Felix Slater is becoming one of the key figures in the Trump-Russia investigation, especially after an email he wrote to President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, surfaced on August 28. Slater, who was born in Russia, reportedly wrote to Cohen about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that he could get Putin to approve construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow. If the deal could be pulled off, “Our boy can become president of the USA,” Slater wrote, according to the New York Times.
Slater’s relationship with Trump has been well-known. He was an adviser to the Trump Organization and he had an office in Trump Tower. His strange past, which includes links to the Mafia and a conviction for smashing a man’s face with a margarita glass in 1991, was detailed in a 2007 New York Times story about his ties to a Trump project.
Here’s what you need to know about Slater and his part in the Trump-Russia web.
1. Sater Reportedly Told Cohen ‘Our Boy Can Become President’ if Trump Could Get a Deal to Build a Tower in Moscow
On August 27, The Washington Post first reported on Trump’s business associates seeking approval to build a Trump Tower-like building in Moscow during the early months of Trump’s campaign. Sater appears to be the person who kicked off this pursuit, which ultimately didn’t end with Trump building a tower in Russia’s capital city or him visiting the country.
According to the Post’s sources briefed on Sater’s correspondence, he wrote in a November 2015 email that if the Trump Organization pulled off the deal, it would help Trump become president. One of the Post’s sources said Sater wrote to Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’” That referred to the fact that Cohen and Sater grew up in Brooklyn. Although born in Moscow, Sater left the country at 6 years old and his family moved to the U.S. when he was 8.
Sater also proposed that Trump himself should go to Moscow to pitch the proposal. He also claimed that he was close enough to the Kremlin that he could get Putin to say “great things” about the future President.
After the Post’s report was published, The New York Times obtained the email in question. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
The Times reports that Sater tried to get financing for the Trump Tower deal through VTB Bank, one of the Russian banks sanctioned by the U.S. Sater promised in the emails that he could “get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”
When the project stalled, Cohen wrote to Putin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov in January 2016. However, the Times reports that Cohen didn’t have Peskov’s personal email, only sending the message to a general Kremlin press email. The project died after the email to Peskov.
Sater’s emails were among the many the Trump Organization sent over to the House Intelligence Committee, which is running its own investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Cohen’s responses to Sater – if there were any – were not included.
Cohen confirmed to ABC News that Trump himself signed a “non-binding letter of intent” to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal, but Cohen said it had nothing to do with the presidential campaign. Cohen said that, to the best of his knowledge, Trump wasn’t “in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions.”
Cohen told ABC News that he did contact the Kremlin on behalf of Sater, who asked him to email Peskov. They never got permission from the Russian government to build the tower.
“I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Mr. Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal,” Cohen told ABC News.
2. The Trump Organization Has Distanced Itself From Sater, but He’s Billed Himself as a ‘Senior Advisor to Donald Trump’
Sater entered the Trump world through Bayrock Group, a real estate development company founded by Kazakh businessman Tevfik Arif in 2001. Two years later, Sater was hired as managing director. Sater remained at the company through 2008. Today, the company barely exists. The American Interest reported in 2016 that by 2014, Bayrock only existed in lawsuits. Bayrock, The Trump Organization and Bayrock’s partners had over $2 billion tied up in Trump-branded real estate by 2007. Many of the deals never happened and some were failures.
In a 2013 deposition, Trump said he didn’t know Sater that well. In fact, he said he wouldn’t recognize Sater if he was sitting in the same room with him. In a 2015 interview with the Associated Press, Trump said he’s “not that familiar with” Sater.
Trump and his lawyers say that they weren’t aware of Sater’s past, even though it was detailed in a New York Times article in 2007. Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told The Washington Post that Trump didn’t have a relationship with Sater and that it was possible Sater misinterpreted his interactions with the reality TV star/real estate mogul was more than business.
“I can see how the relationship may have been viewed differently from one person’s side of the relationship from the other,” Garten said. “There was no relationship with Mr. Sater. The relationship was a business relationship with Bayrock.”
But as the AP pointed out, Sater was under the impression that he had a much closer relationship with Trump. He had an office at Trump Tower on the same floor as Trump’s and had Trump Organization business cards. Sater became a “senior business advise” to the Trump Organization in 2010.
