Who Is Felix Sater? What To Know About The Moneyman Behind Trump

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As the investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia unfolds, one name keeps popping up: Felix Sater. Most recently, Sater’s name appeared in a Washington Post piece revealing Trump was doing business with Russian interests while running for President, but he’s a familiar name. Back in February, Sater was part of the Ukraine “peace plan” that sunk Michael Flynn and put Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen in legal trouble. He comes up in connection with the Trump Org constantly. So who is Sater? And why is he at the center of so much of Trump’s allegedly shady deals?

  • On paper, Felix Sater is a real estate developer: He worked for the now-closed Bayrock Group, a real estate investment company that’s built several Trump-branded buildings such as Trump SoHo, among other construction projects. He’s Russian by birth, but his family immigrated to Israel when he was eight to avoid Soviet persecution of the Jewish people. He wound up on Brighton Beach, and, supposedly, is an exemplar of the American dream. But what’s been rumored for years, and what’s rapidly coming to light, is that Sater is really a criminal with extensive connections to Russian financial concerns.
  • Sater’s father, Mikhail Sheferovsky, worked for the Russian mob: FBI documents obtained by the New Republic reveal Shererovsky was a low-level extortionist. Sater, by all accounts, attempted to lead a legitimate life, but that quickly fell apart: He stabbed a man with a margarita glass in 1991, an incident that put Sater in jail for a year and cost him his trading license. After release, it appears that he became a white collar criminal. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to stock fraud as part of a scheme orchestrated by a Russian organized crime ring and became a federal informant for more than a decade. In 2009, Loretta Lynch, a future Attorney General, let Sater pay a $25,000 fine to avoid jail and sealed his records until 2019. And in July, Sater was ensnared in another investigation, hunting for a former government official from Kazakhstan.
  • Sater’s real job for decades? A high-level money launderer: Real estate development is an ideal way to launder money and has been for decades. In an expose of money laundering in commercial real estate development in New York City, experts called it a “systemic issue.” Until very recently in the U.S., developers weren’t required to investigate, and American authorities generally didn’t examine, the sources of foreign funding for development on American soil. So, dirty money goes into developer accounts, the building is built, and clean money goes back to the foreign investor. And this goes well, well beyond Russia. In a transcript from the Justice Department, Sater was described as “the key to a hundred doors,” with information on the Mafia, Russian gangsters, foreign governments, and even Al Qaeda. He also has a string of connections to various other shady figures, such as fellow Bayrock investor Tevfik Arif, who is allegedly a colorful criminal in his own right.

  • Sater, as has been noted, had strong connections to Trump: The now-defunct Bayrock had offices in Trump Tower. Trump, for his part, claims that he didn’t know Sater, an odd claim to make since Bayrock not only was involved in Trump SoHo but also worked on the Trump hotel in Phoenix. There’s even photographs of Sater (seen on the right, below) and Trump together.
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  • What was Trump’s exact involvement? That’s the fundamental question — whether Bayrock properties were used to launder money related to Trump. The players in Trump SoHo, which began construction in 2006, were being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney. Reportedly, Robert Mueller’s probe has picked up where that investigation left off. What’s especially interesting is that, publicly, at least, the Trump Org has no investment in Trump SoHo. So, why was Trump involved in the first place? What was his role in the building? Why was it so important, in emails that have leaked over the last year, that Trump be kept happy?

These are questions that Sater may well soon be answering. Not least because, it turns out, Sater has a connection to the Mueller probe: When he turned informant in 1998, he did so under the guidance of Andrew Weissman, now a member of the DOJ’s Russia investigation.