“July 2015: That is when the Russian investigation started, not July 2016. That is the big coverup.”
Not long ago, I had an email exchange with Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, about his relationship with Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who was sentenced to prison after she tried to set up a backchannel between the Trump camapign and the Kremlin.
Byrne told me three high-ranking officials (whom he calls “X,Y, and Z”) in the Obama administration directed him to “resume a romantic relationship” with Butina. He says the Russia investigation started when he contacted the FBI (which he refers to as the “Men in Black”) about Butina in July 2015. Byrne says he has a “non-standard relationship” with the FBI.
I have concerns about Byrne’s credibility, as I noted in a previous post, and I’ve tried, with limited success, to verify his claims. What I’ve been able to confirm is that Byrne and Butina did meet in July 2015. Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, has confirmed that they did have a romantic relationship. Driscoll also says the government “flatly denied” his speculation that Byrne was a government informant.
The Justice Department declined my request for comment, although, interestingly, my email was routed to Peter Carr, former spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Carr is now with the Office of Professional Responsibility, which will be handling any investigation into Byrne’s claims.
So there things stood until this week, when Byrne’s story took on a life of its own. Overstock issued a press release in which Byrne announced, “I am the notorious ‘missing Chapter 1’ of the Russian investigation.” (The company’s stock fell more than 30 percent on the news.) On Thursday, The New York Times followed up with a story on Byrne’s claims.
I believe people need to hear what Byrne told me, so here goes:
Q. You met Maria Butina at Freedom Fest in July 2015.
Q. You began dating shortly thereafter.
A. No. We had an intellectual discussion for 90 minutes. She knew all about me already.
She told me there was a circle in Russia of about 150 liberals, from across the Russian power structure, including the oligarchs. They watched my videos on liberalism. They know about my relationship with Milton Friedman. They discuss things I say and write.
They had sent her with a message for me to come to Moscow to speak on Bitcoin, then go to the Altai Mountains to a resort that would be shut down for three days so I could meet with 40-45 people from across the Russian power structure — government, oligarchs — to discuss liberalism, John Stuart Mill, Hayek, etc.
We parted after meeting that day in Vegas, her stipulating that we would text to make future arrangements and that she would be texting me under the guise of us having a romantic relationship.
I reported that night to my clearance authority (where I once kept a low level clearance due to some minor advisory work I do in foreign policy).
I gave a description of the situation and wanted to know:
- May I introduce her to some senior thinkers in the foreign policy establishment (My hope was to Yenta her in to talking to some senior thinkers in the foreign policy establishment whom I know through the Council on Foreign Relations. I thought she would be interesting for someone to spend an afternoon talking to, and perhaps her dreams of a back channel for peace might ring a bell with someone.)
- Is it OK if I travel to Russia on her invitation?
- Or should I cut her out of my life as being a security risk?
I learned later that my report “sent up a flare over Washington” that very night. July 2015: That is when the Russian investigation started, not July 2016. That is the big coverup.
I got contacted by Men In Black (I do not like using the acronym “FBI”). They were unclear, but seemed to suggest that I should learn more then they would decide, but were not sure. It went back and forth for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Maria was writing me, asking me to Moscow, then Montenegro, then Rome, Paris, etc. Watching my YouTube videos on liberalism. Pretending to be in love.
Finally, in September, I sent word to the U.S. government that I was not going to meet Maria again (lest I get in some hassle with the U.S. government) unless I was given the word “Greenlight.” They sent: “Greenlight.”
So I went to meet her for the second time in September 2015 at hotel room in New York City with the idea that we would spend a few days talking, getting to know each other, a possible trip to Russia and the purposes thereof. It was a two-bedroom suite. She arrived first. When I arrived, she made clear immediately (as in, less than three seconds) that she had not been pretending and wanted to make it romantic. I was putty in her hands.
Q. You had done some work for the FBI in the past?
A. I helped the Men in Black twice before.
[Note: Byrne forwarded two links to me. One is a Sports Illustrated story that discusses Byrne’s friendship with ex-NBA player Bison Dele, who disappeared while sailing in the South Pacific in 2002. The other is a link to his talk about naked short selling and corruption on Wall Street, Deepcapturethemovie.com]
Q. What happened next with you and Butina?
A. I saw her sporadically (every 4-6 weeks?) from September 2015 through March 2016. Initially my estimation was:
- 66% chance this is an opportunity of some kind. Maybe just getting a chance to preach the gospel of Liberalism and freedom in Russia. Maybe some good contacts. Maybe push the peace ball a couple of yards down the field.
