A cast of convicts and disgraced businessmen, including a Russian émigré central to the probes into possible Trump campaign collusion with Moscow, has reassembled in a nondescript office here across from a commuter train station.
The office is rented by the engaging but elusive émigré, Felix Sater. He’s been front-page news of late for emails, now in the hands of congressional and federal investigators, detailing how he and Trump Organization attorney Michael D. Cohen sought a real-estate deal in Moscow during the presidential campaign. Sater, who had been involved in previous ventures with Donald Trump’s company, wrote a 2015 email to Cohen saying, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.”
That bombshell late last month helped place Sater, who once described himself as “a very interesting guy,” at the heart of the ongoing Trump investigations.
And now a new McClatchy investigation reveals that Sater is again associated with some of the individuals with whom he was implicated in FBI probes of stock manipulation on Wall Street on behalf of Russian and Italian mobsters in the late 1990s. Several of the people who were convicted or faced regulatory sanctions in those probes have been working in the same suite as Sater on Haven Avenue in this affluent Long Island, N.Y., suburb.
The new information raises questions about Sater’s activities while he and Cohen were working on the potential Moscow deal, whom he was doing business with, and whether Cohen was aware of these connections.
The relationship between Cohen and Sater continued after the Moscow project: A year later, in January 2017, they drafted, with a Ukrainian politician, a Ukraine-Russia peace plan and delivered it to Trump’s then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The building directory lists two companies in Suite 205, Advance Capital, and Regency Capital Inc., which share a three-year lease that began in May 2016. The suite is upstairs from the greasy spoon Haven Diner, overlooking a Long Island Railroad station.
School kids attend language classes at the Japanese Culture Center, and an eyelash extension salon is located a few doors away. Suite 205 is the only unmarked one on the floor. There’s a video surveillance system out front and above the right side of the door is a mezuzah, a prayer symbol often affixed outside Jewish homes and businesses.
“They’re in and out, they travel a lot,” said an employee of a neighboring business who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
Advance Capital’s chairman, Gary Levi, is described by several who know both men as a longtime Sater associate. The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Levi in 2003 with helping the publicly traded fashion company Candie’s, Inc., inflate its income statement to dupe investors. He consented to a cease-and-desist order and paid a $25,000 civil penalty.
The SEC said that Levi worked directly with Candie’s Chief Financial Officer Gary H. Klein, who a year later was barred by regulators from accounting work with publicly traded companies. (Klein was arrested in 2004 in West Harrison, N.Y., for sending explicit sadomasochistic AOL chat messages to what he thought was a 14-year-old girl. Florida lists him on its directory of registered sex offenders.)
Levi isn’t the only Advance Capital executive with a checkered past. The company’s vice president of business development is Salvatore Morreale, cousin of Sater’s co-conspirator in the stock fraud case, Salvatore Lauria.
Lauria and Sater were both arrested, their exploits chronicled in the 2003 book The Scorpion and the Frog.
In the book, Morreale is simply referred to a “Cousin Sal”; a family tree on Lauria’s wife’s Facebook page indicates they are indeed cousins. Morreale was indicted in November 1998 in a separate investigation that alleged he helped launder money through stock manipulation, working in tandem with White Rock Partners, an investment firm where the two men worked, and its successor company, State Street Securities.
A Nov. 20, 1998 sealed complaint from federal prosecutors outlines allegations against Salvatore Morreale, an associate at the time of Felix Sater and his business partner Salvatore Lauria.
Lauria, Sater and a Russian named Gennady “Gene” Klotsman were central figures in White Rock Partners. Klotsman reportedly is imprisoned in Russia for a spectacular diamond heist.
Morreale pleaded guilty in 1999 to multiple conspiracy charges, according to court documents and his records on Broker Check, run by the Financial Industry Regulation Authority, a self-regulating body for Wall Street.
Morreale and Levi did not respond to requests for comment.
Soon after McClatchy began asking questions about Advance Capital in late August, its website suddenly disappeared, replaced by a Go Daddy ad for domain names. Before it was taken down, the website boasted to potential customers that it offered “an alternative to conventional business loans.” It’s unclear whether the business is still operating.
Court documents in New York show the company made the equivalent of loans by taking small stakes in companies through cash advances, getting a percentage of a company’s credit-card daily billing revenues until reaching an agreed-upon payoff amount.
The company appears to operate in a lightly regulated space; it’s technically not considered a lender by the New York State Department of Financial Services.
Screenshot of a page on Advance Capital’s website before it was taken down in late August.
Morreale’s presence at a Sater-linked company suggests that, at the very least, Sater continues to work in close proximity to his former circle. Persons familiar with operations say Sater keeps a desk at Advance Capital. A person familiar with the operation said the men sometimes met at Sater’s nearby home in Sands Point.
M.N.: The following excerpt was changed in accordance with the changes in the original McClatchy Report article and at the request of Mr. Wolf, Mr. Sater’s attorney, on 9.9.17:
McClatchy reporters twice visited Sater’s Sands Point home last month and were directed to send questions to his lawyer Robert S. Wolf, who then declined comment. Both Sater and his lawyer were sent a long list of detailed question. Sater asked that questions be sent to Wolf, but added a jab.
“I can see from your questions that your story will be mostly wrong and completely off base,” he wrote. When pressed to help correct what might have been incorrect, neither Sater or Wolf initially responded.
On Thursday, Wolf confirmed a relationship between Sater’s businesses and a Port Washington-based attorney, Arnie Herz, who had filed trademark paperwork on behalf of Advance Capital in April 2016.
▪ Herz has registered numerous Sater-related businesses, including Regency Capital Associates LLC in 2016, the business in the same suite as Advance Capital.
▪ Moreover, Herz registered several businesses tied to the Khrapunovs, a family accused by the government in their home nation of Kazakhstan of theft and money laundering, including via Trump-themed properties, a focus of an earlier McClatchy investigation into Sater. McClatchy also found that Sater assisted in efforts to get work visas for at least one person at a U.S. company funded by the fugitive family.
Wolf declined to provide further comment.
Kalsom Kam is another link between Sater and Advance Capital.