HuffPost Deletes Sponsored Trump-Russia Article

— HuffPost deletes sponsored news story about controversial “Russia-gate” figure/former Donald Trump business partner Felix Sater

Last week, I blogged about a coordinated PR campaign seemingly intended to burnish the reputation of controversial Russian-American real estate investor Felix Sater, who collaborated with Trump on a number of high-profile development projects.

Now it emerges that U.S. news website, HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post), has retracted an article it appears was part of the fake news campaign.

The deleted article, “Case Against Felix Sater Dismissed By New York Court,” was published by Waqas KH, founder of Pakistani SEO marketing website, SteveSeos.com.

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On Fiverr, Waqas goes by the name “niko_seo.”

For roughly $80, niko_seo will “publish your story or business story on Huffingtonpost with my contributor account.”

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In an e-mail, Waqas confirmed that someone paid him to publish the article, but wouldn’t say who.

Meanwhile, HuffPost has deleted all of Waqas’ content. Click the link to the former contributor’s article and you’ll see a message which states: “This post from The Huffington Post Contributor Platform is no longer available on our site.”

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The article is just one of several recent news items about Sater that have popped up on pay-to-publish digital marketing websites, and which are currently being spread by dozens of fake Twitter accounts.

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Sater denies knowing about any efforts to burnish his reputation.

Update, December 14, 2017: Yesterday, I sent an e-mail asking HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen to comment. Today, a spokesperson for HuffPost sent me this statement:

Anyone found to be self-publishing paid content on the HuffPost Contributors Network is in violation of our terms of use. Anyone we discover to be engaging in such abuse has their post removed from the site and is banned from future publication.

Saterized

— Obscene domain names once owned by Trump associate Felix Sater get snapped up after articles by Shooting the Messenger and The Daily Beast

Last week I scooped the story that Donald Trump’s former business partner, Felix Sater, possibly used to own a number of obscene domain names intended to disparage Sater’s Bayrock Group colleague, Jody Kriss.

In 2010, Kriss sued Bayrock for $1 billion, alleging that the New York real estate company and its partners, including Donald and Ivanka Trump, had illegally concealed Sater’s 1998 racketeering conviction and later 1999 sentencing.

Shortly after I published my post, The Daily Beast published the same story with the title, “Trump Pal Bought IAmAF**got.Com and VaginaBoy.Com, Then the Sites Attacked His Enemy.”

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Apparently, somebody thought this was the perfect opportunity to troll 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

Yesterday, an anonymous troll re-registered IAmAFaggot.com. Only instead of Sater’s old site, visitors are now redirected to a blank page that says “Ted Cruz Is The Zodiac Killer,” before being redirected yet again to Cruz’s official U.S. Senate site.

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“Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” is a meme that began in 2013, and which according to The Guardian newspaper “satirizes the fact that political discourse in America has sunk so low that this kind of spurious accusation can actually get traction.”

According to Whois.com, the registrant used a privacy service to obscure their real name. However, a reverse Whois search shows that the site is hosted on a server owned by Austin native Steven Hughes.

Another domain mentioned in the articles, IAmADirtBag.com, is currently on sale for $6,000 at UnreasonablyPricedDomains.com, a side project of Brooklyn native Jeff Koyen’s Chaotic Neutral, a satirical site about management speak.

The sale tag reads: “Oops, someone forgot to renew their attack domain.”

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Twofer

— The Daily Beast publishes article featuring two Shooting the Messenger scoops

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I recently blogged these Donald Trump-related scoops:

1. The Felix Sater Files (Parts I and II), about how former Trump business partner Felix Sater apparently registered a number of crude domain names intended to disparage Sater’s Bayrock Group colleague Jody Kriss. Published: August 26, 2017.

2. Kriss-Krossed, about how Donald and Ivanka Trump were once named as co-defendants in a lawsuit against Bayrock initiated by Jody Kriss. Published: August 22, 2017.

