In June of 2005, Tevfik Arif celebrated his birthday at the grand opening of Turkey’s most luxurious hotel, the “seven-star” Rixos Premium Belek.
Guests came from all over the world: from America, from Latvia, from St. Petersburg, Israel, the Cote d’Azur, Ukraine and Samara. Attendees included retired NHL star Pavel Bure, Moscow restaurateurs, Russian businessmen, and billionaires who sailed in by yacht or flew in on private jets.
Donald Trump, who had partnered with Arif’s New York company Bayrock to build a tower in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, could not make it, but he sent a message of congratulations: “Tevfik is my friend! Let’s drink to Tevfik!”
Recep Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey and future president, stopped by to join the well-wishers, according to a gossipy report on the party in the Kremlin-friendly Russian newspaper Izvestia.
Turkey has been good to Arif. It became Arif’s home after he left Kazakhstan in 1994. Arif obtained a Turkish passport that same year and went into business with Fettah Tamince, the founder of the Rixos hotel chain. The two men partnered in 1999 to build a hotel Antalya. Then Arif expanded his business in New York.
Another guest at the Rixos Premium Belek was Tamir Sapir, the New York real estate tycoon and Soviet emigre who partnered with Trump and Arif to build Trump SoHo. Sapir arrived on his 160-foot yacht Mystere.
Also arriving for the party was Israeli-Kazakh billionaire Alexander Mashkevtich. , one of Bayrock’s strategic partners. Mashkevitch’s friendship with Arif will soon embroil him in a deeply embarrassing scandal — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mashkevitch and Arif had crossed paths in the post-Soviet metals industry in Kazakhstan. (See Part I) Mashkevitch, together with his partners Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, had joined up with Michael Cherney and Trans World Group to enter the metals business in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.
Back to Arif’s party. What a celebration! What a moment for a simple Soviet hotel bureaucrat!
Two years later, Arif will stand next to Donald Trump at another lavish party in lower Manhattan for the launch of Trump SoHo, the tower the two men are building together.
And that was the top of Arif’s roller coaster ride.
Shortly after the Trump SoHo launch one of his employees, Felix Sater, was exposed in The New York Times as a convicted felon who had swindled investors out of $40 million with the help of the Russian and American mafia. Trump SoHo opened on 2010 and began a multi-year slide to foreclosure.
And then, on the night of September 28th, 2010, Turkish police roped down from helicopters onto a yacht and bust up a prostitution ring with underage girls that prosecutors alleged was run and financed by Arif. Some 20 people are detained. Among them, according to the Israeli press, is the Kazakh billionaire Alexander Mashkevitch, who paid for the yacht.
Arif’s friends, including Donald Trump, can’t get away from him fast enough. “I really don’t know him well, Mr. Arif,” Trump said in a 2011 deposition. “I’ve met him a couple of times.”
According to a copy of the bill of indictment, obtained by theblacksea.eu, the charges laid against Arif are: “Trade in human beings, involvement in, inducement or aiding and abetting to prostitution, traffic in juveniles under 18, creation of criminal organization with the purpose of commission of crime.”
Before I get a nasty letter from Arif’s lawyer, I should say that Arif was acquitted of all charges in 2011 and no underage girls were found on the yacht. It didn’t help the prosecution’s case that the ring instructed the girls not to testify. “Keep the girls as silent as the grave,” read one text.
But the indictment lists the details that Turkish police uncovered while listening in on the prostitution ring’s phone conversations for months. They recorded members of the group haggling over prices for underage girls and this exchange of text messages between a member of the prostitution ring and a woman named Olga.
Olga: “Do you want all models for sex? I should know it because many don’t agree for sex”,
The response: “Olga, client wants sex”
The indictment describes this harrowing discussion between Arif’s major domo, Gyundyuz Akdeniz, and one of his underlings:
Arif was usually more circumspect, possibly aware that people were listening. In this conversation in March 2010, Arif and Akdeniz discuss the arrival of five girls, (including two 16-year-olds) to meet “guests” (including Mashkevitch) at the Rixos Premium Belek.
Tevfik Arif: What is the matter, what is happening? Tell me.
Akdeniz: Do you mean the guests?
Arif: What is happening at all? I know nothing.
