Felix Sater, one of Trump’s business associates who has previously plead guilty in a major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme and cooperated with the government, may soon have his past protected in secrecy by the Obama administration thanks to U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.
The Associate Press (AP) reports that “unless the Justice Department acts before April 18, [Cogan] will decide whether to make the court files public under the assumption that federal prosecutors don't care.”
Reports suggest that Trump hired Sater for a business development role in 2010 that included the title of senior adviser even after he learned of his past, providing him with Trump Organization business cards and an office within the Trump Organization's headquarters—in fact, the office was on the same floor as Trump’s.
"It seems to me that the government has a unique interest in keeping documents that relate to cooperation agreements under seal," the judge wrote in his order. "The government should speak and assert its position as to whether the public's right to access each document in the record is outweighed by a compelling need for secrecy."
The AP then details the exceedingly strange and confusing paperwork trail regarding Sater’s case that was sealed and unsealed over a long period of time, concluding that Sater’s lawyers said his “cooperation was vital to national security and disclosures about his past put him in danger.”
The defendants in Sater’s case, Frederick Oberlander and Richard Lerner, are said to have “revealed once-secret court records about Sater's crimes and cooperation” by government officials, but they claim otherwise. Oberlander and Lerner claim that most of what they had been ordered not to disclose was already publicly available at the Congressional level.
They even go so far as to say that “the government improperly permitted Sater to use his status as a secret cooperator to commit new crimes and avoid paying restitution to past victims, who are owed millions of dollars.”
Back in February 2015, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Sen. Orrin Hatch “that information about Sater's restitution ‘remains under seal,’” (which was later confirmed by Melanie Newman, a Justice Department spokeswoman) “and that the Justice Department would never waive victims' right to restitution as part of a cooperation agreement.”
Publically available court records showed that Sater was not ordered to pay restitution and that the government had never actually made the request for it. In fact, one of Sater’s attorneys said in a statement that the government waived restitution payments “partly out of gratitude to Sater.”
Yet, if one were to look at the documents as Oberlander did once the records were made public in 2013, it’s plain to see that “Sater acknowledged that the penalty for his crime included roughly $60 million in restitution payments to victims.”
Despite two failed requests to have Oberlander and Lerner charged with contempt for revealing Sater’s involvement with law enforcement, Cogen is still urging prosecutors to go after them.
"One would think that the desire to ensure that further informants cooperate in government investigations should also motivate the government to take swift action against individuals who seek to expose the identity of informants, their proffered criminal history and the details of their cooperation," the judge wrote.
Not surprisingly, Sater’s attorney says that the judge is right: these two “rogue lawyers” should be “criminally prosecuted” because Sater’s information "potentially saved tens of thousands, if not millions, of our citizens' lives."
It all begs the question: why would a judge want to keep his records sealed if he so clearly has already gotten away so many things again and again?
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