Via “Trump Pal Bought IAmAF**got.Com and VaginaBoy.Com, Then the Sites Attacked His Enemy” by Betsy Woodruff, Katie Zavadski, and Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, August 29, 2017:

Sater used his email and office address to register websites including IAmAFaggot.com, IAmADirtbag.com, several variations of FecalBoy.com and FecalMatter.info, CuntMan.net, Blackmailer.net, VaginaBoy.com, and dozens of other crudely named domains.

While registered to Sater, some of those sites attacked Jody Kriss, Sater’s former business associate. The two used to work together at the Trump Tower-headquartered real-estate firm Bayrock, where Kriss served as a finance director until he left the company and sued them for money laundering, according to Bloomberg. Donald Trump was initially targeted in court by Kriss, as well.

Sater’s email and office address were used to register more than a dozen domain names relating to Kriss. Those sites then attacked Kriss for a lawsuit mentioning the Trump family, among others. That’s according to records The Daily Beast discovered using the domain analysis site DomainTools, which tracks changes in official domain registrar databases.

[…]

Kriss and others filed a $1 billion New York state lawsuit another [sic] against Bayrock, Sater, and others in May 2013, over the alleged concealment of Sater’s 1998 racketeering conviction. Donald and Ivanka Trump were also listed on the suit as a type of defendant; the plaintiffs asked the judge to find whether they might also be owed declaratory relief. The Trumps were dropped from the suit three weeks later.

The story was also picked up by Raw Story, MarketWatch, Digg, and others.

Update, 01/09/2017: Last month I sent the above story to a reporter at The Daily Beast. I wasn’t credited on the article, so yesterday I sent an attribution request to executive editor Noah Shachtman, who told me that Daily Beast reporter Ben Collins found this story independent of me, and that the similarities between the two stories are coincidental.

Insatiable

— Former Trump advisor Felix Sater swindled Holocaust survivors out of $7 million, then threatened to sue when they tried to get their money back

Felix Sater, a former advisor to Donald Trump, once threatened to sue the family of two now-deceased Holocaust survivors who lost $7 million in a mafia-linked racketeering scheme perpetrated by Sater in the mid-90s. That’s according to court documents filed in 2015.

Donald Trump with Felix Sater (source)

The two victims, Ernest and Judit Gottdiener, who emigrated to the U.S. after the war, died before they could reclaim their stolen millions.

In 2013, Judit’s brother, an Israeli rabbi named Ervin Tausky, filed a $100 million civil case against Sater and his co-conspirator, Salvatore Lauria, on behalf of the Gottdieners.

In retaliation, Sater sent a letter through multi-national Israeli law firm, Zell, Aron & Co., threatening to sue Tausky for 4,000,000 shekels (approximately $1 million) unless Tausky agreed to withdraw all legal action against Sater in the U.S.

The firm claimed that Tausky had damaged “the good name of Sater and his family,” and put “Sater and his family in jeopardy, and in danger of being killed.”

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The case was later dismissed because, according to U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield, “aiding and abetting securities fraud cannot serve as a RICO predicate act.”

This week, The Washington Post and The New York Times leaked a series of e-mails showing how during Trump’s 2016 election campaign, Sater tried to help the Trump Organization to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller is currently investigating Trump for evidence of possible collusion between the campaign and the Russian government.

The Felix Sater Files (Part II)

— Exploring the deleted websites of Donald Trump’s racketeering Russian-American former Bayrock Group business partner and senior advisor

Last month, I blogged about the deleted sites of Bayrock executive Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman and convicted fraudster who in the late 2000s worked with Trump on a number of high-profile real estate projects, including the troubled Trump SoHo hotel in Lower Manhattan.

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In that post I included an “exhaustive” list of deleted sites that once belonged to Sater. The sites were deleted during the 2016 election, when Sater became a key figure for journalists examining Trump’s Russian business ties.

Since that initial post, I’ve found evidence that between 2012 and 2016 Sater registered a number of other domains intended to disparage another key figure within Trump’s business sphere, Jody Kriss, who also worked for Bayrock as its finance director.

Kriss’ tenure ended when he filed an explosive billion dollar lawsuit alleging that Bayrock and its partners, including Donald and Ivanka Trump, had illegally concealed Sater’s 1998 racketeering conviction and later 1999 sentencing, that the company had itself engaged in financial fraud, and that it had personally cheated Kriss out of millions of dollars.

