The investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly turned to President Trump’s business dealings with Russia according to a new Bloomberg News story. We’ve long taken the view at Roughly Explained that this is where the investigation would inevitably lead. The infamous Don Jr. meeting not withstanding, the collusion case against Team Trump has always struck us as thin. Russia definitely meddled in the 2016 election, but we still don’t know that anyone from Trump world was in on it. With President Trump’s business dealings, there’s substantially more meat on those bones. A story we originally published in March looked at some of these issues. We reprint it here.
By focusing its attention on potential connections between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, the media is missing a bigger story: Trump’s business ties to Russians. While there have been some articles that document the latter, those have been few and far between. The press has largely ignored those pieces, instead it has focused on chasing what it thinks is the next big scandal.
To find a connection between Trump’s real estate organization and Russians, you need look no further than 246 Spring Street in Manhattan, the location of the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium.The hotel-condominium is run by Bayrock Ltd. and the Sapir Organization. It was developed by them and the Trump organization. Both Bayrock and Sapir have Russian ties.
Bayrock’s founder is Felix Sater, whose father Mickhail Sheferofsky (also known as Mike Sater) was a Russian organized crime boss, according to a lawsuit. Mike Sater pled guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit extortion.
Like his father, Felix Sater reportedly has associations with organized crime – only in his case it is both the Russian and the Italian mafia. He was indicted on federal money laundering and stock manipulation in a case that top this day remains sealed. Felix Sater also was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a $40-million that involved figures from four of New York City’s five Mafia families.
Salvatore Lauria was Sater’s partner in the stock manipulation case. In a book about his criminal past (The Scorpion and the Frog: High Times and High Crimes), Lauria used an alias for Sater. But, if you know the facts of Sater’s life, it is clear the person is Sater. For example, Lauria wrote that his partner had his brokerage license revoked in 1991 after a bar fight during a celebration of Lauria passing his security licensing exam. Sater’s license was revoked after he attacked someone with a glass in a bar during Lauria’s celebration. The New York Times reported on that back in 2007. Lauria described his partner’s father as “a notorious, politically connected gangster who was high up on the food chain.” A description that fits Mike Sater, if the lawsuit is to be believed.
After their federal indictment, Sater and Lauria fled to – you guessed it – Moscow. Sater tried to negotiate immunity in a series of failed deals with the CIA that involved purchasing Russian military equipment from former Afghan freedom fighters. One of those operations reportedly had the assistance of a KGB general that Sater knew. The KGB officer had ties to Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. When those arms deals failed to materialize, Sater and Lauria began negotiations for their surrender to U.S. authorities.
For those who do not remember this, three days before September 11, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated, presumably by al Qaeda. Lauria stated that, shortly after the terror attacks, Sater told him the FBI was interested in the proposed arms deals with the CIA, since it now implicated national security and counter-terrorism activities. Lauria wrote that the Department of Justice wanted to hide their involvement with anything that dealt with the matter, which could account for the files still being sealed.
Tamir Sapir, a Russian émigré, founded the Sapir Organization. Born Temur Sepiashvili in Georgia, he helped fund the purchase of the site that became the Trump SoHo.. For his part, Trump told New York Magazine that he considered Sapir and his son “great friends.”
Sapir’s son, who now runs the real estate business, told The New York Times, he did not know about Sater’s criminal history until the newspaper began investigating it. But, as the New York Magazine article stated, “Given the tight circle of Soviet-born real-estate players in New York, that’s hard to believe.”
Lest anyone think this is old news, a well-placed source tells us that federal authorities are currently looking into activity that gives an indication of potential money laundering at a Bayrock property in a former Soviet republic.
Investigations by U.S. government into collusion between President Trump, his campaign and the Russian government have so far turned up nothing, according to James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence. Further investigations by Congress, law enforcement, and the press likely will produce the same results. Although they may provide some tangential information that some campaign hangers-on sought to make some money on the side.
Rather than try to grab the highest ratings or the most web site hits with its obsession over Trump links to the Russian government, the media should conduct more serious investigative reporting of the business connections between Trump’s real estate empire and Russia. They might find some very interesting facts.