- 33% chance this is a risk
The Men In Black’s lack of responsiveness or concern was odd.
As the September 2015-March 2016 wore on, my estimation changed. Maria was spending less time talking about John Locke and John Stuart Mill, more time talking about the political circles in which she was swanking around.
She let me know [Alexander] Torshin, had told her to focus on Hillary, Rubio, Cruz, and Trump. Whichever of the four won, she was to have a contact in their administration.
[Note: Torshin was the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia who prosecutors say was directing Butina’s activities in the United States]
This kind of talk was especially concerning. So the Men in Black’s lack of apparent interest or concern was frustrating to me.
Around February, she asked me to fly to Russia, give a talk in St. Petersburg on Liberalism and Bitcoin, then spend an hour with Putin (who would be in town). The Men in Black studied, came back, said it was too dangerous, don’t go, break up with Maria. So I did. (I was also stage four of two things at once at the time, and they were on the brink of starting to yank out organs, so I was not going to argue.)
The Men in Black then had me get involved with a corruption case involving a federal official. That ran a couple of months. Something deeply unusual and troubling came out of that experience that led me to wonder if I was involved in law enforcement or political espionage.
On July 1, 2016, they came back and said, “What a mistake we made. Russia, Russia, Russia. We want you to know that the U.S. government never asks something like this but we are here to ask you to rekindle a romantic relationship with Maria. The orders are coming from X, Y, and Z.”
[Byrne declined to name these officials.]
“The USA never, ever does this, but these circumstances are so extraordinary, that you are being asked to do this. We want to remind you that you can refuse.”
And the agents were clearly extremely discomfitted and unhappy about the whole thing. But the request came from X, Y, and Z.
I decided that I had gotten sucked into what was starting to seem a lot more like political espionage than law enforcement. I knew this was all going to end up in front of a jury, or in television, or in the history books, and I did not want to disgrace our country or Maria by carrying out those orders. I would have if I had thought them legitimate. I’ve done lots of stranger things for our country, but this smelled like skunk, so I decided to do two things instead:
- Lie to the feds. I would wine and dine and romance Maria, and give the public perception that we were once again romantically involved. I would blow her away with being this unbelievably romantic gentleman to her. I would report that I was back in the saddle, but all the while 100% NEVER TOUCH HER. I knew I had to be 100% pure on that bright line, so when the day came that it was all unearthed (which I knew would happen), the record would show that actually I had not laid a finger on her. (I understand that she and her lawyer have confirmed to other journalists that I was a total gentleman to her).
- Set up X,Y, Z for felony charges down the road
Q. You conveyed all of this to the Justice Department, including the name of the three higher-ups in the Obama administration in April 2019?
A. Yes on April 30 I told them all of this, including that the U.S. government had know all about Maria in July 2015 from me, and had known about each of her subsequent meetings (e.g. Don Jr.) before she had them, and had let them all occur.
[Note: On May 20, 2016, Butina and Torshin attended the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky and shared a table with Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner.]
I learned that Maria was transferred 9 days later from a SHU unit [solitary confinement] in a prison in Virginia to the nicest women’s camp in the federal system. So I give great compliments to the DOJ. Nothing happens in 9 days normally. But I think they heard my story, checked out some of the basic claims, and moved her out of isolation by the end of the following week (May 9). The following Wednesday they announced John Durham.
[Note: John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, is investingating the origins of the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. News broke about his investigation on May 13. The Washington Post reported that the investigation had been picked “in recent weeks.”]
Q. It’s a fascinating story, but I need to report it out. Is there someone who can corroborate this?
Sara Carter has had some recent confirmation from the Department of Justice. I don’t know what your connections are like there, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks! I’m not in the convincing business. I am simply in the business or letting the world know what happend.
I watched this unfold for the last year knowing I had a lot of the answers, and in late June decided (and was advised by my rabbi) that I had a moral duty to come forward. So I have. It is proving interesting to see how long it takes the world to get it.
[Note: Byrne’s “rabbi” is Warren Buffett. Byrne’s father, John, was the CEO GEICO, one of Buffett’s companies, and Patrick has known Buffett for years.)