Last year, an ICANN-approved business dispute resolution forum determined that Sater had in bad faith registered a number of domains using his own name, and also possibly using the pseudonym “Larissa Yudina,” for the purposes of disparaging Kriss by accusing him of being a “serial litigator,” an “extortionist,” a “mobster” and a “fraud.”

According to Arizona court documents, Yudina is the founder of Moscow investment company OST Group, which apparently provides “internet marketing services” to Sater, although I was unable to find OST Group or any information online for anyone with the name Larissa Yudina.

In its decision, the forum ruled that the disputed domains be transferred from Sater to Kriss.

Via the Wayback Machine, which archives the web, those domains included:

www.jodykriss.com

• and jodykriss.net

By doing a reverse Whois search for “Felix Sater” and an associated e-mail address I’ve also identified a number of other disparaging domain names possibly created by Sater, including:

• blackmailer.net
• blowjobgram.com
• cuntboy.net
• cuntboyjody.com
• cuntman.net
• extortionist.info
• fecalboy.com
• fecalmatter.lawyer
• fecesman.com
• felcher.info
• felcherboy.com
• iamadirtbag.com
iamafaggot.com
• iamascumbag.com
• jodykrissthief.com
• thejodykriss2.com
• truthaboutjodykriss.com
• vaginaboy.com
• vor-ton.com 

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It also appears that in 2014 Sater took out this full page advert in New York real estate magazine The Real Deal:

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And if that didn’t sate your appetite, here’s a full list of Sater’s confirmed anti-Kriss sites:

jodykriss.com
jodykriss.net
• 
jodykriss.org
jodykriss.info
jodylkriss.com
• 
jodylkriss.net
• 
jodylkriss.org
• 
jodylkriss.info
• jodykrisscrook.com
• jodykrissvorton.com
• vortonjodykriss.com
• jodykriss.co
• krissjody.com
• eastriverpartnersllc.com
• eastriverpartnersny.com
• theeastriverpartners.com
• eastriverpartnersgroup.com
eastriverpartners.net
• eastriverpartners.info

Kriss-Krossed

— Donald and Ivanka Trump were once named as co-defendants in a billion dollar money laundering lawsuit involving the Donald’s former Bayrock business partners

According to this apparently as-yet unreported 2013 court summons, the Trumps were co-defendants in a billion dollar lawsuit brought by Jody Kriss, the former finance director for New York real estate and investment company, Bayrock Group:

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Kriss claimed that the Trumps and their fellow co-defendants illegally concealed Russian-American Bayrock executive Felix Sater’s 1998 $40 million federal racketeering conviction, and later 2009 sentencing.

He also claimed that Bayrock was “engaged in the businesses of financial institution fraud, tax fraud, partnership fraud, insurance fraud, litigation fraud, bankruptcy fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, human trafficking, child prostitution, statutory rape, and, on occasion, real estate.”

The Trumps were later removed as co-defendants, although another court document shows that they were served the summons at New York’s Trump Tower on June 24, 2013.

Sekulow Attacks!

— After Politico profile about “amateur sleuths” highlights – count `em – three Shooting the Messenger Trump scoops, Trump-affiliated lawyer Jordan Sekulow tells Fox News that independent researchers are “wasting all of their time”

This week I was featured in a Politico profile about “self-assigned Bob Muellers” who are doing independent research into Donald Trump’s Russia and business connections.

The article, by Darren Samuelsohn, highlighted three stories first reported on this blog. One of them, that Trump’s former business partner Tevfik Arif tried to scrub his arrest (and later acquittal) for human trafficking from the web, was picked up by The Daily Beast last month.

The article also mentioned that I’d “documented Wikipedia editing records that show how Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and Trump business partner, may have used a pseudonym to delete information about his criminal history from Trump’s Wikipedia page,” and also that I’d “identified about a dozen posts written under Trump’s name on his now-defunct Trump University blog that appeared to plagiarize content from news outlets including CNN, USA Today and The New York Times.”

