Trump Associate in New Putin Emails Was Behind the Failed "Trump Fort Lauderdale" Project
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Trump Associate in New Putin Emails Was Behind the Failed "Trump Fort Lauderdale" Project

It should surprise exactly zero people that President Donald Trump's associates were dumb enough to basically write "let's all collude with Russia" in emails to one another and that this collection of morons with brain lesions is also deeply tied to South Florida.

Today the New York Times published previously unseen emails, in which Trump associate Felix Sater told Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that if Trump would push through a hotel project in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin would work to make Trump the U.S. president.

Sater emailed, verbatim, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." Sater is an idiot.

But in many ways, he's also our idiot. South Floridians who've been following Trump's business dealings for the past decade likely remember Sater's name: He was previously the executive who brought Trump into the disastrous, 24-story "Trump Fort Lauderdale" project, a monolithic failure that ended with angry investors, $185 million in outstanding debts, and allegations of fraud and false advertising.

Sater is a deeply shady character. Born in the Soviet Union, Sater worked as a stock broker before being jailed for stabbing a dude in the face with the stem of a margarita glass in the early '90s. After Sater got out of jail, he began working with the Mob in New York. He later pleaded guilty to defrauding stock investors to the tune of $40 million on behalf of the Gambino crime family.

Amid all those shenanigans, Sater found time to become deeply tied to South Florida. As of 2015, he owned a $5 million property on Miami's ultrawealthy Fisher Island. According to county property records, the unit was sold in 2015 to a shell company, so it's unclear if Sater still owns the condo.

This is the second family involved in the alleged Trump-Russia affair that is tied to Miami. Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who allegedly set up the infamous meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, also owns $14 million in Fisher Island real estate. (He also once threw a party at South Beach's Versace mansion where '90s one-hit wonder Lou Bega performed.)

In 2012, the Miami Herald dove deep into the Trump International Hotel & Tower Fort Lauderdale failures to paint a picture of how the project tanked. Developers announced the project in 2004 and promised to have the hotel open within three years. But like a great number of ambitious Miami real-estate ventures, construction stalled, and the market eventually cratered thanks to the 2008 housing crisis. Trump claims he merely licensed his name to the project — but investors said in court they poured millions into the project to get a slice of some Trump-themed property.

Citing construction delays, Trump pulled his name from the project in 2009, pissing off a ton of people. According to the Herald, prices per square foot in the tower were 38 percent higher than most other projects in Fort Lauderdale, all because Trump's name was glued to the side of the building.

Sater, who was working with a firm called the Bayrock Group, promoted the project heavily. But it turns out he hid the fact that he'd been charged with that $40 million fraud from his own investment team — and many investors in the Fort Lauderdale project said they likely would've never worked with him had they known that both he and another Bayrock executive, Salvatore Lauria, had direct ties to the New York Mafia. (Trump claimed in 2007 he had "no idea" about Sater's past involvement with the Mob.)

According to the Herald, Sater was accused in a civil racketeering case for allegedly trying to steal millions from the Fort Lauderdale project while construction tanked. The empty shell the Trump group built was sold at a public auction in 2012; four years later, a Broward County appellate court ruled in two separate cases that Trump himself did not defraud anybody.

Those were the final two suits stemming from the project. According to the Sun Sentinel, the other developers tied to the Trump Fort Lauderdale project settled with investors who said they'd been screwed. Trump was the only one who fought the claims. (In one case, an investor put down $146,000 for a condo that never materialized. In another, someone paid $345,000 upfront for a $1.7 million condo that didn't get built.)

Sater and Trump apparently had plans to also build properties together in Phoenix and New York that never came to fruition. (Reporters and amateur bloggers have speculated for months that the Trump SoHo project, in which Sater was involved, was somehow tied to Russian criminals.)

According to the documents the Times obtained today, it looks like Sater never stopped trying to rope Trump into deeply questionable real-estate deals. During the 2016 campaign cycle, Trump was apparently angling to build a property in Moscow — and according to Sater's emails, Putin too apparently wanted the building.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater emailed. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show Sater was trying to fund the Moscow project through VTB Bank, a group that had been sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly trying to undermine democracy in the Ukraine. In response, Cohen, the lawyer who received the messages, claimed that Sater was simply trying to "puff himself up" and make his ideas sound cool and that the emails don't actually show what they really certainly seem to show. The Trump administration simply said it has no business ties to Russia.

The Times isn't the only entity that got its hands on Sater's emails. The FBI also has them now.

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