By Joshua Caron
He has links to La Cosa Nostra and the Russian mafia, his own criminal record, and accolades from the former U.S. Attorney General? Felix Sater describes himself simply as a “business man.” He was born in Russia and raised in Brooklyn, NY. So what makes him so interesting? Sater started out as a successful Wall Street broker in the early nineties, but that career ended abruptly when he stabbed another broker in the face with a broken martini glass during a bar fight. The victim suffered a laceration that required 110 stitches and Sater received a year prison sentence.
Following his prison stint, Sater returned to Wall Street, but this time his work included money laundering and defrauding investors. Of his nineteen partners in the scheme, at least six had known mob connections. The group was ousted in 1998, when New York City police officers discovered guns and incriminating documents in a storage unit Sater had rented under a fake name. Overall, the group had defrauded investors of approximately $40 million. Sater’s punishment this time around was a meager $25,000 fine, with no jail time. How could that be?
In the late nineties Sater was traveling throughout Eastern Europe and Russia making deals and connections. Being fluent in Russian and having a reputation for placing the value of money over ethics, Sater easily transitioned into international real estate development. He soon began working for the Bayrock Group, a real estate firm founded by a former Soviet Official from Kazakhstan. Bayrock was subsequently headquartered in Trump Tower and between 2002 and 2011, Sater was closing real estate deals with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.
Sater had also developed relationships with arms dealers and Russian Intelligence personnel. He later gathered and provided information to the FBI and other U.S. agencies. In a letter to Senator Orin Hatch, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that Sater had provided “information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra.”
In hearing transcripts in 2011, the government’s lawyer told the court that Sater’s cooperation “was of an extraordinary depth and breadth” and “involves violent organizations such as al-Qaida . . . foreign governments . . . Russian organized crime. And, most particularly, it involves various families of La Cosa Nostra.” Sater himself claims to have eradicated potential assassination attempts against George W. Bush and Colin Powel; obtained information regarding North Korea’s nuclear program; and provided information crucial to the capture of Russian cybercriminals. So how can someone defraud $40 million from innocent retirees and pay a $25,000 fine? Provide information to the FBI relevant to two large Mafia cases, deliver intelligence to the CIA regarding the whereabouts of Stinger missiles headed for al-Qaida, and track down Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone number. So where is Sater today?
Sater is most recently in the news because of his claims that he and Michael Cohen (Trump’s personal attorney) were working to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow as recently as 2016. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be eager to learn more about Felix Sater and his connection to the Trump campaign. Sater has declined to answer if he has been questioned by Mueller, but in an interview with New York magazine, Sater stated that “[i]n about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colorful character you have ever talked about . . . And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.” We will have to wait and see how the next chapter in Felix Sater’s life plays out.