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WSJ: Cohen Under Investigation For Tax Fraud In New York

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Federal prosecutors in New York are homing in on possible tax fraud as part of their criminal investigation into the financial dealings of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

A person familiar with the probe told the Journal that the possible fraud violations center on whether Cohen underreported the income he earned from his taxi medallion business on federal tax returns. Those funds amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars Cohen received in cash.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office are also investigating whether employees at New York’s Sterling National Bank allowed Cohen to take out loans for that business without providing appropriate documentation, according to the report.

Cohen is under investigation for a host of financial crimes, including campaign finance violations and bank fraud. The former Trump Organization executive has signaled his willingness to cooperate with prosecutors and turn over information damaging to the president.

As TPM has reported, the once-lucrative taxi medallion business was a significant revenue stream for the Cohen family during the 2000s and 2010s. New York taxi moguls Simon Garber and Gene Freidman paid Cohen and his wife a monthly rate for managing the medallions the couple owned. The price of medallions plummeted in recent years thanks to the rise of ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber.

The Journal reported that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Cohen’s former accountant, Jeffrey A. Getzel, who also served as an accountant for Freidman. Freidman earlier this year agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as needed as part of a lenient plea deal. The former “Taxi King” of New York pleaded guilty to one count of criminal tax evasion after an investigation into his own taxi businesses.

Source: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/michael-cohen-under-investigation-tax-fraud-new-york

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Google and Mastercard are secretly tracking your offline purchases

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Google has quietly been providing select advertisers a “stockpile” of offline credit card transaction data.

After a four year negotiation, Google and Mastercard reached a deal that would pay the latter millions in exchange for coughing up data on its card holders, according to a Bloomberg report. Google then packaged the data into a new tool, called Store Sales Measurement, that allowed its customers to track whether online ads turned into real world retail sales.

Neither company informed its users of the arrangement. For Mastercard, that means the bulk of its two billion customers have no knowledge of the behind-the-scenes tracking.

“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online,” Christine Bannan, counsel with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Bloomberg. “There’s just far too much burden that companies place on consumers and not enough responsibility being taken by companies to inform users what they’re doing and what rights they have.”

Last year, when Google first announced the Store Sales Measurement service, the company claimed to have access to “approximately 70 percent” of US credit and debit cards. Purchases made on Mastercard-branded cards account for some 25 percent of all credit card transactions in the US, according to financial research firm Nilson Report.

Though Google didn’t name its partners, the 70 percent figure would suggest Mastercard isn’t the only credit card company it is currently partnered with.

Visa and American Express did not respond to our inquiries about whether they also had similar arrangements with Google.
A Google spokesperson told TNW:

Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information. We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners. Google users can opt-out with their Web and App Activity controls, at any time.

While users have the ability to opt out of offline tracking, it remains unclear whether most users even know it exists. The opt out tool Google mentions makes no mention of tracking offline purchases.

For Google, this is just another step in bridging the gap between online ads and offline sales. Since at least 2014, the company has used Google Maps to notify advertisers about users who viewed their ads and then visited brick-and-mortar establishments. This tool, however, didn’t track sales made within the stores.

Mastercard couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesperson, however, told Slate:

Regarding the [Bloomberg] article you cited, I’d quickly note that the premise of what was reported is false. The way our network operates, we do not know the individual items that a consumer purchases in any shopping card — physical or digital. No individual transactions or personal data is provided. That delivers on the expectation of privacy from both consumers and merchants around he world. In processing a transaction, we see the retailers name and the total amount of the consumer’s purchase, but not specific items.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/google/2018/08/31/google-and-mastercard-are-secretly-tracking-your-offline-purchases/

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THIS WEEK IN THE FUTURE OF CARS: HONEY WE BROKE THE FUTURE

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IF ANY ONE thing launched Tesla’s meteoric rise from a small Silicon Valley startup to one of the world’s most famous and exciting companies, it’s Elon Musk. Every scrap of news about the company now makes headlines, as its outspoken, tweeting CEO struggles to turn a profit. But, whew, even by his standards, this week was a biggie for Musk … again. After a questionable announcement via Twitter that he’s considering taking Tesla private, the Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating him. Investors have filed four lawsuits, so far. Rapper Azealia Banks is somehow involved, and furious.

