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Court Orders Suspension of Lawyer Accused of ‘Relentless Campaign’ to Extort Felix Sater


Frederick M. Oberlander, a New York lawyer who was accused of engaging in a “relentless campaign” to extort former Trump business associate Felix Sater into a settlement, was ordered suspended from practicing law for a year, “commencing October 11, 2019, and continuing until further order of this Court.”

The controversy’s origins technically go all the way back to 2000 — yes, almost two decades ago — when Sater was convicted of racketeering charges in the Eastern District of New York, but also entered into a secretive cooperation agreement. Sater was not sentenced until 2009. Sater, in addition to being a businessman and convicted felon, we now know, was an FBI informant who once gave the U.S. government Osama bin Laden‘s phone number.

The details of the aforementioned cooperation agreement were sealed, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department noted, “[b]ecause of the sensitive nature of the information Sater was providing and the potential danger to Sater’s life if his identity were to be revealed.”

These were the documents Oberlander was accused of holding over Sater’s head and threatening to expose in lieu of a settlement — despite federal court orders, per the filing:

The underlying proceeding involved allegations that the respondent engaged in a relentless campaign to extort a settlement by publicly releasing documents that had been sealed by a federal court, and that in furtherance of that effort, the respondent intentionally defied the orders of three different judges in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York as well as the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (hereinafter Second Circuit), filed a slew of frivolous motions and lawsuits, and repeatedly accused the courts of illegal and fraudulent conduct.

Oberlander previously filed a $1 billion lawsuit, a 2013 filing shows, naming multiple groups of defendants, including Sater, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump. President Trump once claimed under oath that “If [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

That lawsuit said that the plaintiffs were seeking “relief against those directly and vicariously responsible for the perpetration of perhaps a billion dollars or more of fraud based on the illegal concealment of Felix Sater’s 1998 $40 million federal racketeering conviction, and subsequent 2009 sentencing, as well as related and other unrelated relief, and declaratory relief against those persons, primarily financial institution, insofar as to affix by liquidating judgment thereof such liability is owed to them.”

As the appellate court noted in its opinion and order, the District Court Committee was not shy about detailing the nature of the violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct:

Then there was the finding about the attempted extortion of Sater:

The appellate court noted that Oberlander was “directed” on Feb. 6, 2019 to “show cause why discipline should not be imposed upon him in this State pursuant to 22 NYCRR 1240.13, based on the misconduct underlying the discipline imposed by the order of the Eastern District dated August 13, 2018.”

Oberlander did not respond, despite being given the opportunity to do so, the court said.

“Based on the foregoing, we find that the imposition of reciprocal discipline is warranted based on the findings of the District Court Committee. The respondent showed no regret for his behavior. His aggressive behavior did not consist of an isolated outburst, but rather, a prolonged course of conduct,” the court concluded. “The respondent’s relentless insults and attacks in multiple filings directed at Judge Glasser, Judge Cogan, the Eastern District, and the Second Circuit, coupled with his campaign to extort a settlement using improperly obtained materials, constitute undoubtedly serious professional misconduct. We conclude that a suspension from the practice of law for a period of one year is warranted.”

The court also entered a series of orders.

After Law&Crime reached out to Oberlander for comment, he said that he hadn’t heard of the Appellate Division matter until Wednesday.

Oberlander said he “vigorously denied extorting anyone,” and that “no discipline was ever imposed by the Eastern District of New York” (EDNY). He said that the matter was “quickly stayed indefinitely on the basis that he had a reasonable chance of reversing the decision on appeal for reasons including his failure to be afforded a hearing at which he could call witnesses and defend himself,” before adding that an “appeal is pending in the Second Circuit.”

Oberlander said that “he was never even charged with extortion to begin with.”

“It was never put in the EDNY charges,” he said.

He also said that the EDNY “never said anything about a relentless campaign to extort, only that one or two demand letters in 2010 constituted extortion.”

Lawyer suspended for extorting Felix Sater by Law&Crime on Scribd

Editor’s note: this story was updated with comment from Oberlander.

[Image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.