinstein Real Estate website.

18 comments

joe June 15, 2017 at 10:06 am

Is this not discrimination based upon national origin.

If the Russians want to develop Norwalk take there money.

Also Chinese, Korean, Philippines.

Obviously racist people writing such articles.

Wondering June 15, 2017 at 10:36 am

Any chance you could call one of these people to see if they know where Norwalk is located, or if they have ever heard of Riling? Seems like more Russian hacking of our electoral process.

Wilson Jefferson June 15, 2017 at 11:10 am

I don’t understand, are you saying that because the people listed in bold are Russian that means that the donations are suspect because they maybe Russian? What about the Italian names? The Japanese? The German? Have we learned nothing about profiling people based on their ethnic background?

Can’t it just be that Norwalk is prospering and many people want to see what good work the Mayor and others have done and want to see that work continued?

anna russo June 15, 2017 at 11:48 am

Norwalk is not prospering and as for “good work” done by our mayor is yet to be seen. Connect the dots.

Bryan Meek June 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Enough already. Russia is the world’s 10th largest economy and we are their 5th largest trading partner. The idea that you can dismiss doing business with an entity this size in a global market is plainly ignorant. The witch hunt at the national level is bad enough, we don’t need it at the local level.

Wilson Jefferson June 15, 2017 at 1:34 pm

What are you talking about? Have you seen other big cities in Connecticut? I’ll take Norwalk over Bristol or New Britain any day. I don’t agree with everything that is being done, but you can’t say thing at least aren’t moving.

This is getting away from the point of that xenophobia has no place in Norwalk politics or anywhere else.

Bob Welsh June 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

I support Nancy shining a light on who is funding political campaigns. Donors who do not live in Norwalk deserve extra scrutiny for the possibility that their donations were made for reasons other than hometown civic engagement. I did not read any statement in the article that the donor’s country of origin is a problem, or that any laws have been violated. If Nancy had learned that ten of the donors had ties to Mexico, or were Shriners, that would also be a relevant fact worth mentioning.

If, as Wilson Jefferson says, the out-of-town donors have an affinity for Norwalk despite living elsewhere, perhaps they will step forward to enlighten us as to why.

Wendy Williams June 15, 2017 at 4:23 pm

A very interesting list of names, for sure. I find it quite important that the mayor has not explained who these people are. Given that some of them do not live anywhere near Norwalk, and have no obvious connection to Norwalk, other than a connection to building a big box store that the mayor has gone on record — pre-election — as opposing, I think he owes an explanation.

This story is far from “racist” or “xenophobic,” in that it doesn’t say that no one with Eastern European or Russian ancestry should be able to contribute money. It does ask a more than reasonable question: What is their interest in this mayor? Why has he agreed to take their money. After what we have seen in Washington, any reporter worth her salt will certainly open this question up to further consideration.

Perhaps they are the mayor’s relatives or college friends? If so, he should step up to the plate and explain himself.

Nancy Chapman June 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Point of clarification: Diane Cece showed me the connection to Albert Feinstein. Ms. Cece did not respond quickly to my email asking if she wanted me to include that in the story. I therefore left it out.
This story would not exist at this point without Diane Cece.

Wilson Jefferson June 15, 2017 at 4:38 pm

My limited understanding is that as the Mayor of the city, who is running for re-election, lots of people would donate to the campaign for lots of different reasons, personal and business. A right that is afforded to everyone and the amount of which is limited by law.

If this is about money coming in from outside Norwalk then that is one thing, but when the title of the story is “Rilling campaign attracts out-of-town Russian cash” the implication is that Russian American’s with business interest in Norwalk, can’t donate to a campaign because of where they were born.

I just don’t understand why someone’s nationality and/or race has any place in this discussion.

Donna June 15, 2017 at 9:51 pm

@Bryan Meek, the invocation of a “witch hunt” implies Russia did not try to interfere in our presidential election. Whether or not there was collusion with the Trump campaign and whether or not the president obstructed justice in his firing of James Comey is TBD. But the Russian interference in the presidential campaign is accepted fact. Welcome to the late news, Mr. Meek.

Donations to Mayor Rilling’s campaign from former Russian nationals with no involvement in the City of Norwalk is noteworthy because of the election interference. Interference in American political campaigns by foreign governments and their agents is reason enough to scrutinize the list of Rilling’s donors.

Bob Welsh June 16, 2017 at 8:59 am

Wilson Jefferson: You ask the reasonable question of why the donor nationality is part of the discussion. Might the mention of nationality be sensationalist and othering?

