Trumpian PR Campaign Whitewashes Russia

— Who’s behind the secretive PR campaign to whitewash Donald Trump’s Russian biz ties?

The months-long campaign, which launched in November amid the federal investigation into alleged election meddling, centres around two Soviet-born businessmen who masterminded the Trump SoHo hotel in Lower Manhattan.

Utilising dozens of fake Twitter accounts and paid articles, the campaign has sought to whitewash Trump’s relationships with Russian-born ex-con Felix Sater and former Soviet trade minister Tevfik Arif, whose real estate development and investment company Bayrock Group was the driving force behind the recently renamed hotel.

From left: Trump, Arif, and Sater (source)

As first reported on this blog and subsequently covered by The Daily Beast and The New York Times, in November the HuffPost deleted a paid article about Sater by Pakistani content marketer Waqas KH.

Via “Who Paid for the HuffPost Puff Piece on Trump’s Felonious Friend?” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, January 11, 2018:

HuffPost scrubbed the article, written in December, from its website after a blogger in Northern Ireland, Dean Sterling Jones, inquired about the piece, which hailed the dismissal last year of a $250 million tax fraud case against Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive.

The article’s author, listed on HuffPost’s website under the name Waqas KH, runs a Pakistani company called Steve SEO Services. That company offers to ghostwrite articles and organize internet commenting campaigns for paying clients. On the freelancer website Fiverr, Waqas goes by the username “nico_seo” and offers to place articles on HuffPost for an $80 fee. For an extra $50, he will write the article himself.

Waqas confirmed to The Daily Beast that he placed the article hailing the dismissal of tax charges against Sater, and said that his client had written the actual text. He said Sater himself did not pay to place the article, but would not say who had compensated him for it.

The article is just one of dozens of recent puff pieces about Sater’s relationship with Trump.

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One article on business website Be Easy claims that, although “Sater plead [sic] guilty to stock racketeering and fraud as a part of a U.S.–Russian mafia scheme in 1998…there has been no evidence showing that Trump took any part in this, or knew anything about what was going on during their split time together.”

Several of the Trump-touting websites openly accept payments to publish articles.

The business marketing website Octopuzz, which claims that “Trump was not informed of Sater’s criminal past when Arif and Sater suggested partnering with the Trump Organization [and] would not have considered working with Sater and his organization for the Trump SoHo project if he was aware of the allegations against Sater,” explicitly states in its disclosure policy that it “accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.”

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Another business marketing website, whose write-up about Sater states that “[now] Trump is President of the United States, there is not likely to be any further implications for him in this case,” includes a message soliciting prospective clients to hire the article’s author, Abhishek Chatterjee, who owns a content writing service in Kolkata.

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Meanwhile, dozens of fake Twitter accounts are attempting to burnish Sater’s reputation by linking to articles about the $250 million dismissal which they claim helps vindicate Trump.

This fake tweet, for example, states: “It looks like another case involving Russia connections to the president [has been] dismissed for lacking any legal merits.”

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Many of the fake accounts have also tweeted about Arif’s own relationship with Trump, including one garbled tweet which states that “Arif and trump is the best friend so they are very talent man.”

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All link to a mostly favourable online bio about Arif titled “Team Russia [Красная Машина] story” by Andy French, founder of the Trump & Russia blog. However, none appear to have attracted the attention of other Twitter users, except for a few comment threads consisting entirely of fake users interacting with each other.

It’s unclear who is behind the largely ineffective promotional campaign.

Sater, who was interviewed by House Intelligence Committee staffers last month, in an e-mail denied knowing about efforts to covertly alter the Trump-Russia narrative.

I was unable to reach Arif for comment.

Whoever the culprit is, it’s likely they used the same PR service as controversial Nigerian pastor Chris Oyakhilome, who preaches against homosexuality and claims he can perform miracles. That’s because most of the websites, online profiles, and Twitter accounts promoting Trump’s Bayrock buddies have also promoted Oyakhilome.

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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.

Twitter Trolls Tout Trump

— Fake Twitter accounts have launched a PR campaign to burnish the reputation of Moscow-born former Donald Trump advisor Felix Sater ahead of his interview with House Intelligence Committee staffers

Sater is likely to testify about his role during the Trump campaign, including a 2015 proposal for the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow involving Russian president Vladimir Putin, which Sater said would help Trump win the presidency.

Felix Sater with Donald Trump (source)

Meanwhile, dozens of fake Twitter accounts are attempting to burnish the reputation of the twice-convicted Bayrock Group co-founder and self-described “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”

The campaign centres around a Business Insider UK article by Natasha Bertrand about the recent dismissal of a $250 million civil tax fraud case against Sater.

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It appears that the purpose of the campaign, which launched shortly before news broke about Sater’s upcoming interview, is to attempt to re-contextualise his relationship with the president.

Take for example this tweet, which characterised the dismissal of the case against Sater as “another victory for our great president Trump reputation”:

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Another fake tweet characterised the dismissal as a “great win for President too”:

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It’s unclear who is behind the covert campaign.

When asked to comment, Sater said it was his “first time hearing about this.”

Whoever the culprit is, it seems likely that they used the same PR service as controversial Nigerian pastor Chris Oyakhilome, who preaches against homosexuality and claims he can perform miracles – that’s because the majority of the accounts promoting Sater have also promoted Oyakhilome.

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If anyone thinks they know the answer to this one, feel free to leave a comment.

Update, December 14, 2017: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the House Intelligence Committee has scheduled staff interviews with Sater to take place in New York next week.

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

According to court documents filed in 2015, Felix Sater, a former advisor to Donald Trump who in 1998 was convicted for his involvement in a $40 million mafia-linked racketeering fraud, threatened to sue the family of two now-deceased Holocaust survivors who lost $7 million in the criminal scheme.

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 initiated 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 Trump Tower, New York, 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.