Akdeniz: The guests are arriving tomorrow evening. Mr. Mashkevitch will arrive.
Tevfik: When will the guests arrive?
Akdeniz: The plane will arrive in a little while, there must be four.
Arif: Umph, umph
Akdeniz: Oh, sorry, five must arrive now.
Arif: Who are they from?
Akdeniz: Two are from Sasha [provider of girls]
Arif: Umph, umph
Akdeniz: Three are from the new agency.
Arif: And those two from Sasha are the former ones, aren’t they?
Akdeniz: No, the former ones will arrive at 1 a.m.
Arif: I see, he sent the new ones.
Akdeniz: Yes, tomorrow two will arrive from Sasha.
To be continued….
Tefvik Arif was the chairman of Bayrock Group, the murky company that partnered with Donald Trump to build Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan.
Figuring out who he is was not an easy task.
Tevfik Arif (Тевфик Ариф) was born Toifik Arifov (Тофик Арифов) on May 15, 1953 in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan. He was one of four brothers born to a Turkish family in the Jambyl Region in northern Kazakhstan.
That’s about the only thing we know about his early life with any certainty.
What he did for the next 38 years is unclear. The oft-repeated facts of his background come from a short profile on Arif published in Real Estate Weekly in 2007, just as Trump was preparing to kick off sales of Trump SoHo.
Real Estate Weekly reported that Arif had received a degree from Moscow Institute of Trade and Economics and then worked in the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade in the former Soviet Union for 17 years, where he served as the chief economist and deputy director of the Ministry’s Department of Hotel Management.
Many journalists have repeated this story. It may be true, but no one seems to have bothered to check. It’s worth noting that this is the only reference to a Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade that I found on the Internet. There is a Russian ministry that has this name, but I could find nothing from the Soviet era. (Arif did not speak English very well, so it’s possible this is a mistranslation.)
There was, however, something called the USSR Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was run by the KGB and spied on the West. A third of the chamber’s staff were KGB, according to a US State Department report that cited CIA information. And the USS Chamber of Commerce and Industry did have a hotel division, V/0 Sovintsentr, which ran a trade center and various Moscow hotels.
In the Russian press, Arif is affiliated with the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade (which did exist). Or maybe he was just a Soviet hotel bureaucrat, as he claims. Whatever Arif did for the first 40 odd years of his life, he hasn’t been very open about it.
Trans World Group
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Arif left the government and made a career leap. A huge leap.
In a court proceeding in Turkey, the former Soviet hotel bureaucrat testified that he “worked in energy sector, chemical sector and metallurgy sector. I was producing coal in Russia and copper in Kazakhstan. Due to lack of coal, it was not possible to make production. I started to organize them.” He started a private company called the Speciality Chemicals Trading Co., trading in “chrome, rare metals and raw materials.”
And then he went to work for Trans World Group. TWG was a British company headed by two brothers, David and Simon Reuben. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the Reubens moved aggressively into metals production, buying up smelters and refineries.
As foreigners, however, the Reubens needed locals to build their business. Enter Arif. He became an “agent on the ground” — a fixer, in other words — for TWG in Kazakhstan, according to internal company documents reviewed by theblacksea.eu, an online investigative Website.
Arif apparently did his job well. Very well. In a few years, TWG’s holdings of steel, iron, chrome and alumina refineries in Kazakhstan generated one fifth of the entire country’s gross revenues.
Maybe Arif was just a Soviet hotel bureaucrat who seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get into the post-Soviet metals sector. But his hotel background would have been of little use to TWG. What TWG needed was someone with deep connections in the country’s political and business circles. The kind of people who had those connections in the Russia of the 1990s were either ex-KGB, or mobsters.
Consider another pair of fixers the Reubens brought into TWG in 1992. They were the Cherney brothers, Lev and Michael, and they formed a 50-50 partnership with TWG. It was a successful partnership. With the Cherneys help, TWG grew by leaps and bounds. The problem for the Reubens was that Michael Cherney’s name soon became publicly linked to Russian organized crime groups. The Reubens quickly bought out Cherney’s share of TWG for $410 million.
