Edward Mermelstein attends the LLIMF 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Cipriani 25 Broadway on October 10, 2018 in New York City.
Krista Kennels | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has appointed a seasoned real estate executive with ties to influential companies and officials who have faced legal scrutiny, including the Trump Organization and Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who was sanctioned by the US government.
Edward Mermelstein, whom Adams appointed earlier this month as commissioner of the New York office of international affairs, is also linked to public relations director Ronn Torossian, an Adams ally who has worked for several high-profile figures over the years and has earned a reputation as a confrontational arsonist. Among Torossian’s clients is the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has been criticized for its undemocratic power grabs.
Details of the relationship had not yet been reported since Mermelstein was appointed earlier this month to the post of commissioner for international affairs, who acts as the main liaison between the city government, foreign leaders and the United Nations. Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven, who held the post while her brother Michael Bloomberg was mayor, once said the job was to ensure that “your head of government behaves in a way that doesn’t offend other heads of government.” .
Mermelstein is a Russian-American foreign investment attorney who provided “expert assistance in navigating the complex process of foreign investment in the United States,” according to his still-active personal website. The mayor’s office website says he came to the United States in the 1970s as a Ukrainian refugee.
In an interview with CNBC, Mermelstein, who donated just over $5,000 to Adams’ political operation after the November election, did not discuss details of his former clients or how which he got the job. However, he said he intended to attract business to the city.
“As you know, a lot of companies have left New York in the last couple of years and I’m looking to bring that many back, in particular, my focus is international,” he said. Forbes reported that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wall Street financial firms, including Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, have moved thousands of jobs out of New York.
Since joining the Adams administration just over two weeks ago, Mermelstein said he has met with leaders from Belgium, France, Italy, India, Israel, Qatar and Australia. He said he had not been in contact with any business executives and had focused his time in diplomatic circles.
Mermelstein didn’t provide many details about the process for making any type of financial disclosure. Still, he noted that the application he filled out was “about two and a half inches thick” and required him to disclose “anything and everything.”
If the Adams administration believes Mermelstein’s role is full-time and has “substantial discretion,” the property manager would have to file a financial disclosure form, and he would be prohibited from raising political funds or accepting gifts from people deemed special interests, according to John Kaehny, executive director of watchdog Reinvent Albany.
Mermelstein was founder and CEO of real estate firm One&Only Realty, as well as founder and CEO of One&Only Holdings, “a company that caters to the needs of high net worth individuals,” its website states. The site boasts of One&Only Holdings’ “international strategic alliances”.
In February, the mayor’s office “sends a list to the Conflict of Interest Board naming all individuals and positions with substantial decision-making authority,” Kaehny said. “We’ll see if that person or position is listed.”
A spokesperson for Adams’ office pointed to Mermelstein’s previous work as the head of ZAKA International, a non-profit organization recognized by the United Nations and, according to their website, is “the non-governmental rescue organization and dominant recuperation of Israel”.
“As the mayor has said many times, he selects the best people for the right jobs, and Ed is the right person. New York City is the center of the universe and we need a Commissioner of Justice. international affairs with extensive global experience, including leading a UN-recognized international search and rescue organization,” the spokesperson said. “Ed has already proven himself to be a dedicated and talented public servant, and his work in the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs will further our mission of cross-cultural collaboration between our city and municipalities around the world.”
Key link in the world of PR
Ronn Torossian and Eric Adams attend Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ celebration party at Zero Bond on November 02, 2021 in New York City.
Eugene Gologursky | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Mermelstein has been friends with public relations manager Torossian for years, according to people familiar with the matter and social media photographs showing the two together. Those who declined to be named in this story did so in order to speak freely about private matters.
A person with direct knowledge of their relationship says Mermelstein was once a client of Torossian. Both reportedly went out to dinner with Adams himself days after winning the November election.
Torossian had nothing to do with Mermelstein’s hiring of Adams, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be named.
Mermelstein would not comment on his past ties with Torossian, who is the founder and CEO of 5WPR. Torossian also declined to comment.
Torossian’s ties to the mayor have been under scrutiny since it became public knowledge that he spent time with Adams from the latter stages of the campaign until Election Day. Adams and Torossian have not seen or spoken to each other since the latest flurry of stories, according to people familiar with the matter.
The New York Times reported that an Adams fundraiser that was to be co-hosted by Torossian has been canceled. A person familiar with the matter said Adams and Torossian had not spoken or been in contact since Dec. 1.
Torossian helped organize an election victory party at members-only Zero Bond nightclub, where former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, rapper Ja Rule, actor and director Forest Whitaker, and Knicks and Rangers owner , James Dolan, were all present.
Shortly after discovering that Torossian was closing in on Adams, The Daily Beast reported that former 5WPR staffers were unhappy with the way Torossian treated those deemed disloyal to him. Torossian disputed these accounts.
Torossian was reportedly once close to former US Republican Michael Grimm, who served time in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
Torossian has also done public relations work for the Erdogan-led Turkish government, which has been accused of human rights abuses and undemocratic policies. One of Mermelstein’s first visits was to Turkey’s new permanent mission in New York, known as Turkevi Center.
Torossian also represented Felix Sater, a convicted felon and former business associate of Trump who had ties to Russian mobsters.
5W’s website says the company has also represented Payless, L’Oreal, Topps, and various blockchain companies, among others.
Links to an oligarch
Russian businessman and billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images
Mermelstein also told CNBC that one of his former clients was a foundation called The Link of Times, which was founded by Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch. Vekselberg’s net worth is just north of $9 billion, according to Forbes.
Mermelstein’s website lists him as a former US regional director of the foundation, which helped establish the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. He held the foundation position between 2004 and 2009, according to his site.
“The most valuable objects in the collection are nine Easter eggs made by craftsmen employed by the house of Fabergé for the last two Russian emperors”, indicates the museum’s website.
Vekeslberg, who was born in Ukraine, founded the Russia-based conglomerate known as Renova Group. Its portfolio includes investments in a wide variety of industries such as oil, metals and telecommunications.
In April 2018, the The US Treasury under then-President Donald Trump announced sanctions against Vekeslberg and other Russian oligarchs for what was defined as “malicious government activity around the world”. That activity, according to then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, included the Crimean invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be immune from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” Mnuchin said in his statement at the time.
Vekselberg said last year he had more than $1.5 billion in frozen assets overseas that he could not access without Treasury approval, due to sanctions.
Vekselberg was also once linked to Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The New York Times previously reported that the Russian businessman was interviewed by investigators from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Mueller was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A spokesperson for Vekselberg did not return an email seeking comment.
The entrance to the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York, United States, June 30, 2021.
Angus Mordan | Reuters
Mermelstein also told CNBC that he does business with Trump’s real estate company, the Trump Organization, which is being investigated for potential tax evasion in New York.
Mermelstein said he worked with Trump’s management office as an attorney and as a real estate broker for clients who wanted to buy or lease properties in Trump’s buildings.
“I don’t know how many times, but like with any other company we’ve worked with, if properties our clients live in or rent out, we work with them. Trump is just one of them.” , Mermelstein said.
“It’s for any Trump building. You have to go through the process. When you rent an apartment or when you buy an apartment, you go through an application process, I guess. That’s what I have done on behalf of my clients,” he said. noted.
“If you are looking for an apartment and you have used my company to do it, I should, at some point, speak to whoever is the property manager who is in charge of approving or monitoring the onboarding process, that either the tenant or a buyer,” he added.
Mermelstein did not provide further details about the people he helped secure apartments in a Trump Organization building.
A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not return a request for comment.