I believe the nationality is relevant when a pattern appears that could indicate a connection between multiple large donors from out of town. I believe Nancy looked at the list of large contributions, did some research, and noticed five things in common among a significant number of them:

1. All live out of town.
2. All gave the max allowed.
3. Many, perhaps all, have ties to Russia.
4. Many are connected to the owner of a large and controversial Norwalk development project.
5. None have donated to previous Norwalk campaigns.

The story presents the facts. The interpretation is left to the reader, who can decide for herself whether the commonalities have any significance.

Lisa Brinton Thomson June 16, 2017 at 9:51 am

I don’t think this issue is about nationality … be it Russians or Purple People Eaters. Although, it is mildly bemusing, given the current national narrative. Personally, I am pro development for those who want to invest in Norwalk. With more people leaving the bankrupt state than coming in, it is reasonable to presume that money will come from outside of the city and state.

However, I think this story highlights the long history of patronage and direct ties between politics and land use development, that too often has benefited the few, and not the majority of residents in Norwalk or their tax dollars. With ‘bigger’ campaign donation money comes political relationships or expected relationships. As Bob Welsh said, the story presents facts and any interpretation should be left to the reader.

Diane C2 June 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

@Wilson Jefferson et al – no profiling here. It was an observation of a series of names and locations that caused the curiosity about the campaign contributions. Only when the link became clear that those names and organizations may be related, and yet had no obvious connection to any interest in the future of Norwalk, did a couple of readers, myself included, start referring to the lists as The Russians and The Unions and The Greenwich/Staten Island connection – merely for identifying which names might be linked for research versus “profiling”. This first effort focused solely on the Feinstein connections, and I did refer to that group collectively, and casually, as The Russians, though I have no idea why Nancy chose the reference in her headline – it certainly was not my intent to offend anyone.

By the way, perhaps a more accurate headline might have been “Rilling campaign attracts big box development cash”.

I hope you and other readers are concerned with the timing of the contributions relative to what many think was the surprising approval of the Main Avenue Big Box application. Especially as it appears that the questionable contributions were made either within a week of the filing of the 272-280 Main Ave zoning application (application filed 11/16/16 and contributions were made on 11/22/16), or during the weeks of the Zoning review, Public Hearings and subsequent approval.

Are Mayor Rilling, his campaign manager and treasurer looking into this matter? Perhaps Mayor Rilling has already decided, or will decide, to return the contributions rather than face future scrutiny. But as we all know, you can’t un-ring a bell.

Isabelle Hargrove June 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm

This is an all too familiar story…

Four years ago, then-candidate Rilling took a donation from the leader of the Al-Madany Group as the city was battling a lawsuit about their plans to build a very large mosque and community center in a residential area. It was a disturbing conflict of interest which demonstrated poor judgment, or worse, on the part of candidate Rilling. But, people shrugged it off and elected him. Two weeks after taking office, he predictably moved to settle the lawsuit on terms highly detrimental to the neighborhood and sent the city into an expensive tailspin.

So, with that history in mind, we should indeed wonder what strings are attached to these donations and whether they will serve our interest as a city.

The connection of no less than six $1,000 contributors to the developer looking to build a big box store at the controversial BJ’s site on Main Avenue is particularly disturbing. The residents battling this project now know where they stand.

Patrick Cooper June 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Perhaps this should be a letter to the editor – but….

@Lisa Thompson, agreed – nationality has zero to do with the “real” story here. It would be no different if the nationality was Kiwi, Thai, Kurd, or Spartan.

No – the real issue, addressed by stories too numerous to site, and by individual commenters on NoN also too numerous to mention, is about Norwalk’s development.

The suburban communities that ring NYC all vie for growth related to the commuter. Those that offer cost/value, quality of life, good education & schools (for those with children), safety, and cultural amenities, attract. The best are among the most desirable places to live in the United States. Greenwich, Darien, New Cannan, Westport, Wilton, Weston, to name a few in CT. Scarsdale, Larchmont & Rye in Westchester; Alpine, Tenafly, Saddle River in NJ; Manhasset, Glen Cove etc. on Long Island. Note they are all very, very “wealthy” towns as well.

What Norwalk has is great bones. A harbor. Metro North. I95, the merit, and an unfinished RT 7 connector. Solid arterial roads north & south, east & west. There is open space, commercial zones, and area’s ripe for improvement. These qualities are obtuse, obvious, and can be used as selling points.

