On Tuesday, the Associated Press prevailed in its legal fight to persuade a New York federal judge to unseal hundreds of documents allegedly pertaining to the criminal past of a business associate of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. The documents, which could be made public as soon as Thursday, may shed light on one of the more colorful—and allegedly mobbed-up—individuals Trump has done business with during his long career in real estate.
The case involves a man named Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant who worked for a real estate development firm in New York called Bayrock Group, which had an office in the Trump Tower in Midtown. Bayrock was involved in helping develop some of Trump’s properties in New York, Florida, and elsewhere, including Trump SoHo in New York City. In 2011, Trump settled a lawsuit by investors in Trump SoHo after they discovered, thanks to the New York Times, that Sater had a long criminal past. In 1993, Sater was sent to prison after slicing open a man’s face with a glass during a bar fight. More significant, he was later implicated in a $40 million “pump and dump” stock swindle that involved alleged Russian criminals and American mobsters. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, apparently in exchange for his assistance as a government informant in a mob prosecution.
As part of the deal, Sater’s own criminal record was kept under wraps for years—until another group of investors sued Bayrock, alleging they had been defrauded. Among the acts of chicanery, they claimed, was the fact that the firm was hiding Sater’s criminal past. The investors and their lawyer put many of the documents regarding Sater’s criminal history into the public realm in the lawsuit. That disclosure prompted a flurry of other litigation and court action against the investors’ lawyers and caused the documents to be sealed on the grounds that their disclosure could put Sater, and future potential informants, at risk or compromise ongoing criminal investigations. Those are the documents the AP has been trying to dislodge from the court.
Some of the documents, many of which have already been leaked, appear pretty innocuous, including a 2000 press release from the Justice Department touting Sater’s racketeering plea deal. It’s unlikely that many of the records soon to be released directly involve Trump, as most were sealed in attempt to protect Sater from retribution for his informant work.
The likely GOP presidential nominee distanced himself from Sater in 2007, after the New York Times reported the details of his criminal history. However, three years later, Trump gave the man an office and business cards, describing him as a “senior advisor” to Trump’s organization, according to the Times. Sater worked for Trump for about six months, the paper reported, drumming up deals for his organization.
Even if the documents don’t reveal more about Trump’s relationship with Sater, they should illuminate plenty about one of the “best people” Trump says he likes to surround himself with in the course of his business dealings—and highlight one of the more unsavory episodes of Trump’s business career.