Shortly after publication, Jordan Sekulow, director of the American Center for Law and Justice and the son of Jay Sekulow, Trump’s legal advisor during the Mueller investigation, appeared on Fox News to denounce me and the other featured researchers – including Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of highly respected fact-checking website Snopes – without disclosing his ties to Trump.

Here’s the clip, plus excerpt:

Sekulow: I think it’s wonderful that these people who are – who want to bring down the president – are wasting all of their time and money to do so. I don’t even think the special counsel is going to be able to find anything on the president, so good luck to these sleuths who are, again, spending all they’ve got to try and bring this president down. It does underscore, though, just how much hatred there is out there for this President of the United States, who was elected so overwhelmingly by the American people.

To which I say: If a part-time blogger like me with zero resources can locate and publish the kind of damning info I have on Trump, I can only imagine what the Mueller investigation is turning up!

For the record – savvy cat that I am – I found my scoops without spending a single penny.

Sated

— Online paper trail appears to show Trump’s Russian-American business partner Felix Sater tried to delete his criminal record from Trump’s Wikipedia page using a fake name

Last month I blogged about the enigmatic Felix Sater, a convicted brawler and racketeer turned FBI informant.

The Russia-born real estate mogul collaborated with Donald Trump on a number of high-profile projects, and until recently was one of Trump’s senior advisors.

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In my previous post about Sater (click here to read), I examined what appeared to be attempts to delete Sater’s criminal record.

Here’s the rundown.

In 2015, Wikipedia administrators banned a user named “591J” for abusively using multiple accounts to promote Sater and delete information about his “mafia and Russian criminal ties, as well as a 1998 racketeering conviction” from Trump’s Wikipedia entry.

After digging around, I found this promotional photo of Sater that 591J had uploaded to Sater’s own Wikipedia entry (which, incidentally, was created by 591J):

Felix Sater (source)

Under the now-deleted photo I found the following copyright information:

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Note that:

1. The source information says that the photo of Sater is their “Own work”;
2. The author of the photo is “591J.”

But that’s not all.

Yesterday I found this Wikipedia page of confirmed sockpuppets of 591J:

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Here’s what Samantha Lien of the Wikipedia Foundation told me regarding the process used by admins to determine if a user is using multiple accounts:

As you might already know, Wikipedia has an established process for dealing with sockpuppets. If an editor believes someone may be misusing multiple user accounts, they can begin a sockpuppet investigation and refer the suspected sockpuppet to a “CheckUser,” a trusted Wikipedia editor who has the ability to see and compare the IP addresses behind Wikipedia accounts, as was done in this case. If the CheckUser finds sockpuppets at work, they may use a number of governance mechanisms, including blocks, to address the issue.

After combing through one of the sockpuppet accounts, “Krissjody,” I found the following admission:

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If you can’t read that it states:

I am the owner of the majority of the sources that show up on the Copyvio report. I had originally submitted this article for review before writing the articles on the websites relating to Jody Kriss. I own http://www.jodykriss.com, http://www.jodykriss.net, and http://www.jodykriss.info, as well as the Ripoff Report that was the issue the first time.

Using Whois, which indexes information about websites, I found that one of the above listed URLs, www.jodykriss.com, is registered to none other than – you guessed it – Felix Sater of Port Washington, New York:

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Jody Kriss is Sater’s former Bayrock Group colleague.

Bayrock worked with Trump on a number of high-profile real estate projects, including the Trump SoHo hotel in Lower Manhattan.

In 2010 Kriss sued Bayrock, alleging that Sater and others at the company laundered money, skimmed cash, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars. The suit named Trump and his daughter Ivanka as co-defendants, but they were subsequently removed shortly after getting served.

Sater seemingly used the site www.jodykriss.com to air his personal grievances against Kriss, accusing him of being a Russian mobster and of “putting people’s lives in danger.”

In 2015, a Hamilton County judge granted Kriss a permanent injunction ordering the deletion of the “false and disparaging” site and various other sites also possibly belonging to Sater.

Arif Gets Streisanded

— The Daily Beast picks up my story about Turkish court-ordered takedown requests by Trump’s Bayrock business partner Tevfik Arif re: his 2010 arrest in prostitution sting

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Via “Trump’s Business Partner Tries to Erase his Prostitution Bust From Web” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, July 21, 2007:

A former Russian government official – and business partner of Donald Trump’s – is gaining new notoriety, as the federal investigation into alleged election meddling widens.