Swiss authorities in 1996 accused Michael Cherney of “drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud and sponsoring murder” on behalf of a Russian organized crime group run by “V Ivankov.” This was the infamous Russian mob boss nicknamed “Yaponchik” who had settled in New York, where the FBI found him hiding out in Trump Tower and Trump’s New Jersey casino.
Michael Cherney has repeatedly denied these allegations, which he blames on his archenemy and former partner Oleg Deripaska, one of the wealthiest men in Russia. In 2008, the federal Swiss court exonerated him of the charges, but two years later, Spain issued an international arrest warrant for Michael Cherney’s arrest on money laundering charges.
Did Arif have links to the Russian Mafia? Felix Sater, who worked under Arif at Bayrock, seems to think so.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Sater and his attorney threatened to expose Arif’s past unless he paid Sater’s attorney fees. Sater warned of a possible lawsuit that would include details of Arif’s wrongdoing “in the post-Soviet metals business in Kazakhstan.”
In a personal memo, Sater was even more blunt: “The headlines will be, ‘The Kazakh Gangster and President Trump.'”
A High-Net Worth Individual
“The head of the family is my uncle Roustam Arif [sic],” Tevfik’s son Arif writes in 2013 in correspondence obtained by theblacksea.eu. “In our culture, the patriarch is usually the oldest member of the family. Roustam is my father’s oldest brother. Even though my father is a successful entrepreneur in his own right (hotels, construction and real estate), his younger brother Refik Arif is the principal figure in the main family business (commodities).”
In the mid-90s, Refik reportedly acquired control of the Aktyubinsk Chromium Chemicals Plant (ACCP) in Aktobe, in north-western Kazakhstan, near the border with Russia. Refik also established a highly profitable chemicals trading business. And this is an important piece of the story, because the money for Bayrock, at least part of it, came through Kazakhstan.
Consider that for a moment. The Arifs managed to pool enough capital and influence to buy what turned out to be a highly lucrative chemical plant. How was this possible? What really happened in Kazakhstan in 1990s?
Around 1999, Refik Arif’s chemical trading business was generating so much cash that the family retained Hamels, a UK tax consultancy, to help structure their investments. On its website, Hamels describes its typical clients as “high net worth individuals seeking to minimize their respective tax burdens on current income or investment streams…”
In a 2011 memo, Hamels partner Zig Wilamowski wrote, “Mr. Refik Arif is one of four brothers who have over many years built up a substantial and profitable international business from the sale of chrome-based chemicals.” Williamowski said he was in a position to verify the “good origin” of the Arif family’s wealth. You can read the document here.
With the help of Hamels, the Arifs set up a network of shell companies, many of which were established in the Caribbean tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. These companies included Bennington Trade Assets Ltd., which owns property in the center of London and Merlin Trading Assets Ltd., which owns an executive jet. There are too many companies to name them all. Many are found in the Panama Papers leak of offshore companies founded by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The real moneymaker for the family was Castello Global Ltd., which handled the profits from the chrome trading business. Here is a breakdown of Castello Global’s profits:
So much money was pouring out of Kazakhstan that Tevfik Arif decided it was time to try something big. Really big.
He moved to New York and set out to do a real estate deal with the biggest and the best. So he set up offices of his new company Bayrock Group in Trump Tower, one floor below Trump’s own offices.
To be continued…
Call me skeptical.
I don’t believe that Facebook won the election for Donald Trump. That’s the claim put forth in this hagiographic profile of Jared Kushner in Forbes and in many other media outlets.
The traditional campaign is dead, another victim of the unfiltered democracy of the Web–and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.
We see these stories every time a new president is elected. A while back it was Obama’s “data crunchers.” This time, the key to Trump’s victory, Kushner would like us to believe, were computer algorithms that targeted potential Trump supporters with social media to stunning effect.
The secret weapon was Cambridge Analytica’s computer algorithms that figure out who you are based and what motivates you based on all the times you click Like on Facebook, as Cambridge Analytica’s Jack Hansom explains in this video:
These algorithms turned up some surprising findings. Liking the New Orleans Saints mean you’re less likely to be “conscientious,” i.e. do the right thing. And liking the Energizer Bunny means you’re more likely to be neurotic.
So what? Well, one or two of these things don’t tell you much, but the average person has hundreds of Facebook Likes which allows Hansom and his colleagues to build a surprisingly accurate picture of your personality. You can test this on yourself here.
