Craig Unger, writing for the New Republic (7/13/17), points out that there really are connections, at least in the past (and probably the present) between Trump and the Russians. But he is not referring to the Russian government. He means the Russian mob, although I’m not sure how much difference there is in practical terms.
He starts out with David Bogatin, who as it turns out, was a top figure in the Russian mob in New York, who’s brother was “feared even by his fellow gangsters as the most powerful mobster in the world … (Trump’s Russian Laundromat).” Bogatin was an early customer of the Trump Tower apartments .
Unger says, “When Trump Tower was built … it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers (Quoting The Making of Donal Trump, by David Cay Johnson, ).” He says that, “In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City (and) plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos,” in Trump Tower. Later, “after he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to “launder money, to shelter and hide assets.” (Unger)
According to Jonathan Winer, deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement during the 1990s, Bogatin was not the only one who did this. Unger quotes Winer as saying, “During the ’80s and ’90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money … . It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them (Unger).”
Trump, seeing his success with Trump Tower, expanded his enterprise. In 2001, the Trump World Tower, in Manhattan, was completed. At 72 floors, it was the tallest residential building in the world. This building, too, was successful; and it attracted the same clientelle. Quoting Bloomberg Businessweek, Unger writes, “it wasn’t long before one-third of the units on the tower’s priciest floors had been snatched up—either by individual buyers from the former Soviet Union, or by limited liability companies connected to Russia. … Trump had found his market. … All he needed to do, it seemed, was slap the Trump name on a big building, and high-dollar customers from Russia and the former Soviet republics were guaranteed to come rushing in. Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians. ‘I had contacts in Moscow looking to invest in the United States,’ Lenz said. ‘They all wanted to meet Donald.’ (Unger).“
Expanding on this business model, “Trump struck a deal with a Florida developer to attach his name to six high-rises in Sunny Isles, just outside Miami. … So many (“Russian-speakers”) bought the Trump-branded apartments, in fact, that the area became known as ‘Little Moscow.’ (Unger)” A third of the Trump branded properties in South Florida, “were bought by shadowy shell companies that concealed the true owners.” Since then, “At least 13 buyers in the Florida complex have been the target of government investigations, … including ‘members of a Russian-American organized crime group.’ Two buyers in Sunny Isles, Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, were convicted,” for crimes involving the Russian mafia (Unger).”
He goes on that,
A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower—in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. “They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s (Unger).
Maybe Trump didn’t know he was dealing with Russian oligarchs and mobsters. Maybe he didn’t want to know. But with his, “well-documented troubles with creditors, Trump made an easy ‘mark’ for anyone looking to launder money. … The public record makes clear that Trump built his business empire in no small part with a lot of dirty money from a lot of dirty Russians—including the dirtiest and most feared of them all,” Semion Mogilevich, “whom the FBI considers the ‘boss of bosses’ of the Russian mafia (Unger).”
Those were Trumps dealings with Russians in the United States. But what, if any, dealings did Trump have in Russia and its satellites directly? A few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Trump was, “flown to Moscow and Leningrad—all expenses paid—to talk business with high-ups in the Soviet command about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government (Unger).”
Once the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the “shift to a market economy was so abrupt that cash-rich gangsters and corrupt government officials were able to privatize and loot state-held assets … . (President) Yeltsin himself, in fact, would later describe Russia as ‘the biggest mafia state in the world.'” The fact that, “some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has poured out of Russia since the 1990s,” gives some idea of the enormity of this crime against the Russian people … (Unger).”
During this time,
Trump and his sons (developed the) connections he had begun to make with the Kremlin—and with the wealthy Russians who would buy so many of his properties in the years to come. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. boasted at a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Now this crime syndicate has infiltrated the Russian government itself, and probably others.
After Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, Russian intelligence effectively joined forces with the country’s mobsters and oligarchs … . At the top of the sprawling criminal enterprise was Semion Mogilevich. … “He uses this wealth and power to not only further his criminal enterprises,” the FBI says, “but to influence governments and their economies (Unger).”
In 2004, Trump Launched his T.V. show, The Apprentice (apparently code for Trump does Russia’s Dirty Laundry), which according to the book, Trump Revealed, painted Trump as, “supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable.” (as quoted by Unger). “But the story of Donald Trump, self-made business genius, left out any mention of the shady Russian investors who had done so much to make his comeback narrative possible Unger.” What a surprise.