Meanwhile, this Kazakh-born real estate mogul, Tevfik Arif, is doing his best to clean up his past, trying to purge the web of references to his arrest in an underage prostitution bust. He was later acquitted in the matter.

Arif, a former Soviet trade minister whose company once prospected for the Trump Organization in Russia and Eastern Europe, has demanded the removal of allegedly defamatory information about that arrest from websites that have investigated or recapped controversies involving some of President Donald Trump’s past business associates.

Some of those associates are now of keen interest to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators probing Russian influence in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s knowledge of it. According to a Thursday report from Bloomberg, Mueller is examining the finances of a Trump project involving the investment firm Arif founded.

[…]

Since May, [Arif] has sent four takedown requests to Google and one to Automattic, the owner of popular web publishing platform WordPress, demanding that they remove content from websites hosted by their respective companies that Arif claims is defamatory. Each complaint contained documents from Turkish court orders requiring the removal of similar web content. The takedown requests were first reported by the blog Shooting the Messenger.

A January 2016 post on one of the WordPress-hosted websites at issue claims that Arif was “charged with smuggling underage girls into the country for prostitution” and “accused of being the organizer of an international ring involving young girls.” It does not note that the charges were dropped.

Automattic partially complied with the request and blocked access to the website in Turkey, the company told The Daily Beast. Paul Sieminski, Automattic’s general counsel, said it risked the country’s government blocking access to all Wordpress-hosted sites if it failed to comply.

“This is not a decision we take lightly, but in our experience, failing to comply with a court order of this kind results in the blocking of all of WordPress.com, in Turkey—which removes the site in question, plus the millions of other sites that we host,” Sieminski wrote in an emailed statement.

Google did not respond to requests for comment on the takedown notices, though the websites listed in Arif’s complaint are still accessible from a US IP address. Efforts to reach Arif were unsuccessful, and Bayrock did not respond to questions.

Read my original posts by clicking here and here.

Arif Trumps WordPress

— WordPress blocks critical blog about Trump’s inner circle after Turkish court order from Trump’s Bayrock business partner Tevfik Arif

Earlier this week I blogged about Bayrock Group CEO Tevfik Arif’s attempts to get news reports about his 2010 arrest for human trafficking removed from the Internet.

Arif, a former Soviet commerce official, is best known for his business partnership with Donald Trump: the two were partners on the troubled Trump SoHo hotel in Manhattan, recently the subject of a criminal investigation and a lawsuit; and the doomed Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale, which was sold in 2012 after the developer defaulted on a $139 million construction loan.

Tevfik Arif (centre) with Trump and former Bayrock director Felix Sater at the launch of Trump SoHo (source)

According to the Lumen Database, which collects takedown requests of online content, Arif sent multiple Turkish court orders to Google and Automattic (WordPress’ parent company) demanding the removal of sites and blogs that reported about his arrest aboard Turkey’s presidential yacht, where he was attending a private party.

During a raid of the $57 million yacht, Turkish police reportedly found “nine young girls” from Russia and the Ukraine, “a huge amount of contraceptives and a file with escort girls’ pictures and hotel receipts.”

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Arif was charged and later acquitted of human trafficking, although four lesser-known businessmen were convicted.

While Google doesn’t appear to have honoured Arif’s demand, Automattic told Lumen it has taken “partial” action against a critical WordPress blog that reported about Trump’s dubious friendships and business relationships, including his partnership with Arif.

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When I asked Automattic to confirm and clarify what action it had taken against the offending blog, I received the following reply from Community Guardian Francis:

Hey Dean,

Thanks for reaching out. The site has been blocked in Turkey as a result of a decision of the Turkish Access Providers’ Union. We were forced to take that step in order to avoid WordPress.com (as a whole) from being blocked in the region.

Best,

Francis
Community Guardian
WordPress.com | Automattic

As I reported in October last year, WordPress recently updated its takedown policy to comply with Turkish censorship demands.