Facebook allows you to drill down to the kind of person in the kind of place you want. (You can even reach “Jew haters” in Idaho if you wish.) Here’s Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix showing how his company’s model could be used to drill down to find every “persuadable” gun rights advocate in Iowa:
It’s very impressive (and very creepy), and it makes for a good story, one that Silicon Valley loves in an everybody-is-stupid-except-for-me way.
But the problem with the claim that Kushner and his machine learning wizardry won the election for Trump is that everybody was doing it. Hillary Clinton had a team of mathematicians and analysts crunching data. Ted Cruz had hired Cambridge Analytica as well, but then he ran into the Trump train.
I may be wrong, but I’d wager the $1.8 billion worth of free airtime that TV networks gave Trump every time he opened his trap probably had a lot more to do with him winning the election than Cambridge Analytica.
Trump knows how to get on TV: He is a promotional genius. What will he say next? He’s a modern day PT Barnum and Jeff Zucker‘s CNN couldn’t get enough.
Setting that aside, the Facebook/Jared Kushner story is still pretty important. And what’s important about it is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller thinks it’s pretty important. Facebook may not have won Trump the election, but it may seriously damage his presidency.
CNN reported Sunday that Mueller, who’s investigating Trump’s links to Russia, had served Facebook with a search warrant. Mueller was interested in the $100,000 worth of ads purchased by bogus accounts that Facebook on Sept. 6 acknowledged had “likely operated out of Russia.”
Mueller’s search warrant for Facebook is a big deal, a former federal prosecutor explains:
Mueller would have had to show the judge that there was reason to believe that one or more foreign individuals committed a crime and the evidence of the crime could be found on Facebook’s servers.
The crime is that foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing money “or other thing of value” (like $100,000 worth of Facebook ads) in connection with an election. It’s also against the law to solicit, accept, or receive such a contribution. (Here is the statute.) And if someone on the Trump campaign knew about the Russian Facebook ads and did nothing to stop it, that is also a crime — aiding and abetting.
Did someone on the Trump campaign know about the Russian Facebook ads. We don’t know yet, but the answer lies in targeting. To put it in Watergate terms: Who targeted whom and when?
Were the Russian Facebook ads and the Trump campaign targeting the same people? And if so, how did a bunch of Russian trolls in St. Petersburg or Vladivostok or where ever know to target, say, black women in Milwaukee or rural voters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, for example?
I tried to ask Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, but didn’t get a reply.
This question intrigues Sen. Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, as he said on the Pod Save America podcast:
Warner: When you see some of the explanation and some of the fact that it appears that, for example, women and African Americans were targeted in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play … It was interesting that those states seem to be targeted where the bots — where they could could create a lot of these fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, could in fact overwhelm the targeted search engines that would end up saying on your news feed, you suddenly got stuff that “Hillary Clinton’s sick” or “Hillary Clinton’s stealing money from the State Department.”
I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware really raises some questions. I think that’s a worthwhile area of inquiry.
How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?
Vietor : I wonder if they just asked Jared [Kushner] like Trump does with all of his questions. We’ll find out.
Warner : We’ll find out. More to come on that.
Sen. Warner thinks it’s a worthwhile line of inquiry, and it’s a good bet Mueller does too. The information Facebook handed over to Mueller included the targeting criteria the bogus Russian accounts used, The Wall Street Journal reported.
An unnamed Trump campaign staffer told CNN that the key to the whole inquiry may be found on Facebook’s servers.
Only Facebook can answer three critical questions: were the same databases used by the Trump campaign and Russian operatives to coordinate targeting of voters; was money used to promote pro-Trump posts, and, if so, how much was spent and by whom; and will Facebook reveal if bots were successfully used to push fake news posts?
Hopefully, Robert Mueller knows the answers.
Felix Sater, a twice-convicted felon and former senior business advisor to Donald Trump, was granted access to visit the Obama White House in 2010 as part of a delegation of Hasidic Jews.
Sater’s name appears on the list of 100 White House visitors associated with American Friends of Lubavitch, which represents the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Washington.
The Obama administration released logs of White House visitors, a practice that the Trump administration has discontinued.
