Can a scoundrel become a hero?
Tales of redemption sure make for a great story. The Bible is filled with them. Anna Karenina, arguably the greatest novel, is a story of redemption. So is Star Wars. But when we’re faced with a real life example, our hearts harden. Do people really change? Is it all just an act?
Felix Sater, who scouted real estate deals for Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and earlier, is an ex-con who ran a Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme. He is also an undercover government informant for the FBI, the CIA, and other three-letter agencies who risked his life overseas for the country that put him in prison.
So what is Felix Sater, a scoundrel or a hero?
Before you answer, you should know that we don’t have all the facts. There’s reams of material on all the bad things Mr. Sater did in his 20s. Countless articles and even an entire book has been written about it. However, when it comes to to the sensitive work Mr. Sater subsequently did as an undercover government informant, we know only the vaguest outlines.
Much of the court filings regarding Mr. Sater’s years of cooperation with the government — described as being “of an extraordinary depth and breadth, almost unseen in this United States Attorney’s Office” — still remain under wraps. Trump’s election and Mr. Sater’s desire to tell his own story are slowly forcing the details to come out of the shadows.
We got another glimpse yesterday thanks to Leo Glasser, the 95-year-old (!) judge who’s being hearing Mr. Sater’s case since 1998. Judge Glasser ordered the release of previously redacted portions of Mr. Sater’s 2009 sentencing hearing where prosecutors described the details of his cooperation.
I’ve compiled the bulk of the newly unsealed passages and skipped over two shorter redactions that tell us nothing. If you want the whole transcript as released by Judge Glasser, it’s here.
First up, Sater’s attorney Leslie Caldwell:
The information he provided was extraordinary. He provided information, as our letter and the government’s letter indicate, about Russian military intelligence. He provided the United States intelligence authorities with information relating to missiles — Stinger missiles — that the United States intelligence authorities were interested in repurchasing from the Taliban. That information was real. It was provided to the intelligence authority. We didn’t know it was acted upon. Of course we wouldn’t know, but F.B.I, agents confirmed that Mr. Slater’s serial numbers he actually provided were actual serial numbers. …
But he also risked his life working with the F.B.I, on unrelated matters, completely unrelated to his case. He flew to Cypress where he met with criminals from Russia in connection with this identity theft scheme which he had no involvement in.
At one point Mr. Slater was [in] Cypress, those Russian criminals told him to get into the car and drive away with him, which he did to the chagrin of the F.B.I, watching him. He’s here to tell the tale, but he really has risked his life in ways that the court doesn’t often see.
He flew to Central Asia to gather intelligence information. That information related to the kinds of individuals, including surprisingly and somewhat surprisingly, Osama Bin Laden, which are really the more extreme enemies of this country. Mr. Slater, really, he provided, and I don’t want to get into all of the details, he provided a telephone number to the government for Osama Bin Laden. He provided locations for Osama Bin Laden. He knew somebody who had a connection to Osama Bin Laden and was able to provide that person with a satellite phone so that that person could relay information, which Mr. Slater relayed to the F.B.I., which the F.B.I relayed to the intelligence authorities.
The kind of cooperation provided – and I’m not minimizing the underlying criminal activity – but had Mr. Slater’s case come to light in 1991, rather than being asked to come back from Russia to surrender, Mr. Slater might have been asked to stay in Russia to provide — he was capable of providing information not because he, himself, was involved in those terrorist-type activities, but because he had contacts who had contacts, who could put him in touch with certain people. So I think there’s a real possibility that he may not have been standing in a court of law in the United States, had his case come to light somewhat later than it did. Again, I’m not minimizing the underlying criminal conduct, but I do think that’s a fact, in light of the changing world after September 11th.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Kaminsky:
Felix Slater worked in the field of foreign intelligence, which [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Miller is going to address in a minute, was just exemplary. He traveled to parts of the country — parts of the world, rather, to countries that the United States had no known ties, that were extremely dangerous, where there would have been no recourse for him,should something have gone wrong, and he went there willingly, voluntarily, and with enthusiasm to help the agency and to help the United States. Then when he was in the process of doing that, he came back to the United States and continued to do the work in the leading and cutting edges of wherever burgeoning fields of crime were first coming forth, international financial fraud, Felix Slater was on the cutting edge of that. Even though he was not a participant,he was able to determine from his contacts what was going on,brought it to the F.B.I., had brought cases to them or he brought instances to them, and once again arrests were made,and whole fields of criminal activity were eliminated to agencies, and arrested were made, and he did this.
Judge Glasser says he will release Sater’s 5k1.1 letter in 30 days, barring an objection from the government.
This is the real gold mine. It’s the official government letter to the court requesting a lenient sentence on a defendant for his extraordinary cooperation. It will catalogue all his work for the government.
No doubt some of it will be redacted, but it may help more of us make up our minds about Felix Sater.