Felix Sater, a former resident of Sands Point, had an idea that he could secure not only a Trump Tower in Moscow but also the presidency for Donald Trump.
Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, released last Thursday, illustrated a long-winded attempt by Sater and Trump’s personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, to arrange “candidate Trump’s” visit to Moscow and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater said in an email to his childhood friend, Cohen, on Nov. 3, 2015. “Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in.”
A report from New York Magazine said that Cohen and Sater have been friends since the pair were teenagers.
Communications about the Trump Tower project in Moscow, once believed to have halted in January 2016, continued into June of that year, after Trump had been declared the Republican Party’s presidential candidate. Emails between Sater and Cohen reveal that there were plans for the president to visit Moscow after the national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2016.
During the negotiations over the “Moscow Project,” which failed to materialize, Trump denied to the media having anything to do with Russia on a number of occasions. Shortly after one of his public denials in summer 2016, Cohen told Mueller’s office, Trump requested a status update on the project.
The report said that the Trump Organization’s renewed interest in a Trump Tower Moscow began in the late summer of 2015 when Sater, on behalf of I.C. Expert Investment Co., reached out to the Trump Organization about the project.
I.C. Expert Investment is a Russian real estate development company headed by Andre Vladimirovic Rosov, an associate of Sater’s since about 2007, according to Mueller’s report.
Sater knew of the Trump Organization’s interest in a Trump Tower Moscow, after having made an attempt to forge a deal on behalf of the Trump Organization in the mid-2000s which was followed by a trip to Russia with Donald Trump Jr. and his sister Ivanka.
Sater made contact with Cohen in September 2015. The report states that Cohen is the only member of the Trump Organization to have dealt with Sater and I.C. Expert directly. He then provided status updates to “candidate Trump” regularly throughout 2015 and into 2016.
Between Oct. 13, 2015, and Nov. 2, 2015, a letter of intent was signed by Trump and Rosov securing further negotiations between the Trump Organization and I.C. Expert with the intended goal to enter into a mutually acceptable agreement on a Trump Moscow property, according to Mueller’s report.
The day after the contract was finalized Sater reached out to Cohen about the potential positive influence that good relations with Russia could bring to Trump’s campaign, in what Cohen says is the first time he had considered the deal’s possible effect on the election.
Sater sent a follow-up message to Cohen later that day where he suggested that he could get Putin to say good things about Trump as a businessman at a theoretical press conference for Trump Tower Moscow.
In a report by Buzzfeed News in March 2018, Sater claimed that while working on the “Moscow Project” he had no involvement with Russian meddling in the 2016 election and said, “he was just doing what he has always done: working a deal.”
Sater also told Buzzfeed that he and Cohen had planned to give Putin a $50 million penthouse in the proposed Trump Moscow as a way to attract Russian oligarchs to the building.
The Mueller report states that Sater and Cohen believed that due to the anticipated size of the project, it would require approval from the Russian national government. Sater therefore attempted to set up meetings with the appropriate government officials.
In late December 2015, Cohen complained to Sater that he had failed to set up the promised meeting with Russian government officials and said he would “set up the meeting myself.”
Cohen, on Jan. 11, 2016, emailed Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the Russian government, requesting contact with Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. After sending the initial email to an erroneous address for Peskov, using “.gof” instead of .”gov,” Cohen sent an email to email@example.com.
In Cohen’s original testimony to Congress, he said he never received a response to his inquiries, which resulted in his calling off the deal. In reality, according to the report, he received a response shortly after and negotiations continued for another six months.
Days after a phone call with Peskov’s personal assistant that Cohen remembers as being futile, according to the investigation, Sater texted Cohen asking that he call when he had “a few minutes to chat … It’s about Putin they called today.”
According to the report, Sater then sent Cohen an invitation to Russia on Jan. 25, 2016, that was signed by Andrey Ryabinsky, a Russian entrepreneur. The invitation detailed “a working trip” where Cohen would explore the available land plots for the proposed tower and Trump’s potential visit to the country.