Sater has come under scrutiny for his relationship to Donald Trump. Sater worked for Bayrock, a development firm with offices in Trump Tower that partnered to build Trump SoHo. For six months in 2010, Sater went to work for Trump directly, carrying a Trump Organization business card that described him as a “senior advisor to Donald Trump.”
According to the White House visitor log, Sater’s 100-member delegation visited the Old Executive Office Building in the White House complex on June 17th. The group gathered in the South Court Auditorium where Sater and the rest of the delegation were addressed by Vice President Joe Biden.
Sater’s attorney, Robert S. Wolf, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The decision by the Secret Service to grant Sater access to the White House grounds is noteworthy. Every visitor to the White House Complex undergoes a comprehensive security check, and Sater’s criminal past would surely have raised red flags.
In 1993, Sater was convicted of felony assault and sentenced to prison for stabbing a commodities broker in the face with the broken stem of a margarita glass. In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering for his role in a corrupt stock brokerage that ran “pump-and-dump” schemes with help from the Mafia.
Other ex-convicts have reported that they were denied access to the Obama White House. Even those who received a formal invitation were handed pink badges that read “Needs Escort” and were not allowed to move freely around the White House grounds. (See Glenn E. Martin’s open letter to President Obama.)
The White House visit may have been another favor the federal government did for Sater. Over the previous decade, he had become a prized government informant. Sater helped the FBI thwart attempts by the Mafia to muscle in on Wall Street and also aided in the hunt for terrorists overseas. As a result prosecutors took the highly unusual step of requesting that Sater’s entire federal racketeering case was sealed.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose oversaw Sater’s case in her previous role as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told Congress that he provided valuable and sensitive information. Sater’s cooperation led to the conviction of 20 individuals, including members of the Mafia. In addition, Lynch said, Sater provided information “crucial to the national security.”
The White House visitor log shows Sater’s appointment was made June 15th, two days before his visit.
The White House visit was the highlight of the annual “Living Legacy” conference organized by American Friends of Lubavitch. The conference is held to mark the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the former leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.
Sater belongs to the Port Washington Chabad house and told Politico that he is on the board of Chabad organizations in the U.S. and abroad, though none in Russia. Rabbi Shalom Palatiel, the director of the Port Washington Chabad house, also visited the White House along with Sater. Palatiel did not immediately respond to an email message left seeking comment.
More than 190 names were submitted to the White House, but the logs show that only 100 entered the grounds.
One member of the Chabad-Lubavitch delegation who was granted access to the White House but did not attend was Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis, who is known as “Putin’s rabbi.” In 2016, Rabbi Lazar met with Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump Organization lawyer who is now the president’s lead envoy in the Middle East.
According to a report in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Biden spent 40 minutes with Sater and the rest of the Lubavitch delegation.
The vice president reviewed Chabad teachings he had acquired over the years, including the necessity of combining “wisdom, knowledge and understanding,” and related them to the administration’s handling of the Middle East.
Biden suggested that the threat posed by Iran necessitated intensive peacemaking and it was important for the Jewish community to understand that context.
“As you’ve always taught me, the rebbe said, what we do for one day isn’t enough for the next day,” Biden said.
Once upon a time, Felix Sater had a promising career on Wall Street.
Beginning in 1983 as an assistant cold-caller, Sater worked his way up the Wall Street food chain, ending up at Lehman Brothers in 1993, which is where his finance career, at least the reputable part of it, came to an end.
That was the year he went to prison for stabbing a commodities trader in the face with the broken stem of a margarita glass. Then he got out and joined a Mafia-linked boiler room operation. He got caught, became a government informant, and partnered with Donald Trump to build Trump SoHo and become a figure of endless speculation and fascination.
Long before all of that, here’s what Sater was up to, taken from his employment record with FINRA:
After doing a bit of reading, it seems that Felix Sater’s Wall Street career amounted to making cold calls. Lehman Brothers and Gruntal, the two firms on the top of the list, were famous for their cold-calling.
A junior broker like Sater probably would have spent most of his time on the phone trying to rustle up new clients. Lehman Brothers had a cold-calling script that was legendary on Wall Street. I couldn’t find a copy but here is a sample of another firm’s scripts that was obtained by Buzzfeed.
