A stray news tip led to the discovery that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, owns a brownstone in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Katia Kelly has lived in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn for three decades. About ten years ago, when she was in her mid-forties, she began writing a blog about the neighborhood, and the changes she saw in it, called Pardon Me for Asking (tagline: “News from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and Beyond . . .”). Her posts, which feature her own photographs, often concern store openings and closings, local hot topics, neighborhood eyesores, and Brooklyn history. A few weeks ago, a stray tip led to a post titled “Washington Lobbyist and Trump Advisor Paul Manafort Owns Brownstone in Carroll Gardens.” This week, WNYC cited Kelly’s reporting in its article about a “series of puzzling real estate deals” that Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, who is under scrutiny for his ties to Russia, has made in New York City in the past decade. Between April, 2015, and January, 2017, WNYC reported, Manafort borrowed about twelve million dollars against three New York City properties, including the Carroll Gardens home.
On Thursday, Kelly spoke by phone about how she found the story. Her account has been edited and condensed for clarity:
“I ran into a local resident, and we started talking about something totally unrelated, and she says, ‘Do you want a scoop?’ And I was, like, ‘Sure.’ I mean, local blogger? Scoop? Most people around the neighborhood know me because I always walk around with my camera around my neck. But she didn’t know me, so she said, ‘Oh, nice day to take pictures.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I take them for my blog, Pardon Me for Asking.’ And we had this pleasant little conversation. And she just had this little twinkle in her eye and she said, ‘Guess who lives on this block.’ Talk in New York is always, like, what minor celebrity moved into your neighborhood, onto your block. I was really taken aback when she said Paul Manafort. I thought, Really? Why would he own a house here? What’s his connection to Carroll Gardens?
“She told me some of the details—that he had bought it a couple of years back, that there was a crew who had worked on it, and then the work stopped, and for the last two and half years this is what it looked like. So I think the neighbors were just probably upset at the state of the front garden, and that the house had a broken window, and they must have looked up the Department of Buildings Web site to find out who it belongs to. So she tells me this story, and I said, ‘Hold on, is this the Paul Manafort, from Trump’s campaign?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s the guy.’ And she actually said, ‘You know, I meant to call the New York Times, but, hey, you can have the story.’ So I walked home.
“I like to be very careful. The blog is my voice; it’s my credibility. I’ve lasted ten years doing what I’m doing because—I hope most people know that I’m not a reporter, but it’s kind of like a neighborhood forum that I provide, a place for people to come and talk about what’s happening. I don’t want to go ahead and put anything out there that I cannot back up. So I took my time. I started looking at the Department of Buildings Web site. There were a couple of work permits on the property, and it showed up as an L.L.C., but on one permit, when you scrolled all the way down, it had the name of the owner, and that showed up as Paul Manafort. And I said, ‘Maybe there’s another one—who knows?’ I was lucky enough that there was a middle initial. And I thought, Well, O.K., let me find out if Paul Manafort—the Paul Manafort—has the same middle initial.
“Then I researched the financial documentation—ACRIS is a New York City site that has a lot of documentation on every building. And there it showed up that his wife was on one or two of the mortgages that he had taken out. So I researched Paul Manafort’s wife’s name. And, sure enough, it was the same name. So I was pretty sure that it was him. But, I have to say, I sat on the story for at least twenty-four hours. I reached out to a good friend. I said, ‘Gee, I don’t know. This is kind of strange.’ I was a little bit frightened, honestly. These are big, powerful people. I sat on it. Slept on it. Showed it to my husband. Then to my daughter. And I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ And they said, ‘This is interesting. Put it up.’ ”