Then, during his 2006 season finale, Trump announced to his 11 million viewers plans for his Trump International Hotel and Tower in SoHo. “Trump SoHo was the brainchild of two development companies—Bayrock Group LLC and the Sapir Organization—run by a pair of wealthy émigrés from the former Soviet Union … (Unger).” Well, “his” may be too strong a term. “The developers would finance and build Trump SoHo themselves. In return for lending his name to the project, Trump would get 18 percent of the profits … . Trump SoHo ultimately had to be foreclosed and resold.” But the foreclosure is not the real story. The story lies in the people involved.
According to the FBI, Tamir Sapir, of the Sapir Organization (one of the developers), had previously proven his ties to the Russian mob when he co-founded a company with a New York mob member. While setting up the SoHo deal, Sapir introduced Trump to Tevfik Arif, the founder of the other developer in the SoHo project, the Bayrock Group.
In 2002, after meeting Trump, (Arif) moved Bayrock’s offices to Trump Tower … . Trump worked closely with Bayrock on (other) real estate ventures in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. “Bayrock knew the investors (mobsters),” he later testified. Arif “brought the people up from Moscow to meet with me.”
(Furthermore,) Bayrock (according to Forbes and other publications) was financed by a notoriously corrupt group of oligarchs known as The Trio. … According to a lawsuit … , Arif started the firm “backed by oligarchs and money they stole from the Russian people.” In addition, the suit alleges, Bayrock “was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated … to launder money and evade taxes. The lawsuit, which is ongoing, does not claim that Trump was complicit ….
The controlling partner in Bayrock was Felix Sater, who according to the FBI is the son of a Russian mob boss in New York. In 1998 Sater had to plead guilty to racketeering and turn informant due to “operating a ‘pump and dump’ stock fraud in partnership with alleged Russian mobsters that bilked investors of at least $40 million. … By Sater’s account, in sworn testimony, he was very tight with Trump.”
According to Unger, Sater said,
He flew to Colorado with him, accompanied Donald Jr. and Ivanka on a trip to Moscow at Trump’s invitation, and met with Trump’s inner circle ‘constantly.’ In Trump Tower, he often dropped by Trump’s office to pitch business ideas—’just me and him.’ (Unger)
Sater says he was close to Trump, but what does Trump say?
Trump seems unable to recall any of this. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” he told the Associated Press in 2015. Two years earlier, testifying in a video deposition, Trump took the same line. If Sater “were sitting in the room right now,” he swore under oath, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.” He added: “I don’t know him very well, but I don’t think he was connected to the mafia. … (Unger)
But Trump’s deeds belie his words.
Even after The New York Times revealed Sater’s criminal record in 2007, he continued to use office space provided by the Trump Organization (and) in 2010, he was even given an official Trump Organization business card that read: FELIX H. SATER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP. (Unger)
Surely a businessman operating at Trump’s level would vet senior advisors. One would have to say that Trump gave Sater these privileges knowingly.
And, if the media can still be believed now that Trump is president and they have evidently melted down, Sater remains a back-channel for the Trump-Russia connection to this day.
Earlier this year, one week before National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired for failing to report meetings with Russian officials, Trump’s personal attorney reportedly hand-delivered to Flynn’s office a “back-channel plan” for lifting sanctions on Russia. The co-author of the plan, according to the Times: Felix Sater. … (Unger)
Returning to reports that we may actually be able to trust because they are from before Trump’s candidacy:
In April 2013, a little more than two years before Trump (kicked) off his presidential campaign, police burst into Unit 63A of the (Trump Tower) and rounded up 29 suspects in two gambling rings. The operation … served as the headquarters for a “sophisticated money-laundering scheme” that moved an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States. The entire operation, prosecutors say, was working under the protection of (the Russian mob). …
In May, when he was interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt, (now President) Trump seemed hard-pressed to think of a single connection he had with Russia. “I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago,” he said. “I had the Miss Universe pageant—which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.” (Unger)
What a hoot! So Trump may really be in bed with Russia after all. But it has nothing to do with the Russian government, except to the extent that the Russian government itself is beholden to the Russian mob. Trump’s Russian connections are mob connections. And they are still active. To read about what this cabal is up to now besides struggling with the above lawsuit, click Turning the Silk Road.
Craig Unger is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of several books, including House of Bush, House of Saud.