Prospective Client: ”I have to talk to my wife.”
Wall Street Guy: “I’m calling you because you are a successful individual. Your success is the result of years of making the right calls in business. Am I right? Lets be real. You don‘t confer with your wife on your day-to-day business decisions and I’m sure your wife respects your investment decisions.”
It was mind-numbing, soul-crushing work — a white-collar sweatshop. But it was effective. According to Fortune, in the late 1980s, half of new accounts for Lehman’s brokers came from cold-calling. (The numbers dropped after Lehman got censured and fined.) But here’s how it used to work:
At these sites, the initial ”dials” are often made by young kids, many right out of college, who get $5 an hour and lunch for spending their day on the blower intoning, say, ”I’m calling for Martin Shafiroff, a managing director of Lehman Brothers.” Usually the dialers get rebuffed in seconds by the prospect or his secretary. But once in a while they get a live mark and then the dialer hands off the call by yelling to a ”qualifier” to pick it up (”I’ve got Henry Longfellow on line 4”). The qualifier, who is an assistant somewhat higher on the pay scale, collects what information he can about Henry and, if Henry acquiesces, assures him that Martin Shafiroff, say, will be calling him shortly with an idea.
Sater dropped out of college to work at Bear Stearns at age 18 as an assistant cold caller. Several months later, Sater got his broker licenses and then moved jobs to Ladenburg Thalmann, one of Wall Street’s oldest firms. (Bear Stearns and Ladenburg don’t show up on Felix’s official FINRA record, but he testified about them in a 2010 deposition.)
It’s worth noting that Howard Lorber, a friend of Trump’s who brought him to Russia in 1996, became chairman of Ladenberg in 2001 and holds the post of vice chairman today. Lorber is a member of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Gennady Klotsman, one of Sater’s longtime friends, soon joined him on Wall Street. They both worked at Rooney Pace, although Sater left after a few weeks to join Lehman Brothers, then known as Shearson Lehman following its acquisition by American Express. Klotsman and Sater worked together at Shearson Lehman in 1987.
The following year, Sater made his jump to Gruntal, one of the oldest stock brokerages in America. It traced its roots back to 1880. Gruntal not only survived the Crash of 1929, but when Sater joined the firm’s offices
on 14 Wall Street at 605 Third Avenue in Manhattan, Gruntal was approaching its zenith as the country’s 14th-largest brokerage firm, fielding an army of brokers with phones glued to their ears.
But Gruntal was no staid brokerage. Far from it. It was a place for people who “weren’t presentable enough” to work for the big houses, Don Jans, one of the firm’s top earners, told Fortune.
“One of our biggest producers was bipolar,” Jans said. “My old sales assistant is a punk rocker with tattoos and piercings. Who would hire this guy? But he was the best salesman I ever had. Gruntal was the Island of the Misfit Toys. But they didn’t care what was going on in our sick, dysfunctional office as long as we were making money. We had no manager, and it’s illegal not to supervise brokers. I remember doing cartwheels down the hall, drinking beer at my desk, smoking pot, having sex in the stairwell. Whatever!”
Gruntal’s cold callers were, shall we say, a bit loose with the truth. Fortune reported that at one Gruntal office in Manhattan cold callers said they were with the firm’s ”executive services group.”
Sal Lauria, another of Sater’s good friends, joined at Gruntal in 1991 and lasted less than a year. After Sater lost his job at Lehman in the bar stabbing, he and Lauria took their cold-calling scripts and went to work at a boiler room operation involving four Mafia families. The two were prosecuted for their roles in a $40 million pump-and-dump stock scheme .
Gruntal, however, was more than a cold-calling shop. It a powerhouse of analytical talent.
The best example was Stephen A. Cohen, one of the greatest stock traders of all time whose tenure at Gruntal overlapped with Sater.
Cohen landed a job trading options at Gruntal in 1978 made $8,000 on his first day and eventually managed a $75 million portfolio and six traders. Cohen left Gruntal in 1992 to start his own hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, which made him into one of the richest men in America.
Stephen A. Feinberg was another Gruntal veteran who worked at the firm at the same time as Sater.
