The Kleptocrats’ Money-Laundering Middleman Who Did Deals With Trump

Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World is the terrifying true story of how kleptocrats—those who rule through corruption—are uniting, clandestinely fusing their business interests, and forming alliances.

From Budapest to Beijing, Harare to Riyadh, they have seized power and are busily guzzling their nations’ wealth. There is nothing they will not do to maintain control. Those who dare to cross them are massacred on the Kazakh steppe and brutalized during Zimbabwe’s sham elections; those who threaten to spill their secrets have their mouths permanently closed.

What they crave is legitimacy—for their money and their power. That means hijacking democracies, harnessing the rule of law to protect their own lawless fortunes and destroy their enemies’.

So they need people who can remove the stain from both by rewriting the past. They need middlemen who can move between these two worlds. Characters like the charming, mercurial Russian-born Brooklyn fraudster Felix Sater. He has the connections—connections that go all the way to the White House. —Tom Burgis


The U.S. unemployment rate passed 10 percent in October 2009. Christmas was approaching, and half a million Americans were losing their jobs each month. In a Brooklyn courthouse, one American was pleading for a second chance. A third chance, if you counted the time he stabbed that guy as well as the mafia-backed stock fraud he was up for today. Felix Sater was forty-three. Today he would learn whether a judge would take the next twenty years from him. His mother and his sister were in court. Elsewhere, his three daughters awaited news.

Felix was not short of material from which to compose the autobiography he would place before the Honorable I. Leo Glasser. After public school in Brooklyn he had put himself through college at Pace University in Manhattan, studying accounting. A few blocks south of the campus lay Wall Street. This was the 1980s, the Wall Street of Gordon Gekko. Greed was good. Felix qualified as a broker and was soon making money at Bear Stearns, then at Lehman Brothers. He was still only twenty-five when, one night in 1991, as men of Wall Street do, he went out to a bar in Midtown—El Rio Grande—and drank too much. A fellow drinker got into an argument with Felix about a woman. Felix seized a margarita glass and smashed it into the man’s face. He went down for a year. His broker’s license was revoked, so when he got out he had no legal way to get paid for his financial knowhow. A boyhood friend offered him the chance to come in on a scam. It was a pump-and-dump: you acquired stock in bullshit companies, talked some suckers into driving up the price by spending their savings buying the shares, then sold your own. Felix knew how to set up front companies to launder the proceeds. Soon the racketeers had made and washed $40 million.

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