Felix Sater is not a name that has come up much during the presidential campaign. That he has a colorful past is an understatement: The Russian-born Sater served a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass during a bar fight, pleaded guilty to racketeering as part of a mafia-driven “pump-and-dump” stock fraud and then escaped jail time by becoming a highly valued government informant.
He was also an important figure at Bayrock, a development company and key Trump real estate partner during the 2000s, notably with the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in New York City, and has said under oath that he represented Trump in Russia and subsequently billed himself as a senior Trump advisor, with an office in Trump Tower.
Usually such an association would ignite a political firestorm. From the Clintons’ Whitewater deals to Richard Nixon’s relationship with Florida banker and developer Bebe Rebozo, all the way back to 19th-century industrialist Mark Hanna’s influence over William McKinley, presidential candidates
have long suffered by dint of association.
Sater has been profiled in the Washington Post, on ABC News and in several other outlets. But few have taken much note of him, presumably because Trump has said, under oath, that he barely knew him. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” he said in a deposition in November 2013. Asked how many times he had ever conversed with Sater, he said, “Not many.” And asked about a previous BBC interview, in which he was questioned about Sater’s mafia connections, Trump said he didn’t recall the interview.
This past December Trump went further: “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told AP, referring questions about Sater to his staff. “I’m not that familiar with him.”
End of story? Not quite. Looking into Trump’s deals, FORBES has uncovered numerous e-mails and sworn statements that indicate Sater was closer to Trump, his organization and his children than previously revealed. Additionally, FORBES has connected three billionaire oligarchs from Kazakhstan to potential deals involving Trump and Sater.
Why does this matter? The story of Sater and the one involving billionaires quietly backing the Trump-Bayrock deals speaks to a key virtue of any good businessman – due diligence – that seems especially relevant for a candidate running on private sector acumen and the need to do “extreme vetting” of those seeking to get into the country.
It wouldn’t have taken much vetting to get the scoop on Sater. FORBES retained a highly regarded global-risk-assessment firm to conduct a background check, using only what was available to it in 2007 – the year the Trump-Bayrock relationship was promoted. The investigative firm (it asked not to be named for fear of political repercussions) discovered many facts that we’re revealing here and others that have come out before, including felony convictions and organized crime ties. Such due diligence on Sater could have been done for $5,000.