Houston rapper accuses notorious Russian mobster of stealing car
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- This is a tale of fast cars and fast deals, with a direct tie to one of the country's most notorious criminal enterprises.
It's a case that seems ripped from the script of a Hollywood crime drama. It's got it all: luxury cars, big cash, a Houston rapper and businessman, an NFL wide receiver, the U.S. Department of Justice and at the center of this web, a notorious Russian mobster.
"Can you believe who you were tied up with?" we asked Houston rapper and businessman Norman Simmons.
"It hasn't really hit me yet but I know it's pretty big stuff," Simmons replied.
A mobster so brazen, we're told he climbed the fence of a Missouri City home to claw back a $145,000 car he sold Simmons just months earlier.
"What did he say?" we asked Simmons.
"You need to give it back, you don't know who you're dealing with, so I was like I need to get my money, I need to get my money back," Simmons replied.
Nothing about Simmons is understated. He's a business owner and a rapper known as "The President."
He says that White House chain around his neck has 100 carats worth of diamonds. In the last few years, he's bought close to a million dollars in cars and trucks. He took us for a ride in his $250,000 bright yellow Bentley.
His cars are usually bought through private brokers.
"Everything was legit so you wouldn't expect the outcome to be where we are now," Simmons said.
And the broker in this case did, selling Simmons an $82,000 Porche Panamera he couldn't resist.
"We did a deal on the spot," Simmons said.
Months later, Mani the broker had another proposition for The President.
"He called me and said, 'Hey, I got a car that you will love,'" Simmons said.
It was a $145,000 Mercedes. He bought it. But something was wrong: $230,000 into these deals, Simmons had two great cars but no titles.
"Do you think he had any intention of ever letting you keep this cars?" we asked Simmons.
"No," he replied.
Court documents filed by Simmons' lawyers suggest the cars were never Mani's to sell in the first place.
According to court filings, the Mercedes belonged to former New York Giants' Steve Smith. When Mani allegedly didn't pay Smith, the superstar wide receiver demanded the Mercedes back. So that's when we're told Mani hopped that Missouri City fence. Simmons says the Mercedes disappeared one day while he was gone.
What Simmons didn't realize was that the man he was buying cars from had a far darker past.
A New York Post columnist once referred to Mani Chulpayev as testing the "definition of evil, brutal and dishonorable." The New York Times called Mani the brains behind an extortion ring connected to the Russian mafia.
According to press reports, at the time of his guilty plea, Mani set a fire that burned down a whole city block just to send a message. He was eventually arrested delivering a young prostitute to a group of Russian doctors.
"I would never have guessed. He's like 4 feet 8. I'd never guessed that," Simmons said.
But Mani's hardly hiding from his past. He even bragged about it in a 2009 National Geographic documentary. It was called "Brooklyn's Russian Gangsters."
"Sixteen years old I had my first Mercedes, so I went to school just to show off, not to study," he says on the show.
His honesty has helped him in the past, especially when he was busted by the feds in the late 90s. For admitting his role and ratting our his comrades, Mani got in and out of prison in just four years.
"He's the godfather of car salesman," Simmons said.
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