None of that, though, stopped Musk’s Boring Company from announcing plans to build a tunnel to LA’s Dodger Stadium. And amid the noise, Google sister company Sidewalk Labs revealed more details about its scheme for building the city of the future, starting with Toronto. It was a doozy of a week, and not just for Elon. Let’s get you caught up.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/elon-musk-tesla-sec-news-roundup/

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Cost Comparison Of EVs & Gas Cars: New Tool from Con Edison And National Grid Show “Clearcost” Of Owning An EV

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Electric vehicles cost more than conventional cars. It’s a scientific fact, as Homer Simpson might say. But is it true? Consolidated Edison and National Grid have both enlisted the aid of Enervee, a Los Angeles company that invokes “data-science, behavioral science, and digital marketing” to help utilities steer their customers toward the purchase of energy-efficient appliances. Now it has applied its skills to create a website for both utilities that compares the cost of purchasing an electric car directly to the cost of purchasing a similar vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

Enervee’s calculator rates just about every car sold in America, determines the base sales price, calculates the cost of fuel or electricity over time, figures in any federal, state, and local rebates available, and arrives at the bottom line, which it calls its “clearcost.” It also assigns an efficiency rating for each vehicle. The result? In many cases, the EV actually turns out to cost less to own then the gasmobile, as reported by Greentech Media.

For instance, a Volkswagen Jetta with the 1.8 liter engine lists for $31,463. The clearcost of a Hyundai Ioniq Electric? $26,675. But wait, you say, the Jetta lists for $23,245 and the Ioniq lists for $29,500. How can the Hyundai cost less? Simple. The Jetta will use an estimated $8,218 in fuel over five years. The Ioniq will consume about $2,818 in electricity over the same period of time. Also, the Ioniq is eligible for a federal tax credit of $4,543 and a New York State Drive Clean rebate of $1,100. The net result is the Hyundai will cost almost $5,000 less to own.

Want another example? Consider a Tesla Model X. This car costs $14,000 more than a Lincoln Navigator but ends up costing more about $3,000 less over five years when all is said and done. Part of that is the $11,744 in fuel costs the Lincoln will incur over 5 years versus $4,078 worth of electricity for the Tesla. Add in the full $7,500 federal tax credit (if still available) and the New York rebate of $2,000, and the electric car actually will cost the owner less over time.

Now, are some of these estimates a bit fluid? Yes, of course. Electricity rates vary across the country; tax credits and rebates may come and go; gasoline prices could go rise or fall. None of these factors are certain. However, what this indicates is that both utility companies are looking at demand for electricity that is either flat or falling and wondering how electrified vehicles might improve their business model. The cost comparison websites are identical for both companies except for the logo at the top of the home page. It’s possible other utilities might elect to get together with Enervee to help boost EV ownership among their own customers.

Fei Wang, a senior analyst at GTM Research, says the websites are an outgrowth of utility backed marketplaces that already exist. They began as a way for customers to process rebates on energy-saving devices more efficiently. “We have seen marketplaces adding features like scheduling contractors, signing up for demand response and additional utility programs, and now a platform to compare EVs and non-EVs,” Wang says. “These additional features show that utilities are testing ways to play the energy advisor role, exploring additional revenues (through revenue-sharing or referral fees), and improving the customer experience.”

So now when someone tells you that EVs cost more than conventional cars you have a way to show them online how that perception is simply no longer valid. Sure, the utility companies are doing this in the hopes it will boost their bottom line, but anything that helps promote the EV revolution is welcome news indeed.

Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2018/07/24/cost-comparison-of-evs-and-gas-cars/

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