Ok, Seth, I have qualms. From what you have written so far, I fear that when you learn the full truth you will seek to distort it because it conflicts with some things you have written so far. On the other hand, I have it on good authority that you are a legitimate, honest reporter. I have given you a ton. I have a mountain more. Let us see how you represent what I have told you before going any further.
The company that links Paul Manafort, Anthony Pellicano, the Mafia, and action star Steven Seagal
Bruce Bigelow was a San Diego journalist and friend of mine who sadly passed away after a hiking trip in Utah at the age of 63.
A few weeks before his untimely death last year, Bruce and I shared a beer at a local bar in San Diego with game three of the NBA finals playing the background.
Bruce had spotted my book in Barnes & Noble and he wanted to catch up. He also had a story he wanted to share with me about a strange little company in San Diego that tried to sell the finest in Soviet technology.
Eurotech, Ltd. was trying to bring to market a foam that that had been developed in Russia and used to control the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4.
It might sound like the setup for a bad joke but Eurotech had convinced some investors to part with their money. The company’s shares had soared more than 800 percent in a few months from 1996 to January 1997. “Not bad for an enterprise with no sales, four employees and a strategy focused on striking deals in the risky, raucous business world of Russia,” as Bruce put it in his story.
At first glance, Eurotech seemed respectable. The chairman of the publicly-traded company was James D. Watkins, a retired Navy admiral and former chief of Navy operations who had served as energy secretary in the first Bush administration.
Things were less clear on close inspection. One Eurotech board member, Karl Krobath, was a business advisor to Nordex GmbH. That’s a name that ran alarm bells in the CIA in the 1990s, which suspected Nordex of smuggling drugs, weapons, and even nuclear technology for the Russian Mafia. Eurotech also was introducing automated parking garage technology in Moscow’s Arbat district in partnership with the notoriously corrupt local mayor’s office.
To Bruce, Eurotech looked like a classic “pump-and-dump” stock scam, where a company cashes out on sales of illegally inflated stocks. Eurotech’s shares were sold in private placements that evaded disclosure to the U.S. Securities and Exchange. As readers of my book know, this is the same murky world that Felix Sater operated in the 1990s in his days at the Mafia-linked White Rock Partners.
Bruce did a little digging and learned that no one working at Chernobyl had ever heard of Eurotech or its foam, called Ekor, and the company’s claims that it was part of a $3.1 billion cleanup was dubious, at best.
Bruce’s story, which ran in February 1997, left a mark. The Nordex advisor left the board followed shortly by the rest of the board and the company moved to Virginia.
A few days after Bruce’s story ran, he noticed someone sitting in a car parked on the street outside his house. The car stayed around for several days. An editor told Bruce he was just being paranoid.
Around the same time, he got a call from a private investigator in Los Angeles, who told Bruce that he was taking over press operations for Eurotech. If he had any questions for the company, this investigator told Bruce, he was the man to call.
I asked Bruce if he felt threatened. “No, it was just qualitatively different,” he told me. “This was not a typical PR/marketing firm. So it felt more intimidating in that sense.”
The private eye’s name was Anthony Pellicano.
I wrote to Pellicano at the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro where he was serving his 15-year sentence on 78 counts of wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud.
Pellicano didn’t know anything about who was parked outside Bruce’s house and barely remembered Eurotech except for a possible connection to the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov.
But Pellicano has other interesting ties to the Eurotech story.
His case unraveled in 2002 when Los Angeles Times journalist Anita Busch walked out to her car to find a dead fish with a red rose in its mouth on the cracked windshield along with a note that read “Stop.” Busch believed that the threat was related to a story she was working on involving a dispute between actor Steven Seagal and his former producer, Julius R. Nasso. The FBI soon learned that Pellicano was behind the fish incident. Seagal was one of Pellicano’s clients.
Nasso, an associate of the Gambino organized crime family, had produced 10 films starring Seagal, including On Deadly Ground and Under Siege 2, and Out for Justice but their relationship ended in 1999. Nasso sued Seagal for $60 million.
(Interestingly, Nasso has an uncle, also named Julius Nasso, who ran a concrete company that partnered with S&A Concrete, the Mob-connected firm that built Trump Tower.)
Seagal claims that in February 2001 he was visiting Nasso in Brooklyn when he was ordered into a car and ushered into the back room of a Brooklyn steakhouse, Gage & Tollner. There, Seagal was threatened by a Gambino family captain, who told Seagal that he would be required to pay earnings from his movies to Nasso. The feds were listening in and the extortion plot got Nasso sentenced to prison for a year.