What Norwalk also has is a tiny town government mentality, political to a fault, with a “long-term” vision that doesn’t quite reach the end of our collective noses. Incompetence is unavoidable when the elected leaders – among them Reading Teachers, Boxers, Community Organizers, Real Estate salesmen (“this room would make a perfect solarium” – real genius) – and they are expected to deal with and successfully negotiate with professionals of every ilk, and for this article – developers and their skilled attorneys.

What those folks smell is opportunity. They know they can game our system. It’s been proven. We don’t seem to have any master plan, so they can essentially build anything that provides a top ROI anywhere they want, the taxpayers be damned. They use grants, abatements, cheap money, and leverage to max the financial side, and they use clever and well connected lawyers and consultants who know the system from the inside (example Mr. Lawrence Cafero – from CT house minority leader to wine & liquor and mall advocate, but hey everyone needs to make a living). These sharks help their clients realize their plans (not necessarily ours) by knowing the loop holes and pain points, the buttons to push (Hello Harry, let’s talk) – and they successfully navigate right past our overmatched (even if well-meaning) – appointed commissioners and staff. Let’s face it, our town is run by the Norwalk High School class of 1974, and they are up against Princeton & Harvard Grads. We’ve lost before we start. And for those of you who claim, “this is good for the grand list” – maybe. But if they get tax abatements, town funded incentives, and ridiculously low assessments – maybe not.

I’ll attempt a different tack here, and stop being the Cleveland Indian fan (Or Met) who only complains. Here is the solution. Change the charter – change the Town of Norwalk government structure. Others have expressed this better than I but – 1. Common Counsel (elected and better paid) needs to shrink to 9 seats. 2. Hire a nationally qualified, properly accredited CITY Manager. 3. Change the Mayor to a strictly ceremonial position – good for ribbon cutting, photo ops, and walk-a-thons. No lifetime pension and benefits please. 4. Reorganize the planning and zoning departments, recruit nationwide and pay them well. No cronies. 5. Do away with the Redevelopment Agency. The master planning purview should be the entire town. 6. Staff with skilled negotiators supported by the best available legal talent (retainer). Find folks who have the balls to say NO – and sure, sue us. See you in court. This specifically applies to public union contracts.

What could Norwalk be? A shining star in CT, attracting locally oriented and the NYC commuter too, in fact anyone who wishes to build families and desires a diverse, cultured community. We could start by picking JUST one city center (not 3 or 4 like we have now), and build out from that. Think Landmark Square in Stamford. Wall Street could be just that – especially with the added Transit hub. The Norwalk River could be rid of commercial enterprise, and turned into a San Antonio type “river walk”. SoNo and the harbor could be massively successful for entertainment and the arts, and with the right architectural and design policies, we could have a wonderful mixture of historic New England and classic/clean modern buildings, facilities, and facades. These qualities might lead businesses to consider us as a home, with all the advantages that entails (provided we don’t drop our pants to get them).

Which leads us back to this article. What we could be is not who we currently are. We are allowing without exception local and outside developers to OVER develop retail and apartment’s. Our “bones” and transit infrastructure are not improved before the projects go in, leading to the huge traffic problems and bottlenecks that become progressively worse, and diminish quality of life. Worse, little of this development seems to lift our grand list proportionately – thus our schools and their growing needs are underfunded. Finally – and obviously (flip flop flip flop) – our Mayor is beholden to their bidding – those contributions lead directly to (potential) re-election – which leads straight to his bank account. Think there is some personal incentive? Or do you buy its altruism?

Look – we are not going to fix our Nation’s Capital and Federal Government until we get either a constitutional amendment or the supreme court overturns Citizens United – removing the corporatists and professional politicians who get paid to advocate for narrow interests – and provide boob bait and lip service to their constituents. But we could improve our Town, which is transforming into a city, by changing our municipal government to one defined by competent operation following a defined vision and plan, rather than willy-nilly todays crisis who saw that coming partisan, political tomfoolery.

Or, we can remain status quo. In that case, praise the lord, and Harry – check’s in the mail.

Debora Goldstein June 16, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Quick, someone put Patrick Cooper on the Planning Commission. I may not agree with every suggestion, but there is “vision”–something Norwalk sorely needs.

Mr. Cooper, I hope you will come out to every public meeting scheduled with regard to the upcoming Plan of Conservation and Development rewrite–and any future Charter Revision Commission!

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