Feinberg joined the firm in 1985 after a stint at Mike Miliken’s Drexel, Burnham & Lambert. He managed separate pools of capital and other accounts until he left in 1992 to start Cerebus Capital Management, which today is one of the country’s biggest private investment firms.
Feinberg is also a member of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. In February, Feinberg was reportedly being considered for a post in the Trump Administration, overseeing a shakeup of the United States intelligence community.
Another Gruntal alumnus with ties to the Trump administration is billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who worked at the firm from 1964 to 1968. A few weeks ago, Icahn announced that he was leaving his position as Trump’s special adviser on regulatory reform. Just a few hours after the announcement, The New Yorker published an article showing how Icahn used his influence to attack regulations that hurt his business interests at oil refineries.
Update: Wall Street firms like Gruntal had a practice then of advancing money to their brokers. Sater had apparently failed to pay back his loan for Gruntal obtained a judgement against Sater for more than $137,000 in 1995. By that time, Sater was in prison for his margarita glass bar assault.
Since I’m writing about this topic, I feel obliged to point out that if you search around for Sater and Gruntal on the Internet, you’ll run into theories of a giant Wall Street/Mafia conspiracy. The curious can check out the website deepcapture.com.
Deepcapture.com was the subject of a libel trial in Vancouver, Canada. In 2016, a judge found the website was not only libelous but had engaged in a “calculated and ruthless campaign” against an investor, Altaf Nazerali (supposedly a friend of Sater’s, according to deepcapture.com). Nazerali was awarded him damages of more than $750,000. (The ruling can be found here.)
This would normally be the death knell of any conspiracy website. Not deepcapture.com It is backed by the deep pockets of Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com. Byrne saw the whole libel case as a lark. The ruling quotes Byrne as saying “It looks like Ali Nazerali wants to go a few rounds. Happy to oblige.”
Byrne has been a critic of stock market practices such as naked short selling. He may have a valid point, but, unfortunately, he has given full voice to garbage reporting on his website. That garbage reporting has found a receptive ear because legions of Trump haters want to believe the worst about him and the kind of people with whom he associated.
The truth was far more mundane.
Somehow I missed this. Buried deep in this excellent New York magazine piece on Felix Sater is this tidbit:
Cohen, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, had known Sater since they were teenagers.
I’m curious how these two met. Sater was born in Russia and grew up in the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach as a Mobster’s son. Cohen grew up on Long Island as a doctor’s son. About the only thing the two seem to have in common is that they are both Jewish and roughly the same age.
Update: Sater told Talking Points Memo he knew Cohen through Cohen’s wife, Laura Shusterman:
Sater said he most clearly remembers the beginning of his relationship with Cohen from the time the former Trump Organization attorney began dating his now-wife, whom Sater describes as a girl from his neighborhood of Jewish Soviet expatriates. Cohen told TPM the pair had known each other before then, in their teenage years, and that he hadn’t yet begun dating his wife, reportedly a Ukrainian émigré, when he was in his teens.
Their friendship puts a different light of the chummy emails between the two men in 2015, after Trump announced he was running for president. In the emails, obtained by The New York Times, Sater promised to use his contacts in Russia to help Trump win.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Cohen had been in negotiations with Sater and foreign investors to build a Trump Tower in Moscow from September 2015 through the end of January 2016. Trump announced he was running for president in June 2015.
In January 2016, when negotiations stalled, Cohen wrote to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. asking for help. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Peskov’s direct email.
That’s really strange. Why would he do this? As an attorney, he knows how important records are. It’s almost as if Cohen didn’t really expect a reply, but wanted to leave a trail.
And the White House has been referring questions about this whole matter to Cohen’s attorney, suggesting that this was Cohen’s deal, not the Trump Organization’s.
The Baltschug Hotel is one of Moscow’s most venerable hotels. Overlooking the Moskva River, across from the Kremlin, the Baltschug dates back to the reign of Czar Nicholas II. After the Russian Revolution, it became a dormitory, but the collapse of the Soviet Union saw the Baltschug restored to its former glory as a five-star hotel
And it was here on a Tuesday evening in September 2002, that Donald Trump arrived to sell apartments in New York to newly-wealthy Russians.
Trump wanted to make it easy for Russians to buy one of his New York apartments without even leaving the country. His real estate agent, Sotheby’s International Realty, had partnered with Kirsanova Realty to open an office in Moscow to sell his condos and apartments to Russians who were interested in buying abroad.
