Alleged victims of notorious Russian mobster question why he isn't behind bars
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- We've found car buyers out tens of thousands of dollars from Houston to Atlanta and beyond. They all claim an admitted Russian mobster cheated them. All of it is well know to law enforcement, but the cops haven't done anything yet to stop it.
As a rapper, Houstonian Norman Simmons goes by "The President." In his videos, he sits in the Oval Office with cash piled high on the most powerful desk in the world.
In real life, Simmons is caught in a web fighting a man who's been caught breaking the law more than once.
"I don't care who you are, I need a 150 grand," Simmons said.
The man Simmons says cheated him out of all that money on two bad car deals is Mani Chulpayev. He's been twice federally convicted and described by one New York Post columnist as someone who tests the definition of "evil, brutal and dishonorable."
"It's like you're going to the Ford dealership and you buy a car from just a salesman, and then all of the sudden, he's the Russian mob and you're like, 'OK?'" Simmons said.
Mani didn't tell Simmons, but he's not shy about his past. He bragged about his teenage start with the Russian mob in a 2009 National Geographic documentary. It was subtly called "Brooklyn's Russian Gangsters."
"There was a search for young talent, no violent talent, people who would come up with schemes -- stockbrokers, Medicare and stuff. We were that non-violent talent back then. We were more value than hit men," he says in the documentary.
After his first conviction, Mani's prison sentences was cut short when he testified against his criminal comrades. He told a federal judge in 2002, "I am sorry for all my actions. I have learned that easy money could lead me to spend the rest of my life behind bars."
Three years later, the feds helped shorten his sentence again when he was busted for selling cars he didn't own.
For Travis Jones, it all sounds painfully familiar. He also bought a car from Mani.
"That pisses me off quite a bit, to be quite honest. I am out a lot of money," Jones said.
He and his wife, Elizabeth Jones, never did get a title, but for three years they've been making payments on a car they can't legally drive.
"Just the stress this has caused us every single day," Elizabeth Jones said.
It's a similar story for Simmons. He tells us he bought a Porsche and a Mercedes from Mani, but according to a lawsuit, he lost them both.
"You have $230,000 tied up in two cars?" we asked Simmons.
"Correct," he said.
"Not the title for either one?" we asked.
"Not even a plate for either one," he said.
Simmons has something else in common with the Joneses in Atlanta. They're both suing Mani.
"The first time we went to the police, they told us they would be under arrest within a week or two. That was three years ago," Jones said.
And Jones told the court, under oath, why he thinks Mani isn't behind bars.
"Only to find out when it comes time to arrest him, that their hands are tied, that higher-ups are telling them to leave them alone; FBI, other names and organizations, were thrown around," Jones said.
The Roswell Police Department detectives are still investigating, and the Atlanta FBI denies providing any protection for Mani. He is still out on the streets, where our colleagues from WSB-TV tracked him down. Mani wouldn't answer them, not even when pressed about any help he's getting from the feds.
"No matter what he did for the government, should he have some immunity to scam you?" we asked Simmons.
"I don't question the government's immunity, but of course, I don't want to be scammed either," he said.
Simmons says he's out $150,000, and the Atlanta couple is stuck with a loan and car they can't drive.
"Somehow, someway these guys are walking the streets. They don't care," Elizabeth Jones said.
Meanwhile, the twice-convicted Russian mobster was last seen speeding away in a high-end Mercedes.
While that Atlanta couple was dealing with police on their own, Simmons certainly complained to the Houston Police Department. But by the time detectives untangled this web for themselves, Mani was long gone.
in focus, ted oberg
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