Alex Constantine - May 22, 2016
On the 24th floor of Trump Tower, in an office two floors below Donald Trump, Felix Sater was trying to revive his career. The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.
But Sater and his business partners had an idea: They would build Trump towers in U.S. cities and across the former Soviet bloc. Sater pitched it to Trump, who gave Sater’s company rights to explore projects in Moscow as well as in Florida and New York.
“Anybody can come in and build a tower,” Sater told potential investors, according to testimony in a 2008 court case. “I can build a Trump Tower, because of my relationship with Trump.”
Sater’s “Trump card,” as he called it, didn’t work everywhere. The Moscow deal fell apart. But their relationship continued — though just how close they were is now in dispute.
Trump has repeatedly said he barely remembers Sater. In sworn testimony in 2013, Trump said he wouldn’t recognize Sater if they were sitting in the same room. In an interview last year with the Associated Press, he said, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it.”
Sater, in previously unreported sworn testimony reviewed by The Washington Post, described a closer relationship.
Sater said he popped into Trump’s office frequently over a six-year period to talk business. He recalled flying to Colorado with Trump and said that Trump once asked him to escort his children Donald Jr. and Ivanka around Moscow.
Sater’s account, which came during a deposition in a libel case Trump brought against a book author, offers new insights into Trump’s relationship with a complicated figure.
Sater has both been accused by former business associates of threatening to kill them and praised by top government officials for information that has led to numerous mob convictions and national security gains.
His relationship with Trump has created unwanted attention for the real-estate-mogul-turned-presidential-candidate as Sater and his onetime company have endured legal disputes with former business associates and investors who lost money in failed Trump-branded projects.
Sater arrived in Trump’s orbit as the mogul was shifting his business model. Seizing on the success of his television reality show, “The Apprentice,” he focused on licensing his name to developers constructing high-rise hotels and condominium projects.