Cohen told Mueller’s office he declined the offer because he said there was a “lack of concrete proposals” for land plots for the project.
Sater reached out to Cohen again on April 20, 2016, with a message that said: “the People wanted to know when you are coming?” He followed up on May 4 with Cohen inquiring whether he made the correct assumption when telling his contacts that Trump would most likely visit “after the convention” and “after Cleveland,” referring to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Cohen responded to Sater that he would visit prior to Cleveland and “Trump once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”
Sater tied Cohen’s planned trip to the upcoming annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the report states. The forum is said to be attended by many prominent Russian businessmen and politicians.
On May 5, 2016, Sater wrote a note to Cohen saying that Peskov would like to invite Cohen to the forum as his guest. He suggested that Cohen may have the opportunity to meet with the Kremlin. Cohen told Mueller’s office that he may have read this message aloud to Trump.
According to the report, Sater told Mueller’s office that he was told by an associate that Peskov wanted to invite Cohen to the forum.
Cohen then received an invitation to the forum from the director of the foundation that organizes the event on June 13, 2016, in an email forwarded from Sater. According to the report, Cohen grew concerned about the validity of the deal after the invitation showed no indication that Peskov had any involvement with his invitation.
The next day, Cohen met with Sater in the lobby of New York’s Trump Tower and informed him that he would no longer be traveling to Moscow, according to the report.
Cohen told Mueller’s office that after he told Trump about the invitation to the forum, he remembers Trump telling him that he would be willing to travel to Moscow if Cohen could “lock and load” on the deal.
From Trump’s signing of a letter of intent in fall 2015 to requesting an update from Cohen immediately after publicly denying any involvement with Russia in the summer of 2016, Mueller’s investigation details the president’s knowledge of the Moscow negotiations throughout their lifespan.
In Trump’s written responses to a list of questions from Mueller, he stated that as he recalls “neither I nor the Trump Organization had any projects or proposed projects in Russia during the campaign other than Letter of Intent.”
The president also said in his responses that he was not aware of any communications between Cohen and Sater regarding the letter.
In public, Trump has in the past denied knowing Sater. In reality, the pair shared a working relationship, which included Sater’s time occupying an office in New York’s Trump Tower two floors below the real estate mogul and Sater’s involvement in the Trump SoHo Hotel project.
In a March 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sater said of his time working with Trump that he “was building Trump Towers by day and hunting Bin Laden by night.”
He was referring to his role as an FBI informant in which he “provided crucial intelligence information and assistance to numerous U.S. national security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” according to his statement to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017.
Sater was enlisted by the FBI as an informant after pleading guilty to racketeering in 1998 for running a “pump and dump” scheme where his company inflated stock prices and sold them off once investors started buying in, according to court documents.
The businessman turned to what he called in his Buzzfeed interview the “dark side of Wall Street” after having lost his stockbroker’s license when he was 25 when he served jail time for stabbing one of his competitors in the face with a broken margarita glass. He began working on Wall Street after he dropped out of Pace University at 18.
Sater’s family fled from the Soviet Union when he was 8 years old due to their Jewish religion. After spending some time in Israel, he and his family eventually relocated to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.
Sater sold his Sands Point home for just over $2 million in early February, more than a year after it had been put on the market. Sater purchased the home in 2004 and sold it in order to relocate to waterfront property, according to local real estate agent Kathy Levinson in an interview with Blank Slate Media. She said he had already lived in Port Washington when he purchased the home.
By the time reporters from Buzzfeed News sat down with Sater in March 2018, the Russian-born New Yorker had already moved to Los Angeles where he shipped his Porsche to meet him there.
Sater is known locally for the time he served on the board of directors at the Chabad of Port Washington and was the recipient of the organization’s Man of the Year award in 2014.