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Trump campaign bodyguard linked to ex-con who’s key in Russia probes

Russian emigre Felix Sater, shown here in a screenshot from a YouTube video he posted on Aug. 8, 2014, is in the crosshairs of investigators probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Russian emigre Felix Sater, shown here in a screenshot from a YouTube video he posted on Aug. 8, 2014, is in the crosshairs of investigators probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Another connection has emerged between Donald Trump and Felix Sater, the Russian emigre and ex-con who's become a key figure in widening investigations into ties between Trump associates and Russian figures.

Trump plays down his relationship with Sater, despite growing evidence of links between the two, including recently published emails detailing how Sater worked with a top Trump Organization lawyer on a planned Moscow property deal as late as 2016, during the presidential campaign.

McClatchy’s investigation now shows that a trusted Trump security aide hired in 2015 had intimate knowledge that Sater, twice convicted, had a criminal past and underworld connections.

Before he became Trump’s bodyguard, Gary Uher was an FBI agent involved in a complex deal to bring Sater back from Russia in the late 1990s. The resulting plea deal allowed Sater to avoid prison time in a Wall Street probe by serving as a government informant until his sentencing in 2009. During much of the time that he was a secret informant, Sater was a Trump Organization business associate, working on projects in New York, Florida and Arizona.

It’s not clear if Sater and Uher maintained an active relationship. Sater declined comment, and Uher did not respond to multiple requests for a response.

But the new information raises more questions about Trump’s ties to the Russian-born felon, Sater, and those in Sater’s orbit. “This latest revelation adds yet another connection between Trump and Russian criminals,” said Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor in St. Louis, who specializes in government ethics and national security law.

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The Trump Organization did not respond to detailed questions about the two, and whether its executives or Trump himself were aware of Uher’s role in Sater’s federal plea deal.

But court documents from almost two decades ago, obtained by McClatchy, show that Uher played an important part in Sater’s decision to return from Russia.

courtdoc-uher
This snipped section of a 2000 court deposition of then-informant Lawrence Ray shows how FBI agent Gary Uher worked to bring Felix Sater back from Russia. Almost 20 years later they both were in Donald Trump’s orbit. Wieder, Ben

Uher was a young FBI agent when he helped convince Sater to stay out of U.S. prison by cooperating in an operation that uncovered a $40 million scam by criminally connected Wall Street firms. Numerous members of the New York-area Mafia were eventually sent to prison.

FBI veterans loosely divide agents into two categories: the brainy, whose talents tend toward pursuing paper trails, and the brawny, who prefer to be out on the street and can be more inclined to be part of a security detail.

Tall, thick and imposing, Uher fell into the latter category.

“He was a good agent,” recalled Lewis Schiliro, an expert on organized crime who at the time was the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office. He referred to the late 1990s as “a really wild time” for Russia-linked crime.

Recent court documents obtained by McClatchy show that Uher, after leaving the bureau, was referred to the Trump Organization in 2015 by Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner and onetime nominee to head the federal Department of Homeland Security. Kerik withdrew his nomination and was imprisoned in 2010 after pleading guilty to tax fraud and making false statements in a federal bribery probe.

 

Kerik is also a former business partner of high-profile Trump surrogate Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor.

Uher said in a court deposition that he and Kerik had known each other since the early 1980s in New Jersey, when Kerik trained Uher in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department.

The December 2016 deposition came after Uher briefly made headlines in the early days of Trump’s campaign. He and other members of Trump’s security detail were accused in a lawsuit of roughing up protestors in front of Trump Tower during a book signing in September 2015.

Uher indicated in the deposition that he had worked for both the campaign and the Trump Organization, reporting directly to Keith Schiller, who headed security for the organization and went on to a similar position at the White House this year. (Schiller left that post this month.)

Uher appears to no longer work for either the Trump campaign or Trump Organization, though his current employer’s website touts those past positions.

Oshirak Group International, headquartered in suburban Virginia, shows a picture of Uher on its website and lists him as director of law enforcement. The first item on his website bio cites his work as “Body guard for Donald Trump and family.”

screencapture-uher
This screenshot from the website of the security firm OGI Security shows Gary Uher’s biography, including his time as a bodyguard for Donald Trump and his long career at the FBI.

Disclosure records show Uher’s work for the Trump campaign, which paid him and a company he worked for called XMark LLC.

Uher was paid a total of $44,920 by the Trump campaign for security work and travel expenses between June 2015 and January 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records.

XMark LLC, which is run by another former FBI agent, was paid more than $500,000 for security-related services by the Trump campaign as recently as March 2017.

Uher’s work for the campaign occurred just as Sater was scouting potential real-estate deals for Trump in Russia.

Curious overlap

Sater derailed his early career as a trader on Wall Street when he went to prison in 1993 for slashing a man in a bar-fight.

After he emerged, having lost his brokerage license, Sater joined childhood friends Gennady Klotsman and Salvatore Lauria in a criminal stock-manipulation scheme through two brokerage companies: White Rock Partners & Co. and State Street Capital Markets Corp.

Sater and Klotsman left the business in 1996, moving to Russia and working in telecommunications, including with AT&T.

While Sater was in Russia, New York City police stumbled on a Manhattan storage locker belonging to him that held weapons and documents revealing details of the stock manipulation scheme.

And that’s where Uher and Sater’s lives seem to have first intersected.

As an FBI agent, Uher worked closely with a government informant named Lawrence Ray. In a 2000 affidavit, Ray said he was dispatched to Russia by the FBI to lure Sater home. McClatchy has corroborated much of what Ray testified to in the affidavit.

A convict who has served prison time, Ray had business interests in Russia. He was eventually charged in the same investigation that swept up Sater and associates.

Ray was also close friends with Kerik, frequently dropping his name to associates. The relationship soured, according to media reports, after Kerik refused to testify on Ray’s behalf in the same stock-fraud probe involving Sater.

Ray later turned over documents to investigators in the prosecution of the politically connected Kerik, which stemmed partly from gifts Kerik accepted from a Mafia-linked construction company called Interstate Industrial, where Ray worked at the time.

During the same period as Kerik’s legal woes, Sater was a government informant. He also became a top executive at the real estate company Bayrock Group. Located two floors down from the Trump Organization in Trump Tower, it worked on a number of Trump-themed projects, including Trump SoHo in Manhattan.

After leaving Bayrock because of news reports about his criminal past, Sater nonetheless would maintain Trump Organization ties, as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump,” according to a business card he carried in 2010.

In 2013, Trump would say of Sater in a Florida court deposition: “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

Sater for his part has frequently touted his connection to Trump. In fact, e-mails that recently surfaced in the course of the investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia show that Sater had plenty of back and forth about possible deals with Trump Organization lawyer Michael D. Cohen – whom he has known for decades -- on a potential Trump real-estate project in Russia in late 2015 and early 2016.

In one email, Sater exclaims to Cohen, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.”

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall Ben Wieder: 202-383-6125, @BenBWieder

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