The Man From Russia: Introducing Donald Trump’s Mob-Connected Associate
By Remy Anne
It’s a scene out of 1940’s film noir, probably starring Robert Mitchum in some wonderfully handsome pinstripe suit. Man enters bar, man drinks for a while, man starts fight, man stabs someone with the stem of a margarita glass, man spends a year in jail for assault.
Man ends up working for the future president of the United States?
As with most news stories since the 2016 presidential election, truth once again proves to be stranger than fiction. Introducing Felix Sater, the newest player in the slowly unraveling spy novel that has become the Trump Administration’s relationship with Russia — brought back into the limelight by helping to push a back-channel peace deal between Ukraine and Russia, which would’ve been a way for the Trump administration to lift sanctions against Russia.
So who is this mystery man?
Our story begins on March 2, 1966 in what was then considered the Soviet Union. Sater lived in Moscow until he was 8, when his family immigrated to Brighton Beach. He spent his youth on the beaches that make up the outskirts of Brooklyn. By the time he was 24, he was an up and coming Wall Street broker. Three years later he was serving time for assault.
And then things get interesting.
In 1998 a federal complaint was brought against him in regards to a money laundering “pump-and-dump” scheme. While the records of this complaint were filed in secret and sealed, a former associate claimed Sater pleaded guilty to the charges. Two years later, Sater was indicted as a key figure in a federal racketeering case that involved members of four separate mob families. A press release from 2000 claimed that Sater and others had “planned and carried out a series of fraudulent securities schemes and then laundered tens of millions of dollars in illicit profits.” He avoided prison time by becoming an FBI informant. Little is known about what this entailed, with reliable sources few and far between. Gennady Klotsman, who was also indicted as a co-conspirator, alleged that Sater obtained information for the U.S. about a set of black market missiles in exchange for his freedom.
Sater’s relationship with Donald Trump began sometime in the early 2000s. At this time, Sater was working with the Bayrock Group, LLC, which partnered with Trump on his SoHo hotel and condominium project. As a reminder for those following this tangled web, in 2008 Trump SoHo was described by NYMag as “a 46-story skyscraper being built on a graveyard that’s brought together shadowy Russians and a billionaire brand name.”
In a 2013 deposition, Trump (vaguely) explained how the relationship between the two men came to be, saying that someone from Bayrock who “could have been Felix Sater,” came to see either him or his children with a proposal for a development deal. It is in this very deposition that Trump denies close ties with Sater, stating that he would not recognize the man if he were standing before him in the room.
Sater’s business card would state otherwise.
Despite Trump’s continuous denial of a close relationship with Sater, the documents of their connection paint a different picture. In 2005, Donald Trump Jr. wrote a letter to Sater, who was then listed as the “Managing Director” of Bayrock.
The same year, Trump gave Sater and Bayrock the go-ahead to move forward on a development in Moscow. In a 2008 deposition, Sater claimed that he was asked to show both Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump around Moscow when they visited. Trump Organization’s General Counsel has claimed this was simply a coincidence.
While it is strange enough that Trump would ask a man he “barely knows” to charter his children around Moscow, it is even odder that he denied using Sater as a go-between in his dealings with Moscow. Under oath, Trump stated that when it came to Moscow, Tevfik Arif was his man. Sater, during his deposition, categorically denied this, stating it was only him involved in the dealings.
In July 2016, Sater visited the then presidential candidate, at Trump Tower in Manhattan. He told Politico that this visit was for “undisclosed business.” He also donated the maximum allowable contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to FEC filings.
Given the difficulties faced by previous politicians regarding their business dealings (both Whitewater and Nixon’s relationship with Bebe Rebozo come to mind), one would think that a relationship with a convicted criminal with ties to both the mob and Russian dealings would be catastrophic in the political sense. However, if Trump’s election has taught us anything, it is that we are playing by different rules now.
In this tale of mafia families and sworn testimony, very little can be defined as “clear.” However, the murky waters of Trump’s ties with both the Russian government and criminal figures are interconnected to the point that they verge on incestuous. Felix Sater is simply one head on the hydra. With information on his past coming to light now, one has to wonder what two heads will grow back in his place.