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Trump’s Pardoning of a Loan Shark Derailed a Federal Investigation: Report

Very early in the morning on Donald Trump’s last day in office, the president announced he was pardoning Jonathan Braun, a loan shark who had been convicted of running a vast marijuana ring. Braun, who at the time was serving a 10-year sentence, was pardoned along with 142 others, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black.

Trump’s move undermined a years-long federal investigation, The New York Times reported Sunday. The paper also uncovered ties between Braun and the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Federal prosecutors were in the midst of negotiations hoping to secure Braun’s cooperation in a Justice Department investigation into predatory lenders in the merchant cash advance industry when Trump announced his clemency. Investigators felt that an industry insider like Braun could reveal information about predatory lending agreements, but after he was released from incarceration, prosecutors no longer had leverage they could use to compel Braun to talk.

Between 2011 and 2020, while awaiting sentencing in the marijuana case, Braun offered predatory loans to small businesses. Borrowers who took out loans from Braun say in court documents that he threatened them and their families for non-payment. During the nine years he was waiting to be sentenced, Braun was accused of making violent threats to eight people who had borrowed money from him, and a lawsuit claimed Braun had pushed a man off a deck at a Staten Island home in 2018.

A real estate developer who borrowed from Braun said in a court document that Braun threatened him, saying, “I will take your daughters from you.”

According to an affidavit, Braun allegedly told another borrower, “Be thankful you’re not in New York, because your family would find you floating in the Hudson.”

Only months following his release from prison, Braun was banned from making or collecting business loans by the state of New York. In a statement following the ban, New York Attorney General Letitia James claimed that Braun and others had been “harming small businesses through high-interest loans and undisclosed fees.” In a lawsuit, James alleged that “merchant cash advances, which are a form of short-term, high-interest funding for small businesses” offered by Braun and others “were in fact illegal, high-interest loans with astronomical and illegal rates.”

The court ordered Braun’s company — Richmond Capital Group, LLC — as well as two other companies — Ram Capital Funding, LLC, and Viceroy Capital Funding Inc. — to cancel debt owed by thousands of small businesses across the country as well as repay interest and overage charges, amounting to tens of millions of dollars.

The Times also raised questions about Braun’s connections to the Kushners. An investigation by the paper found that Braun was a member of the inaugural class of the Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, N.J., which received a large amount of funding from the Kushner family.

A merchant cash advance dealer who wished to remain anonymous told The Times that a cousin who was running Braun’s business while he was in jail told him that Braun’s father, Jacob Braun, had reached out to Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, regarding the family’s hopes that Trump would pardon Braun. The cousin, Isaac Wolf, later claimed that the Kushners had helped secure Braun’s release, the merchant cash advance dealer said.

Jacob Braun also regularly called Trump ally Alan Dershowitz to plead for Braun’s release. “Every single Friday by 3 o’clock in the afternoon: ‘Hi this is Jacob Braun, I’m so upset my son is still in prison, what can you do? It’s unfair, he’s a good boy,’” Dershowitz told the paper.

Federal investigators were not made aware of the pardon until the morning it was announced and, according to The Times, they were furious that Trump had sabotaged a possible deal with Braun over predatory lending practices.

Braun, however, maintains his innocence and claims he is a victim of the justice system’s unfair practices. “What is so bad about me?” he told the paper. “I never hurt anybody, never did anything wrong to anybody.”

Trump has publicly said that if he becomes president again, he intends to make more pardons, including for those convicted of crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. He has also told allies privately he would pardon higher-level people involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

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