Updated: Apr 30, 2021
A reader's job when reviewing this curious case of Felix Sater would be easier if this case were a short and simple one. However, this case is hardly short or simple, and if it were, it would hardly be considered curious. A reader tackling this "then vs. now" review should be forewarned this is a lengthy read which could be reviewed in one sitting like a mini-book or over an extended period of days. It has been broken out into sections which will begin by reviewing what Glenn Simpson (Fusion GPS) should have known in the public record regarding Felix Sater in the fall of 2015, what additional facts came out through a chronological review of the years and unearthed details since then, along with the four main points or ways Felix Sater came to be described in the media as the "heart" of the Trump Russia investigation and wrapped up in the Mueller investigation. The ending will summarize some of the main remaining questions.
There were many opportunities over the last decade, even before the 2016 presidential election race, for the American public to read or hear the name Felix Sater. This could have been in 2007, during the construction of Trump SoHo, when The New York Times published a story with a headline, ‘Real Estate Executive With Hand in Trump Projects Rose From Tangled Past.’ Or in 2008 when NYMag wrote in their article the Times story “outed” Sater as an “ex-con with possible Mafia connections.” It could have been even as late as September of 2012 when the Miami Herald linked Felix Sater to being referred to as “John Doe” in a pending legal case. Their article was titled ‘Strange bedfellows: Swindler, Stinger-missile brokers, the CIA.’
Any decent and critical researcher, and especially a company like Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS being paid handsomely to perform such work, should have established the following high-level summary timeline on Sater from 1991 - 2015. When reviewing this timeline, understand this sets the basis of what should have been gleaned of public court records and media articles by the time Fusion GPS admittedly began looking into Sater for his reported links to Russian organized crime. However, the conclusions Glenn Simpson and his company reached were arguably different than others may have drawn based on the same set of facts. While this by itself isn't very noteworthy considering people draw different conclusions based on the same facts all the time, what is interesting is how these conclusions never changed as new facts emerged with time, Mueller's Special Counsel investigation came and went, and Felix Sater was never indicted for a single lie.
1991 - bar fight; age 25 - same year Soviet Union collapsed
1993-96 - fighting appeal on bar fight conviction, resorted to partnering with three others with stock fraud scam common on Wall Street during this years (see: Operation Street Cleaner reference CNN, March 2000); in prison for bar fight between June 1994 and September 1995
1996-98 - Traveled to (and briefly lived in) Russia as consultant for AT&T with two of the partners in stock fraud scam, Salvatore “Sal” Lauria and Gennady “Gene” Klotsman, at a time when President Bill Clinton was in office and Russia was like the Wild Wild West with unbridled and unregulated capitalism
1998 - older article linking Felix Sater to opened rental storage locker with documents related to stock fraud scam and corresponding indictments
2000s -working at Bayrock licensing Trump brand on real estate deals with Tevfik Arif, Sapir Organization, while also doing consulting work for Rixos Hotels, Sembol Construction, and Mirax Group between 2005-2010
2003 - The book Scorpion and the Frog: High Times and High Crimes was published where Lex Tersa was the pseudonym for Felix Sater and described the 90s stock scam along with Sater and his partners' travel to Russia; described Sater's family having links to world organized crime
2007-08 - Sater was specifically named in articles in 2007 and 2008 as possibly having Mafia ties and having helped the CIA in the late 90s to hunt down Stinger missiles on the black market
2009 - Patrick Byrne's (then-CEO of Overstock) website Deep Capture linked Felix Sater to the "Milken network" and organized crime; the Michael Milken of naked short-selling 80s fame; Byrne also had associated Felix Sater to a death threat he believed he had received in prior years
2010 - Lawsuits started and continued for years beyond this point to have Sater's files being sealed by the government unsealed; public records indicated an ex-Bayrock IT employee, Josh Bernstein, had been asked to make a backup of the Bayrock system, and when he was later fired, had shown to other people files he had found which Sater had stored on the Bayrock system related to his criminal conviction from the stock fraud scam and related cooperation with the FBI
2012 - article in Miami Herald detailed how in the previous year (2011) files had been submitted to the court which had, per their reporting, “set off a reaction in the courts rarely seen, with one judge sealing the civil suit and another judge ordering a criminal probe of the lawyer who filed it.” Two lawyers had been given copies of these files Bernstein illegally obtained and even though they were marked as sealed information, submitted them in their motion publicly. They received the wrath of the Judge for taking this action. The lawyer representing Sater on behalf of the government, Kelly Moore, called keeping his files sealed important to “national security." (This was in 2011, over two years after he’d already faced sentencing for his role in the mid-90s stock scam.)
