The Grand Hyatt Hotel officially opens its doors, five years after Donald Trump schemed to buy the property. Five years ago, Trump was not on Soviet Russia’s radar. But he is, now.
In 1977, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic’s secret service (StB), which reported directly to the Soviet’s KGB, began an intelligence gathering operation on Donald and Ivana Trump. Between then and 1980, Donald Trump entered an electronics shop known to be a hotbed for Russian spies, government officials, and mafia members.
Trump was looking to buy hundreds of television sets for the Grand Hyatt, and the store he chose was Joy-Lud Electronics, the only electronics store in New York where the staff and owners spoke Russian. According to former KGB agent Yuri Shvets, Trump walked into the store as a new hotel owner and walked out as a mark for the KGB.
As Craig Unger details in his book American Kompromat, Joy-Lud was a tourist attraction for Soviets visiting the Big Apple. “Their largest Soviet clientele was known as ‘vacuum cleaners,’ a moniker bestowed on officials, émigrés, and tourists who hoovered up vast quantities of electronic equipment and consumer goods to take back to the Soviet Union,” Unger writes. American electronics sold for thousands on the black market back home, and the Kremlin needed our technology to view intelligence gathered with our technology.
Joy-Lud was also a resource for the KGB. Electronics sold by Joy-Lud were guaranteed to be free of any tampering or American wiretapping devices. Russian intelligence also saw an opportunity for the store to be used by “spotters,” agents on the lookout for potential Russian intelligence assets. The store owners, Tamir Sapir and Semyon “Sam” Kislin, served that purpose — and others in the future.
According to a confidential December 1994 FBI report and underworld sources, Kislin is a member of the Ivankov [mafia] organization. These sources say that Kislin’s New York commodities firm has been involved in laundering millions of dollars, and co-sponsored a U.S. visa for a man named Anton Malevsky, who is a contract killer and head of one of Russia’s most bloodthirsty Mafiya families.Red Mafiya (2000) by Robert I. Friedman
Over the next 30 years, the Joy-Lud owners become even more entangled with people close to Donald Trump. Beginning in 1993, Kislin and his family donate $64,950 to Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns over the course of four years. In 1995, the FBI finds Kislin’s boss Vyacheslav Ivankov living in Trump Tower. In ’96, Giuliani appoints him to the board of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation. He reappoints him to the board in ’99.
Tamir Sapir doesn’t disappear after this, either. He goes on to launch the Sapir Organization, a partner in Trump’s 2006 Trump SoHo project and the planned Trump Tower Moscow. His son, Alex Sapir, promotes the project in an interview in 2013.
Craig Unger, American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump (2021), p.26, 39
Robert I. Friedman, Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America (2000), p.270-71
Photograph: Marty Lederhandler/AP