Around the same time of Seagal’s back room meeting in the steakhouse, Nasso purchased 500,000 shares of Eurotech at 33 cents a share.
How did Nasso come to learn about this company trying to market Russian foam? Probably through his friend and partner, Paul Manafort.
In January 2001, Eurotech agreed to pay Paul Manafort $300,000 a year to help it bring its superfoam to market. Eurotech subsequently hired Davis Manafort to raise capital on its behalf in exchange for a 4 percent finder’s fee. The guy who hired Trump’s future campaign chairman was the late Don Hahnfeldt, a one-time Florida lawmaker.
In addition, Manafort acquired 2,500,000 shares of Eurotech at 33 1/3 cents per share, through one of his companies, John Hannah LLC.
That name might ring a bell. John Hannah LLC is the same company that paid $3.675 million in 2006 for Manafort’s apartment 43G in Trump Tower.
On the same day that Manafort acquired his shares in Eurotech, Julius Nasso also acquired 500,000 shares in the company.
Nasso and Manafort, along with producer Paul Cohen and actor Danny Aiello, were partners together in a short-lived film production and distribution company formed in 2001 called Manhattan Pictures International. Another investor in Manhattan Pictures was Fred Trump’s right-hand man, Brad Zackson.
Manafort apparently saw film making as a natural extension of his work representing corrupt dictators around the world like Ferdinand Marcos and Mobutu Sese Seko.
“In many respects, a lot of what makes a film successful also makes lobbying successful,” Manafort told the New York Daily News. “You need to understand the demographics of the country whether it’s a candidate or a motion picture. In films, like successful campaigns, you need to know how to create messages.”
The company produced Enigma, starring Kate Winslet, and a few other films and then shut down.
During a search of Paul Manafort’s storage locker, the FBI came across some boxes relating to Manhattan Pictures and Julius Nasso.
Manafort is now in prison. Nasso, out of prison, is back producing movies. And his old friend Steven Seagal has gotten very, very close to the president of Russia. He’s now Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to the United States.
Updates with additional background.
The name of Aron Shaviv, a British-born Israeli campaign consultant with an impressive resume, has surfaced lately in investigations of underhanded election plots by Russia.
The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an interest in Mr. Shaviv as part of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government.
According to a scoop by independent journalist Scott Stedman, Shaviv’s name was mentioned in a subpoena issued in April 2019 by the Senate Intelligence Committee to Walter Soriano, a British security consultant whose connections to Israeli intelligence and Russian oligarchs was the subject of one of my previous posts.
On his website, Shaviv claims to have helped elect 14 heads of state, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s unknown whether Shaviv did any work for the Trump campaign or why the Senate Intelligence Committee is interested in him. But that isn’t the end of his problems.
One country that’s absent from Shaviv’s impressive roster of clients is the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro. Shaviv was the chief consultant for the pro-Russian party Democratic Front in the 2016 Montenegrin parliamentary elections.
My friend Alon Eisenberg pointed me to a report this week in The Times of Israel that suggested Shaviv had another, less overt mission there. According to prosecutors in Montenegro, Shaviv took part in a plot led by two Russian military intelligence officers to overthrow Montenegro’s government and stop it from joining NATO. Police broke up the plot on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections.
Shaviv’s partner in this was an ex-CIA officer named Joseph Assad, who was working as Shaviv’s security consultant. Prosecutors suspected that Assad’s real job in Montenegro was to help coup plotters flee the country after assassinating the country’s prime minister, The New York Times reported.
“During the investigation that was launched against Joseph Assad and eight others for creating a criminal organization and attempting terrorism, the prosecutors found evidence that Shaviv, a UK and Israeli citizen, also committed a crime. So we have ordered an extension of the investigation,” Cadjenovic told Balkan Insight.
In the run up to the Montenegrin parliamentary elections, one of Shaviv’s companies received 1.5 million Euros from a Czech company — codenamed “S.” The Czech company’s CEO and representatives are Russian, Cadjenovic said. Assad was paid out of this fund.
Four men identified as ex-FBI agents are also said to be under investigation for their role in the attempted coup backed by Russia.
Shaviv was born in Oxford, England in 1979 and made aliyah to Israel as a teenager. He became a captain in the Israeli Defense Forces and served as a “field agent for a civilian intelligence agency,” according to an archived version of his company’s website.
