Learning Eye-Popping Details About Mr Sater

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As I noted in my previous post, I've been keenly interested in Donald Trump's association with Felix Sater going back to last Spring. I also knew he had been an FBI informant and leveraged that status to dramatically reduce his sentence in a major financial crime. I didn't realize until this evening that there were more details about this part of the story in the public domain than I'd realized. It's rather mind-blowing.

First, let's review a bit about Felix Sater. Sater was born in the Soviet Union in 1966 and emigrated to the US with his parents at the age of 8. He is an American citizen. He dropped out of college and began working as a stock broker. But in his late 20s he got into bar fight where he stabbed a fellow broker in the face with a shattered glass. He did time in prison for this attack. After he got out he got involved in a major securities fraud scheme (basically a 'pump and dump' operation) tied to the Genovese and Colombo crime families. He got caught. And that's where things get interesting.

After Sater got busted, somehow he managed to offer his services to the FBI and supposedly the CIA to work on their behalf purchasing stinger missiles and other weapons on the then wild and free-wheeling Russian black market. Whatever Sater was doing for the CIA in the black market arms smuggling world seems to have become much more important after 9/11 - thus Sater's high value to the US government.

I know that sounds all but incredible. The details of Sater's alleged work for the CIA are contained in this September 2012 article in The Miami Herald. A good bit of the story emerges from an account by Sater's accomplice, Salvatore Lauria. Lauria was Sater's accomplice in the pump and dump scheme and was also there the night he stabbed the guy in the face at the bar. And yes, we'll hear more from him in a moment. Because Lauria was also involved with Sater and Trump in the Trump SoHo building project.

The Miami Herald article I'm referring to is no longer online. I've linked to a copy of it on a Yahoo groups page. But I've read it in the Nexis news database; it's legit. There's more and overlapping detail on both the securities fraud case and the alleged work for the CIA in Central Asia in this December 2007 piece in The New York Times.

As I said, we don't know for certain whether the story of arms smuggling work for the CIA is true. Read the Miami Herald article and the Times article and make your own judgments. What we do know is that federal law enforcement went to amazing lengths to secure Sater's assistance and protect him. And in various of the articles I'm linking here there are clues in federal court transcripts which make it seem highly likely that Sater was doing something for the US government of that level of seriousness. The adjudication of the securities fraud case against Sater was handled entirely in secret and Sater's sentencing was delayed for more than a decade. When he was finally sentenced in 2009, he was fined $25,000 and received no jail time. He was also not required to make restitution despite losses totaling $40 million.

Let's review. Sater is a Russian emigrant who was jailed for assault in the mid-90s and then pulled together a major securities fraud scheme in which investors lost some $40 million. He clearly did something for the US government which the feds found highly valuable. It seems likely, though not certain, that it involved working with the CIA on something tied to the post-Soviet criminal underworld. Now Bayrock and Trump come into the mix.

According to Sater's Linkedin profile, Sater joined up with Bayrock in 1999 - in other words, shortly after he became involved with the FBI and CIA. (The Times article says he started up with Bayrock in 2003.) In a deposition, Trump said he first came into contact with Sater and Bayrock in the early 2000s. The Trump SoHo project was announced in 2006 and broke ground in November of that year. In other words, Sater's involvement with Bayrock started soon after he started working with the FBI and (allegedly) the CIA. Almost the entire period of his work with Trump took place during this period when he was working for the federal government as at least an informant and had his eventual sentencing hanging over his head.

What about Salvatore Lauria, Sater's accomplice in the securities swindle?

He went to work with Bayrock too and was also closely involved with managing and securing financing for the Trump SoHo project. The Times article I mentioned in my earlier post on Trump SoHo contains this ...

Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.

All sounds totally legit, doesn't it?

But there's more!, as they say.

Sater's stint as a "Senior Advisor" to Donald Trump at the Trump Organization began in January of January 2010 and lasted roughly a year. What significance that has in all of this I'm not sure. But here's the final morsel of information that's worth knowing for this installment of the story.

How exactly did all of Sater's secret work and the federal government's efforts to keep his crimes secret come to light?

During the time Sater was working for Bayrock and Trump he organized what was supposed to be Trump Tower Ft Lauderdale. The project was announced in 2004. People paid in lots of money but the whole thing went bust and Trump finally pulled out of the deal in 2009. Lots of people who'd bought units in the building lost everything. And they sued.

So far it's your typical Trump story of small investors screwed out of their money and winding up in court. But this time there was a key difference. Someone leaked documents to the plaintiffs detailing Sater's criminal record and his conviction for securities fraud. The investors argued, quite reasonably, that they never would have invested in Trump Tower Fort Lauderdale if they had known that the key executive organizing the project had been convicted of cheating investors out of $40 million. The federal government had prevented them from learning this information by keeping the securities fraud case secret. This sparked a highly complex and dramatic legal case in which the federal government used all the full force of its need to protect national security in defense of keeping Sater's crimes secret. For this part of the story, the plaintiffs efforts to loop the federal government into their suit against the organizers of the Florida building project, see this article from The Miami Herald.

What does this all mean? I wish I knew, frankly.

It seems highly likely that Sater has deep and longstanding ties to at least certain elements of US law enforcement and intelligence. It's clear he worked on their behalf in some capacity and seems quite likely, though not certain, that he aided the US in purchasing black market weapons in Russia and/or Central Asia as a way to skate on his fraud conviction. One could definitely argue that his work in that role - basically being a US operative, in some sense - runs counter to any theory that Sater is some agent of the Russian government or in any way a conduit for Russia capital or advancing Russian interests with Trump. But Sater clearly has many masters or rather works with a bewildering cast of characters in the interests of saving his own neck. So anything is possible. If nothing else, the CIA/arms smuggling story, if true, would suggest he was quite plugged in with the Russian and post-Soviet criminal underworld. So there are many possibilities.

All we can be certain of at the moment is that we should know much more about Sater, his ties to US law enforcement and intelligence, his role organizing and funding Trump's business enterprises, his relationship with Trump and what any and all of it has to do with his now being the conduit for 'peace plans' for Russia and Ukraine which end up in the White House courtesy of President Trump's personal lawyer.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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