On the 24th floor of Trump Tower, in an office two floors below Donald Trump, Felix Sater was trying to revive his career. The Russian-born businessman had already done a stint in prison for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass, and he was now awaiting sentencing for his role in a Mafia-orchestrated stock fraud scheme — all the while serving as a government informant on the mob and mysterious matters of national security.
But Sater and his business partners had an idea: They would build Trump towers in U.S. cities and across the former Soviet bloc. Sater pitched it to Trump, who gave Sater’s company rights to explore projects in Moscow as well as Florida and New York.
“Anybody can come in and build a tower,” Sater told potential investors, according to testimony in a 2008 court case. “I can build a Trump Tower, because of my relationship with Trump.”
Sater’s “Trump card,” as he called it, didn’t work everywhere. The Moscow deal fell apart. But their relationship continued — though just how close they were is now in dispute.