Shaviv got his start in politics in 2006 working for Avigdor Lieberman, an influential Israeli politician who has long been investigated — but never charged — for receiving millions of dollars from Russian oligarchs like the notorious Michael Cherney and others connected to Vladimir Putin.
While working in government for Lieberman, then the minister of strategic affairs, Shaviv set up a private consulting firm, Shaviv Strategy & Campaigns, began consulting for politicians throughout Europe and Africa. Shaviv’s clients include past and current presidents and prime ministers of Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, Poland, Romania, Kenya, Congo, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Serbia and the European Commission, according to the company’s website, which also cites its work for U.S. presidential elections.
In 2012, Shaviv played a role in the U.S. presidential election. He ran iVoteIsrael, which sought to get U.S. citizens living in Israel to vote in the American election with messages like this:
Shaviv said iVoteIsrael received its financial backing from the “[Sheldon] Adelsons of the world.” Reporters found that iVoteIsrael’s corporate filings listed the Manhattan address of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. iVoteIsrael claimed 80,000 Americans living in Israel voted in 2012, with the majority overwhelmingly casting ballots for Republican Mitt Romney.
In 2015, Shaviv was campaign manager and chief strategist for Netanyahu’s re-election. As the vote approached, polls showed Netanyahu on the verge of losing. But then on Election Day, in a move straight out of the Cambridge Analytica playbook, Netanyahu bombarded right-wing voters with millions of fearmongering text messages warning them — falsely — that Arabs were going to the polls in “droves.” Netanyahu won.
See this excellent report, featuring Shaviv, on how Netanyahu won:
The iVoteIsrael campaign won Shaviv a political consulting award from Campaigns & Elections and the Netanyahu campaign victory earned him international consultant of the year honors from American Association of Political Consultants.
But Montenegro and his alleged role in an attempted coup has cast a dark shadow over his bright career. He tweeted that he has been “PNGed” — presumably a reference to being made persona non grata — after the alleged coup attempt.
In May 2017, Shaviv said there are two theories about what happened in Montenegro.
“The first theory would be to believe that it is a failed Russian operation involving an Israeli political consultant, a retired Serbian general, a former CIA agent and some villagers with hunting rifles,” a Democratic Front press statement quoted Shaviv as saying.
But, “if there is anything to be learned from the recent past, Russian military operations neither look like that nor fail like that.”
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.
Of all the characters in the Trump/Russia saga, few are more fascinating than Felix Sater.
Sater is many things: a Russian emigre, the son of a gangster, an ex-con, and the guy who scouted real estate deals in Moscow for Donald Trump.
He was also a very valuable informant to the U.S. government for many years, as you can see from some photos I recently came across regarding Evgeny Shmykov, an ex-spy who was Sater’s long-time contact in Russia:
The guy that Shmykov stands shoulder-to-shoulder with? That’s Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban leader assassinated right before the 9/11 attacks.
These photos got some attention on Twitter, but as always, whenever Sater’s name comes up, people inevitably connect him to a powerful Russian Mafia boss named Semion Mogilevich, known as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.”
It’s time to put this bullshit to rest.
There is no, I repeat, no credible evidence linking Sater to a Russian Mob boss who was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
In writing my book, Trump/Russia, I spent quite a bit of time looking for evidence of the Sater-Mogilevich connection. In the end, I concluded that it just wasn’t there. To paraphrase Robert Mueller, if I had found evidence that Sater was connected to Mogilevich, I would so state.
There’s no doubt Sater did have ties to Russian organized crime. Sater’s father, Michael Sheferfofsky, was a Russian gangster who pleaded guilty in 2000 to two counts of extortion for shaking down businesses in Brooklyn.
But there’s no mention of Mogilevich in Sherorfksy’s criminal file.
So where does this claim come from?
The Sater-Mogilevich link is found in a Supreme Court petition for a writ of certiorari in Palmer v John Doe. 14-676.
This sounds like credible evidence. It’s convinced many people, including me, as my 2017 blog post shows.
The thing is it’s bullshit. Yes, I know. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
While reporting my book, Trump/Russia, I tried to get to the bottom of this. I asked Richard Lerner, the attorney who wrote the Supreme Court petition, how he learned about the Sater-Mogilevich connection.
He somewhat sheepishly admitted that it comes from a website called Deep Capture.
This is where things get weird.
Deep Capture was written by Mark Mitchell, a former editor at Columbia Journalism Review, to “expose the ‘deep capture’ of American institutions by powerful and corrupt financial interests.”