Garten told the AP that Sater did have a job for the Trump Organization, but it was only for six moths. The lawyer told the AP that he never had a formal contract and was never successful with closing deals.
“He was trying to restart his life,” Garten told the AP. “I believe he was regretful of things that happened in the past.”
3. Sater Went to Prison for Stabbing a Broker With a Martini Glass Stem in the Face in 1991
As The New York Times reported in the 2007 article, Sater first found trouble with the law in 1991. At the time, he was a stock broker. He was celebrating with Salvatore Lauria, who just passed the stockbroker’s exam.
During the celebration, he got into an argument with another commodities broker at the bar. He broke a margarita glass on the bar, then smashed the stem into the man’s face. The man was injured, requiring 110 stitches and suffered nerve damage.
“I got into a bar fight over a girl neither he nor I knew,” Sater, who was using the name “Satter” in 2007, told the Times in 2007. “My life spiraled out of control.”
Sater was convicted two years after the incident and spent 15 months in jail. He was also supposed to be barred from selling securities by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD).
This was just the start of Sater’s run-ins with the law. He later founded White Rock Partners, which became State Street Capital Markets in October 1995.
In 1998, he was convicted for his role in a penny stock pump and dump scheme that involved the Mafia. As the Daily Beast explains, the manager of a Manhattan Mini Storage in SoHo opened a cubicle Sater rented under a fake name. Inside, he found weapons and documents that helped the FBI uncover the scheme, which also involved Lauria and Gennady “Gene” Klotsman (who was also at the bar that night in 1991). Sater and Klotsman left for Russia by the time the FBI found the evidence, but they were arrested when they came home.
The 1998 indictment showed that Sater broke an agreement he had with NASD to keep his role at White Rock to a minimum. That wasn’t how it worked in reality. When the trio pleaded guilty, they admitted that White Rock was just a big money-laundering scheme. They stole $40 million, including money from Holocaust survivors. And a 2000 grand jury indictment revealed that four different Italian Mafia crime families were involved in the scheme. Since Sater and his accomplices all turned on their mob links, he didn’t face jail time. Instead, he was to be an informant.
4. Sater & His Father Were FBI Mob Informants for a Decade
Sater’s father, Mikhail Sater, also known as Michael Sheferofsky, was also allegedly involved in organized crime, New York Magazine reported. Mikhail ran a long-term extortion scheme in Brighton Beach with a soldier for the Genovese crime family.
According to the Daily Beast, Mikhail was indicted in 2000 by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, who would later become U.S. Attorney General. Mikhail also turned on his connections to the mob, like his son and became an important informant for the FBI for a decade. In exchange for their help, Lynch agreed to seal the court records.
When asked why the records were sealed, Lynch said at her Attorney General confirmation hearing that Sater was “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.”
Lauria later co-wrote a 2003 book called The Scorpion and the Frog: High Times and High Crimes, in which he claimed he, Klotsman and Sater were CIA spies. They were supposed to give Russia the money to buy missiles on the Afghanistan black market. The Russians would give them the weapons so they could turn them over to the CIA. If the deal worked, they wouldn’t face jail time for their Wall Street crimes.
According to the Times, Lauria has since distanced himself from that book and calls it a work of fiction. Co-author David S. Barry stood by the research though.
5. Sater Has 3 Daughters & His Wife Vicki Runs a Gourmet Food Company
Sater’s wife is Vicktoria “Vicki” Sater. In 2009, she founded Viktoria’s Gourmet Foods, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was born in Ukraine and has three daughters with Sater.
“I went from being a stay-at-home mother to running/owning a successful granola company,” she told the New York Business Journal. “In the beginning years of starting this company it was very difficult and I wasn’t sure if I could make it, but my daughters drove me to be successful every day. It truly makes my day when my daughters call or text me to share that their friends tried my granola and loved it. They are my biggest fans.”
Sater is still working as an informant for the government. In July 2017, The Financial Times reported that Sater is cooperating with investigators on another laundering scheme. This one involves a former Kazakh minister, Viktor Khrapunov, who is accused of stealing millions to invest in foreign real estate.