December 4, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump knew a man he named as a senior business adviser in 2010 had been convicted in a major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme, according to Associated Press interviews and a review of court records.
Trump had worked with Felix Sater previously during the man's stint as an executive at Bayrock Group LLC, a real estate development firm that partnered with Trump on numerous projects after renting office space from the Trump Organization. But Sater's past was not widely known at the time because he was working as a government cooperator on mob cases and the judge overseeing Sater's own case kept the proceedings secret. After Sater's criminal history and past ties to organized crime came to light in 2007, Trump distanced himself from Sater.
Less than three years later, however, Trump tapped Sater for a business development role that came with the title of senior adviser to Donald Trump. Sater received Trump Organization business cards and was given an office within the Trump Organization's headquarters, on the same floor as Trump's own.
Trump said during an AP interview on Wednesday that he recalled only bare details of Sater.
"Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it," Trump said, referring questions about Sater to his staff. "I'm not that familiar with him."
According to Trump lawyer Alan Garten, Sater's role was to prospect for high-end real estate deals for the Trump Organization. The arrangement lasted six months, Garten said.
The revelation about Sater's role is significant because of its timing and directness, and marks the first time the Trump Organization has acknowledged publicly that Sater worked for Trump after the disclosures of Sater's criminal background. Trump has said that among his secrets of success is that he surrounds himself with the "best and most serious people" and with "people you can trust."
Sater never had an employment agreement or formal contract with the Trump Organization and did not close any deals for Trump, Garten said.
"He was trying to restart his life," Garten said. "I believe he was regretful of things that happened in the past."
Trump did not know the details of Sater's cooperation with the government when Sater came in-house in 2010, Garten said. But Garten noted that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch praised Sater's cooperation with the federal government, when senators asked about him during her confirmation hearings early this year. She said Sater cooperated against his Mafia stock fraud co-defendants and assisted the government on unspecified national security matters.
"If Mr. Sater was good enough for the government to work with, I see no reason why he wasn't good enough for Mr. Trump," Garten said.
He pleaded guilty in 1998 to one count of racketeering for his role in a $40 million stock fraud scheme involving the prominent Genovese and Bonanno crime families, according to court records. Prosecutors called the operation a pump-and-dump scheme, in which insiders manipulate the price of obscure stocks and then sell them to hapless investors at inflated prices. Five years earlier, a New York State court had sentenced Sater to more than a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass.
Sater declined to discuss his work with Trump.
"Obviously a Donald-and-the-bad-guy piece is not interesting for me to participate in," Sater wrote in an email to AP. His lawyer, Robert Wolf, said information about Sater in public records and lawsuits obtained by the AP was defamatory. He credited Sater's stint as a government cooperator with potentially saving American military lives, although he did not provide details. Wolf told the AP to write about Sater's past "at your own risk" but did not cite specific concerns.