2013 - While Donald Trump is most often quoted in a deposition from this year as saying he wouldn't recognize Felix Sater if they were in the same room together, he also said three different times Sater "seemed close to the federal government"; this is the year then-CEO of Overstock's Deep Capture website linked Felix Sater to Mogilevich, a so-called "Russian mobster" on the FBI Most Wanted list
2015 - Supreme Court ruled against the request for unsealing of Sater's files; Obama Attorney General then-nominee Loretta Lynch was asked in her nomination hearing about the continued sealing of Felix Sater's records and made a personal and public statement on his behalf
By the fall of 2015, when Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS began digging into Felix Sater for their Republican client, at a summary level this is what they should have been reporting back. Trump Tower Moscow discussions had started by September of 2015 but it is fairly unlikely this was known by Fusion GPS at the time. By December of 2015, the first negative media reporting regarding Donald Trump's association to Felix Sater during the 2016 election was published by ABC News. What should be underscored here is even though Glenn Simpson should have had read an article only three years earlier which made it pretty evident the government was clamoring to get the private information which had been wrongly publicly submitted made private again as quickly as possible, it is odd they felt this was likely taking place if Sater was actually tied to Semyon Mogilevich. After all, in the same year 2011 the files were publicly submitted by these lawyers, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller had referred to the Mogilevich Network in a speech stating, "...we are also building a long-term strategy for dismantling these enterprises. Last year, we set up two units, called Threat Focus Cells, to target Eurasian organized crime. The first focuses on the Semion Mogilevich Organization; the second on the Brother’s Circle enterprise. For those of you not familiar with either group, their memberships are large, their reach is global, and their scope of operations is broad, from weapons and drug trafficking to high-stakes fraud and global prostitution. If left unchecked, the resulting impact to our economy and our security will be significant. Indeed, Semion Mogilevich is on the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted List, and he will remain so until he is captured."
The sheer volume of articles from both mainstream, as well as independent and alternative media regarding Felix Sater, as well as the amount of misinformation and fake news amidst them is almost staggering. What has likely stuck in most Americans’ minds, if they even still recognize the name Felix Sater, is recalling him as the margarita-glass-wielding Russian gangster who slashed a guy’s face and played a role in a stock scam in the mid-90s, cooperated with the CIA and FBI at some point, and worked for a company which licensed the Trump brand on real estate deals. Then got himself wrapped up in the Mueller investigation by sending strangely-worded emails about getting Trump elected and building a Trump Tower Moscow. While this may now be the extent of what many Americans vaguely remember of Felix Sater from this Russian collusion hysteria, new and additional facts have come to light since the Mueller team released their report. A review of these new facts, as well as context where lacking, will highlight many remaining questions which remain to be answered.
The relentless focus on Sater's criminal past from the 90s by the mainstream media should also be pointed out considering the core of the mystery of Felix's story is what happened after those two unrelated events, and why the government had his files sealed for over two decades. The narrative was never framed to ask why the government would have this man's files sealed for such a length of time to end up being accused of colluding with a foreign government. During her nomination hearing in early 2015, Loretta Lynch stated, "At this point, the majority of the materials that remain sealed go to the heart of the nature of Sater’s cooperation in several highly sensitive matters."
There have been conspiracy theories regarding Felix Sater’s involvement with Donald Trump on both sides of the two major U.S. political parties, and yet none of these theories seem close to truth or reality. To the political left, Felix was a mobster linked to Semion Mogilevich, an asset for Russia or even a double agent working both sides, and helped get Trump elected President. To the political right, Felix’s ties to multiple members of Mueller’s team, his connections and prior known cooperation with multiple U.S. intelligence agencies meant he must have been a deep state plant dispatched to spy on Trump, the Trump Org, and helped to orchestrate this Trump Russian collusion conspiracy. Neither of these theories make complete sense or are remotely likely to be the truth.