Bankrolling Deep Capture was Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, a publicly-traded online retailer.
Byrne is famous for, among other things, a 2005 conference call with investors that touched on subjects ranging from:
“Miscreants, an unnamed Sith Lord he hopes the feds will bury under a prison, gay bath houses, whether he is gay, does cocaine, both or neither, and an obligatory, not that there is anything wrong with that, phone taps, phone lines misdirected to Mexico, arrested reporters, payoffs, conspiracies, crooks, egomaniacs, fools, paranoia, which newspapers are shills and for who, payoffs, money laundering, his Irish temper, false identities, threats, intimidation, and private investigators,” wrote Mark Cuban, the basketball team owner, investor, and host of Shark Tank.
That’s just a sampling. You can read the full thing here.
Byrne has also accused reporter Bethany McLean of giving Goldman Sachs traders blowjobs and said on live TV that he knew for a fact of a fax machine in the offices of CNBC where every morning hedge funds send in “instructions” for journalists. Authorities at Salt Lake City’s airport arrested him in 2013 when they found a loaded handgun in his carry-on luggage.
Sater is one of Byrne’s “miscreants” who appears as a recurring character in Deep Capture, where he is described to this day as a “Mafia boss” and “a Russian mobster and a member of the Mogilevich organization (controlled by Semion Mogilevich).”
To give you a taste of Deep Capture, check out this now-deleted post that describes … well, just read it for yourself:
A month or so after that, an offshore businessman who had provided some information to our investigation received in the mail a beautiful, lacquered, Russian matryoshka doll. And inside this doll, there was a slip of paper.
On the paper was the letter “F” — with a cross on it. The businessman knew right away that the letter “F” stood for “Felix” – Felix Sater.
The businessman said he had called Felix Sater to see what the deal was with the doll. And after talking to Felix, the businessman invited Patrick Byrne to a greasy spoon diner in Long Island. It was urgent, aid the businessman — so Patrick made haste.
And when Patrick arrived at the diner (along with two other people, who can testify to this) the offshore businessman, discarding with formalities, said, “This meeting can be very short. I have a message for you from Russia.”
The message, said the businessman, was this: “‘We are about to kill you. We are about to kill you.’ Patrick, they are going to kill you – if you do not stop this crusade [the investigation into destructive market manipulation], they will kill you. Normally they’d have already hurt you as a warning, but you’re so weird, they don’t know how you’d react. So their first step is, they’re just going to kill you.”
According to the businessman, this threat had come straight from the mouth of Felix Sater.
Maybe this did happen. Then again, maybe the moon landing was faked. Maybe the Illuminati controls the world. Maybe 9/11 was an inside job.
I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen.
Update: Patrick Byrne emailed me August 4.
“For the record, your email reminded me that Felix wrote me once (while I was very ill) and denied being the source of the Russian death threat against me. He was quite gentlemanly, and I think I said I would post it. However, I think I was in a cardiac unit at the time, come to think of it, and it never got done.”
Byrne didn’t answer my questions about what evidence he has for the Sater-Mogilevich connection, which can still be found on his website.
Whatever credibility Deep Capture had was destroyed in 2016 when a Canadian judge ordered Byrne and Mitchell to pay $1.2 million (Canadian) over published claims that Altaf Nazerali, a Vancouver businessman, was a gangster, an arms dealer, a drug trafficker, a financier of al-Qaida and member of the Russian and Italian Mafias.
Nazerali is mentioned in the deleted post quoted above about Sater and the matryoshka doll. Nazerali is described as a friend of Sater’s, although I’d wager that they never met.
The judge wrote that Mitchell and Byrne “engaged in a calculated and ruthless campaign to inflict as much damage on Mr. Nazerali’s reputation as they could achieve. It is clear on the evidence that their intention was to conduct a vendetta in which the truth about Mr. Nazerali himself was of no consequence.” Read the decision here.
A month before the ruling was issued, Byrne announced he was taking an indefinite personal leave of absence from Overstock.com to battle stage 4 Hepatitis C. He returned to his duties a few months later.
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Mitchell and Byrne’s appeal in August 2018 and affirmed a seven-figure award.
Maybe you think Sater a bad guy. Maybe you think he made amends for his criminal past. Either way, a man whose life is far more fascinating than most of ours will ever be doesn’t need to be embellished with fiction.