Trump is such a spectacle that we often forget to ask the interesting questions. What was interesting about the Baltschug event was not Trump himself. The interesting question to ask was who was buying. And the answer to that question is, well, we don’t know.
Guests at this event did not want to give their names, a reporter from the respected Russian business newspaper Vedemosti found:
However, potential customers present at yesterday’s presentation of New York real estate not only refused to reveal themselves, but also did not admit that they were interested in this real estate, insisting that they simply went in for “pies to eat”.
The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper, also sent a reporter and noted the same thing:
When asked about the prospect of acquiring property through Sotheby’s and Kirsanova Realty, guests at Tuesday’s reception shied away from saying directly whether they were interested in the super expensive apartments. One guest said most were there to see “how the other side lives.”
Why would a Russian be embarrassed to admit they were interested in buying Trump property? That’s the interesting question.
The reason why the buyers at the event were embarrassed to give their names is because they didn’t want anybody doing exactly what these reporters from Vedemosti and The Moscow Times were doing: Asking questions.
Phllip Bogdanov of Kirsanova Realty said he didn’t consider his potential clients oligarchs, but rather owners of sustainable businesses. But that’s nonsense.
One of the few who wasn’t afraid to introduce himself to Vedemosti’s reporter was Pavel Syutkin, then the head of the investment department of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation. Today, Pavel Skyutkin is a food historian and author of an English-language cookbook about Russian cuisine.
The Russians who could afford a million-dollar apartment in New York were a special class of people who owed their wealth to their political connections, not their business skills. People get outrageously rich in Russia because the Kremlin allows it. The Kremlin lets them get rich; the Kremlin could take everything away. If you’re wealthy in Russia, your money is never secure. Your money was only safe if and when it moved out of the country, beyond the reach of the Kremlin.
Trump had spent a lot of time trying to put his name on something in Moscow in the 1990s. We’ve looked at his efforts to build a tower in Moscow and develop a pair of run-down Moscow hotels. At some point, Trump realized that building a tower in Moscow was the wrong way to go about it.
The Russians didn’t want to keep their money in Russia. The wealthiest of Russians weren’t interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow, but a tower in New York, now, that was something that interested them. Why not build luxury towers that served as deposit boxes for wealthy Russians and other foreigners who wanted to stash their money away? What if Trump could build right here in New York for Russian money?
This was Trump’s sales pitch. Come to New York. You can enjoy your money, no questions asked.
“Now, Russian connoisseurs of high-class housing will have the opportunity to become neighbors of well-known politicians, businessmen and Hollywood stars,” said SIR vice-president Mika Sakamoto.
Trump’s towers in New York were really safe deposit boxes for foreign money. Trump World Tower (pictured above), the 72-story skyscraper that opened in 2001, was a giant deposit box of Russian money.
Bloomberg found that Sam Kislin, a Ukrainian immigrant, issued mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar apartments in World Tower. An individual issuing mortgages for luxury homes is highly unusual.
One of the people Kislin provided mortgages to was Vasily Salygin, a future official of the Ukrainian Party of Regions. The Party of Regions is the Putin-linked party whose best known member is Viktor Yanykovych, the man who former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort helped win the presidency of the Ukraine before he fled to Russia.
Kislin was business partners with Tamir Sapir, who would later partner with Trump to build the scandal-plagued Trump SoHo condo hotel.
Bloomberg also turned up another person who bought in Trump World Tower. It was Eduard Nektalov, an Uzbekistan-born diamond dealer, who purchased a $1.6 million apartment in July 2003. He was being investigated by federal agents for a money-laundering scheme. Nektalov sold his unit a month after he bought it for a $500,000 profit. He was gunned down on Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue in 2004.
Kellyanne Conway and Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere, bought units in Trump World Tower. Cohen also persuaded his Ukrainian in-laws and a business partner to buy in the tower as well. Cohen also helped Trump take back control of the tower’s board from a group of apartment owners upset over the way the building was being run.
What began in 2002 was the steady influx of Russian money into the Trump Organization. The same Russian money that kept him afloat during the financial crisis and the same money that is now the subject of an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.