In order to gain a fresh perspective of where things stand now in 2021, over two years after the completion of the Mueller Report and several months following the release of the Senate Report Volume 5, a review of some of these conspiracy theories compared with the facts is warranted and in fact, necessary. Is there any evidence Felix Sater is tied to organized crime, or more specifically Semyon Mogilevich? Is there any evidence supporting Felix Sater could have been some sort of deep state plant for the FBI, CIA, or DIA? Is there any evidence to support that he ever worked for Russia or was a double agent? Why was he described "at the center of Mueller's Russia investigation," yet also had connections to multiple members of the Mueller team, showed up in the Senate Intel Report as having the closest connections to Russia, and the Mueller Report never addressed any of it?
If a researcher trying to resolve these questions reviewed the Mueller Report to seek answers, they were hard-pressed to find any. Felix Sater is mentioned over a hundred times in the Mueller report but there is nothing there regarding his criminal past, or his prior cooperation with agencies like the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Interestingly, an article regarding Felix Sater published by BuzzFeed News in March 2018, ‘The Asset,’ offered far more details on Sater’s work for the U.S. government than the Mueller Report had ever pointed out (even though the report came out over a year after the article).
As stated, the Senate Report Volume 5 which didn't come out until the middle of 2020, was a completely different story. Sater was mentioned close to 500 times. In their report, it stated, “Sater told Cohen about high-level outreach to Russian businessmen and officials that Sater claimed to have undertaken related to the deal. While Sater almost certainly inflated some of these claims, the Committee found that Sater did, in fact, have significant senior-level ties to a number of Russian businessmen and former government officials, and was in a position, through intermediaries, to reach individuals close to Putin.”
Regardless of what one might feel about any of these intelligence agencies or even the level of trust an American may have in our government, it should be irrelevant in evaluating the case of Felix Sater. Before all of this Russian hysteria started, it was because Fusion GPS believed Felix could have been working to help Russia elect Trump as their candidate of choice. This constructed belief and described "research" later led to the hiring of Christopher Steele and the infamous Steele dossier. Though it is highly likely the hacking of the DNC would have warranted an investigation, the scope of the investigation broadened around Trump and within and outside of his campaign due to the actions of these individuals. The time has long past to begin to ask ourselves why.
PATRICK BYRNE’S DEEP CAPTURE WEBSITE LINKED SATER TO SEMION MOGILEVICH WITH NO EVIDENCE
In the middle of 2013, Patrick Byrne had already been paying Mark Mitchell, a journalist, to help him with what he has referred to as his war on Wall Street and the naked short-selling of stocks. Byrne had accurately predicted the 2008 Wall Street collapse and cracks in the system but the mainstream media made him sound like a crackpot until it actually happened. Regardless, Mitchell wrote the following in his Chapter 7 of the named “Milken network” series on the Deep Capture site in July of 2013:
“One of the people Silverman brought in to help run his brokerage – another of the select traders with special partnerships at Gruntal – was a fellow named Felix Sater, who was (and is) a Russian mobster and a member of the Mogilevich organization (controlled by Semion Mogilevich, often described as the “most dangerous mobster in the world”). While still at Gruntal, Sater was charged with stabbing a Wall Street trader in the face with the broken stem of a wine glass (actually, it was martini glass, according to a man who witnessed the attack).
While still at Gruntal, Sater and several other former Gruntal traders founded a brokerage called White Rock Partners. Most of White Rock’s employees were former Gruntal employees, and there is no doubt that White Rock’s partners all had ties to organized crime. In 1996, the FBI discovered a locker at a Manhattan Mini-Storage in Soho that belonged to Evgeny Klotsman, a White Rock principal who was formerly among the select traders who had effectively run the Milken-financed Gruntal & Company. The FBI announced that the locker contained guns and documents that linked Klotsman and Sater to a “global market manipulation and money laundering network controlled by Russian organized crime.”
