By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Doug Struck, NEW YORK Times
President Trump’s special counsel charged a former lawyer in his real estate firm Thursday with scheming to conceal from the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments he received from foreign clients, including a Philippines casino magnate who funneled money to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Juan Carlos Whaling, who was a partner at the New York law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom from 2006 to 2013, was arrested and charged with making false statements to federal investigators and obstruction of justice. Mr. Whaling surrendered to authorities Thursday.
He was a partner in the firm’s real estate practice, where he represented foreign clients, including a casino magnate in the Philippines who was an old friend of Mr. Trump’s brother, Peter Trump Jr. The Philippine businessman, Felix Sater, arranged for $10 million in payments to Mr. Whaling in August 2013 in exchange for a helping role by Mr. Trump on a project to develop a casino on a Philippine island, according to the indictment.
Mr. Sater, a Russian-born American citizen, was reportedly wiretapped as part of the FBI’s 2016 probe into Russian interference in the election, and has been a well-known figure in New York real estate circles and the Russian and Middle Eastern arms-trading industries.
In court papers, prosecutors cited an encounter in August 2013, during which Mr. Sater met with the real estate partners who hired Mr. Whaling at the Trump Plaza Hotel in New York. He was representing the Aguayo Development Company. Mr. Sater introduced them to Mr. Whaling, whom he described as a “go-between” who would help his company convince Mr. Trump to join his project in the Philippines.
Mr. Sater bragged that he was friends with Mr. Trump and knew him well, according to the account. He said that his company wanted to fund Trump’s involvement in the project, and also asked if Mr. Trump would put in a significant sum of money, which he did.
After the meetings with Mr. Sater, Mr. Whaling misrepresented the activities of his law firm, saying that the three clients were a different firm, which the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said was Mr. Whaling’s own private company. The indictment said that he also misrepresented other clients he represented, including another set of lawyers, the law firm Stewart & Stewart, who were trying to get a license to do business in the Philippines. The indictment said that he told the Philippine business that Mr. Sater did not make payments to his law firm.
The money from the Filipino gamblers was to be used to pay for the lawyers’ legal fees. The two companies implicated in the case were also supposed to be used as conduits for the payments, according to prosecutors.
In an interview, a spokesman for Mr. Sater called the charges against Mr. Whaling “politically motivated” and said that Mr. Sater would not discuss them. A spokesman for Mr. Trump said he was unaware of the allegations against Mr. Whaling.
Mr. Whaling was also charged with allegedly obstructing a federal investigation.
Federal investigators opened a criminal inquiry into Mr. Whaling’s dealings in the Philippines in late 2013. On June 22, 2014, he sent a text message to Mr. Sater — which prosecutors said was an attempt to undermine a New York police detective who had questioned him in the Philippines — referring to the ongoing investigation as a “witch hunt.” He also said that if Mr. Sater knew he would become a witness, he would not record the conversation or let Mr. Sater call him.
The undercover detective, Jason Simms, looked at Mr. Whaling’s messages with Mr. Sater in his first interviews, a separate source familiar with the matter said.
Under federal law, Mr. Whaling and the other two companies that hired him would be barred from owning or operating businesses in the United States if convicted.
Mr. Whaling has not responded to requests for comment. His lawyer declined to comment.
The indictment names Mr. Sater, Jeffrey Cormier, Felix Reyes and Jesus Ortega as defendants.