This reference of Sater with Mogilevich became more important years later during the 2016 election, and for the conspiracy theories which followed after. Felix Sater had been mentioned within Byrne's site's reporting years earlier in 2009 but this was the first time (2013) he had been linked to Mogilevich based on zero evidence.
In 2009, the following had been written regarding this alleged death threat which was described as being made with a Russian Matryoshkas doll which had an "F" on it with a cross at the center.
TRUMP QUESTIONED IN DEPOSITION ABOUT FELIX SATER
An oddity which has been counterintuitive to the entire claim Felix Sater helped work with Russia and Vladimir Putin to elect Donald Trump has been contained within this deposition when Trump was asked what he knew of Felix Sater. This was public record at the time Fusion GPS-owner, Glenn Simpson, testified he had already started researching Sater and explained to the House Intelligence Committee he was questioning Trump’s connections to Russia because of him. Why this is striking is, not only does it undermine the argument Felix Sater was actually spying on Trump in some capacity during the years he worked to license the Trump brand on real estate, because Donald obviously already knew Sater was close to the US government in 2013 in Donald’s own words, but he also told the interviewer he didn’t believe Sater was involved with the Mafia. It is also pretty unlikely the US government would trust a person enough to have their files sealed for this many years if they were really actually working in Russian interests or for Vladimir Putin. Regardless, conspiracy theories had spiraled out of control.
It’s hard to imagine a man like Donald Trump openly or even covertly, committing crimes with, or in front of, a man he already is aware by 2013 was close to our own federal government or intelligence agency(ies) in some unknown way, shape, or form. But if and when Glenn Simpson read this 2013 deposition during his research of Sater which began in fall of 2015, it apparently never once caused him to stop and question why Trump would have been indicating a guy he didn’t really know was actually “close to the government as a witness or something” in his first initial response. Instead, Glenn automatically assumed the government fought to keep Sater’s files sealed for over two decades because he was actually tied to Semion Mogilevich and Russian organized crime. This was Simpson’s testimony later in 2018, but by summer of 2019, Felix Sater accused Glenn Simpson of perjuring himself in front of reporters while he stood next to his lawyer, Robert Wolf. Even now in 2021, there is no one in mainstream media even placing any of this into context or asking serious and critical questions.
Notice the attorney questioning Trump for this Trump SoHo-related lawsuit brought up the most recent interview Trump had with BBC first, and then went back to the older articles in his review of exhibits. The BBC interview took place in July 2013 and the deposition quoted above occurred a few months later (Nov 2013). These articles had mentioned the fact Felix Sater might have in the past done work for US intelligence agencies like the CIA. The attorney questioning Trump was actually referring to articles referencing Sater’s known cooperation with US intelligence agencies, the fact the government had sealed records on him they were fighting to remain sealed (and only unsealed in August of 2019, months following the publication of the Mueller report), but at the same time were indicating to Trump through their questioning Sater may have been “mafia.” Trump disagreed.
Trump made it clear he did not personally fault Sater for any of the legal challenges then facing the Trump SoHo development. By this point in time in late 2013, Donald Trump has shown a clear pattern of trusting Felix Sater. In the mid-2000s, when he asked Felix to fly separately to Russia from where he was in London to meet both Ivanka and Donald Trump, Jr. to keep them safe. Even after these articles used as exhibits had come out, Trump was not saying anything negative in regards to Sater, while at the same time remarking he wouldn’t know Felix if they were in the same room together. These two statements are definitely contradictory but Trump’s response from the get-go indicated a knowledge not of a Mafia-connected individual, but a person connected to the US government.
It is also worth noting less than two years after Trump stated this and in fall of 2015 during the election primaries, he still trusted Sater to be the intermediary with Michael Cohen to work on another effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow when there were other interested parties who had reached out to Michael Cohen. This is per Mueller Report as well as Cohen’s testimony in his transcript.
ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE LORETTA LYNCH
ASKED ABOUT FELIX SATER
In 2015, then-President Obama’s own Attorney General Loretta Lynch was asked about Felix Sater during her nomination hearing [p.142 of 221]. To provide some background, the two lawyers who had fought over several years to have Sater’s files unsealed by this point had in some unclear way, engaged Paul Cassell, a former Judge, to ask questions about the Sater case. This brought attention to the case and prompted Senator Orrin Hatch to pose the question and Lynch responded in the following way (below). There were specific human rights concerns in regards to restitution towards the stock scam victims and an insinuation the government was overstepping their bounds in keeping Sater’s files sealed since 1998. Keep in mind their sealing of his stock scam conviction enabled his career and employment with Bayrock most of the 2000's. While some media reporting did cover part of Lynch’s statement, they never reported her statement in its entirety.
QUESTIONS FROM SENATOR HATCH
1. On April 25, 2013, Professor Paul Cassell of the University of Utah College of Law testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding implementation of crime victims’ rights statutes. These include the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, 18 U.S.C. §3663A, and the Crime Victims Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. §3771, both of which I helped to enact. He suggested that your office had failed to follow these statutes in a sealed case involving a racketeering defendant who had cooperated with the government. Specifically, he cited documents appearing to show that your office failed to notify victims of the sentencing in that case and had arranged for the racketeer to keep the money he had stolen from victims, even though the law makes restitution mandatory. Please explain in detail how your office protected the rights of crime victims in this case and, in particular, how it complied with the mandatory restitution provisions of these two statutes.
RESPONSE: The defendant in question, Felix Sater, provided valuable and sensitive information to the government during the course of his cooperation, which began in or about December 1998. For more than 10 years, he worked with prosecutors from my Office, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and law enforcement agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies, providing 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. For that reason, his case was initially sealed. During my most recent tenure as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the Office’s only activity related to this matter was to address whether certain materials should remain sealed. My Office’s position has consistently been upheld by the courts.
The initial sealing of the records related to Sater—which predated my tenure as United States Attorney—occurred by virtue of a cooperation agreement under which Sater pled guilty and agreed to serve as a government witness. In 2013, following proceedings before United States District Judge I. Leo Glasser of the Eastern District of New York, roughly three-fourths of the materials in this case were unsealed. At this point, the majority of the materials that remain sealed go to the heart of the nature of Sater’s cooperation in several highly sensitive matters. Judge Glasser has ruled that these remaining materials should remain sealed on the basis of, among other things, the “safety of persons or property” and the “integrity of government investigation and law enforcement interests.”
In addition to Judge Glasser’s 2013 ruling, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals twice rejected efforts to reconsider the decision to keep certain materials sealed in this case. The judges reviewing Judge Glasser’s order concluded that “given the extent and gravity of Sater’s cooperation,” continued sealing of select materials was appropriate. In a separate instance, the court went out of its way to warn the plaintiffs behind the lawsuit to cease any further “frivolous” motions or else risk court-imposed sanctions. Finally, just last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear any further arguments from the parties behind this lawsuit. In terms of restitution, there has been speculation that my Office pursues restitution from cooperating defendants differently than it does from other defendants. It does not. With respect to Sater’s case, the information in the record that concerns the issue of restitution remains under seal. As a matter of practice, however, the prosecutors in my Office work diligently to secure all available restitution for victims, whether the defendants convicted in their cases cooperate with the government or not. In fact, since June 2010, in EDNY cases, judges have imposed nearly two billion dollars in restitution to individual and government victims.
Loretta Lynch’s reply was worded to guide an assumption Felix Sater may have ceased cooperating with the government in late 2009 when he was finally faced sentencing for his role in the stock scam, received leniency, zero probation, and a $25,000 fine. Perhaps Glenn Simpson had read this deposition as part of his research and still considered it plausible (along with many others) Felix Sater went from cooperating with the US government to committing financial crimes with Donald Trump, but one must agree it becomes murky to consider Simpson seemingly not once considered if he might be incorrect in his analysis of Sater, or consider perhaps any acquaintances Felix had with known organized crime elements might have been in order to assist US intelligence agencies. Either way it should be crystal clear by this point in February of 2015, before Glenn Simpson had ever