HOW WE GOT THE STORY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received a tip several weeks ago, unconnected to any political candidate, that pointed to a series of contributions to the Senate campaign of Rep. Jack Kingston from companies with ties to Khalid Satary, a convicted felon under a federal deportation order. AJC investigative reporter Chris Joyner, an expert in campaign finance law, used campaign finance data, corporate paperwork, court records, property records and other publicly available data to background the contributors and trace their relationship to Satary. Kingston was informed of the finding several days prior to publication and given a chance to respond to the allegations. Satary, through his attorney, declined to comment. The AJC will continue to follow this developing story.
The top contributors to Rep. Jack Kingston’s Senate campaign come from two companies linked to a felon the U.S. government has been trying to deport for the past six years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
In late 2013, Kingston, an 11-term Republican congressman from Savannah, took in $80,052 in contributions from employees, their family members, consultants and contractors of two virtually unknown Gwinnett County companies: Confirmatrix Laboratories, a 2-year-old firm that performs urine and drug testing, and Nue Medical Consulting, a medical billing company founded last September.
Both companies are linked to Khalid A. Satary, a Palestinian also known as DJ Rock, who served more than three years in federal prison for running a large-scale counterfeit CD operation in the metro Atlanta area. Satary was released from prison in 2008.
“Since that time, ICE has sought to secure travel documents from Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in order to return Mr. Satary to the Gaza Strip,” said Vincent Picard, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE has had no luck getting the needed travel documents to expel Satary and released him from federal custody under an “order of supervision,” which places certain conditions on his continued stay in the United States. Picard said ICE continues to work to deport Satary.
The AJC asked Kingston about the donations, a related fundraising event, and Satary’s criminal past on Wednesday. On Friday, the campaign announced Kingston would return the contributions.
“After reviewing this matter, we believe we are in full compliance with the law and federal elections regulations,” Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford said. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we are returning contributions associated with this event due to external factors brought to our attention by members of the media.”
Crawford said the campaign hopes to have the contributions returned by early this week. Through an attorney, Satary declined comment.
Kingston, in an interview with the AJC, said he learned in late April there was some internal dispute among the group of contributors, so he hired an attorney to make sure the campaign had complied with federal law. He said he was unaware of Satary’s criminal past.
“They are not people I have a daily, weekly or regular discussion or correspondence with,” he said.
The Congressman has an official relationship with at least one of the contributors: Richard Sasnett, VP of sales for Confirmatrix, was named in April to the finance committee of Kingston’s Senate campaign, one of about 200 Georgians on that committee. Following questions by the AJC, Crawford said Sasnett has been removed from the committee.
Most of the contributions came from a Dec. 6 fundraiser at the Chateau Élan Winery and Resort in Gwinnett that Kingston personally attended. A photo from the event, shared on the social media site Instagram, shows Kingston shaking hands with Jordan Satary, Khalid’s 19-year-old son, who is listed as CEO of Nue Medical. Jordan contributed $6,763 at the event.
One of the contributors told the AJC that employees were given bonuses and told to pocket a few hundred dollars and give the rest to Kingston. The contributor has asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals but did provide the newspaper with a copy of a bonus check which matched up with a slightly smaller donation made to the campaign a few days later.
The contributor received a handwritten check, signed by Jordan Satary, from a middle manager at Nue Medical.
“He was like, ‘Here’s your bonus.’ And I thought that was weird,” the contributor said. The bonuses came less than three months after the company was founded.
“It was strongly suggested that you donate $1,500 to $1,600 to Kingston for the fundraiser,” the contributor said.
Confirmatrix CEO Wes Warrington denied that his employees were encouraged to contribute or were reimbursed for their contributions. He said Sasnett approached him with the idea for the fundraiser and Nue Medical was brought in to help set it up.
Other contributors declined comment or did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Using so-called "straw donors" is a relatively common — but illegal — method to circumvent federal campaign contribution limits. Such schemes to illegally bundle contributions have tainted the political campaigns of Sen. John McCain and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in his Senate run. In April, an Indian hotel operator pleaded guilty to using straw donors to funnel more than $180,000 to three federal campaigns, including then-Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential run.
Contributors at the Kingston fundraiser were an unlikely group. Although some of the contributors have strong feelings about Palestinian independence (based on their social media profiles), as a group they have no history of domestic political activity.
For starters, most do not appear to be registered voters in Georgia. And although donors employed at Satary’s companies each gave between $1,500 and $7,000 to the candidate, only one employee of Confirmatrix or Nue Medical had ever contributed to a political campaign before.
Satary himself also did not make any donations; foreign nationals without green cards are barred from contributing to U.S. political campaigns.
When asked if he should have been more cautious before making a personal appearance with Satary and his associates, Kingston said his Senate race has drawn a lot of new supporters.
“We have reached out in the last year and a half to all kinds of different groups in Georgia trying to talk about our campaign,” he said. “A lot of the relationships that we have are in relationship to getting behind our Senate race. We have a number of people who have come on board.”
Few have gotten on board like employees of Confirmatrix and Nue Medical. The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., which tracks federal campaign contributions, lists Confirmatrix and Nue Medical as Kingston’s No. 1 and No. 4 donors, respectively.
The AJC has learned federal investigators are looking into the contributions. Neither Khalid Satary or his son returned calls seeking comment last week. Instead high-profile white-collar defense attorney Steve Sadow issued a statement indicating he was representing Khalid Satary.
As to the allegations, Sadow said, “We are not in a position to comment at this time.”
Kingston said he did not know the contributions were part of a federal inquiry, but he said the campaign had hired a lawyer and checked to make sure they met the Federal Election Commission’s reporting requirements.
“We take everything seriously,” he said. “I’ve been in this for a while. We always make sure we do everything in accordance with the FEC.”
In a statement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia said Kingston is not the target of an investigation “nor have we at this time identified any evidence to indicate that Congressman Kingston or his campaign engaged in any wrongdoing.”
Since his release from prison, Satary, 41, has been busy founding businesses in the metro area in health-related fields. In 2012, he was part of a group that founded Confirmatrix, Warrington said.
Originally listed as CEO of the company, Satary was a consultant to the startup but is no longer an officer with it, although he continues to provide consulting services, Warrington said.
“Khalid brings value,” he said. “He is very bright in terms of laboratory services.”
Khalid Satary’s name receded in Confirmatrix’s 2013 corporate filing to an unnamed position, then disappeared in 2014 altogether.
“We are an independent company and operate exclusively (from Satary),” he said. “I run this company.”
Nue Medical started up in 2013 with Jordan Satary, a recent graduate of Mill Creek High School, as the top official. On his Facebook page, Khalid Satary lists himself as a vice president of Nue Medical under his son.
On his personal website, Satary describes himself as a “businessman and a philanthropist” in a profile that portrays him as a patron of the arts who seeks to promote a more positive image of Arab Americans.
Khalid Satary apparently had not been active in politics until last year when employees of the two companies began courting Kingston.
A record seizure
Satary first came to the attention of authorities in 2000 when Cobb County Police conducted a Halloween raid on a suspected CD piracy operation in Smyrna. Satary was arrested two days later and released on bond.
About a year later, the FBI met with an investigator from the Recording Industry Association of America’s anti-piracy unit, which led to raids on CD duplicating operations linked to Satary in Smyrna, Doraville, College Park, Jonesboro, Macon and south Atlanta. In 2003, federal authorities seized 127,000 bootleg CDs from the south Atlanta facility. Six men were indicted, but the FBI pegged Satary as the ringleader.
At the time, prosecutors called the seizure the largest music piracy in U.S. history, with an estimated value of $50 million.
According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, Satary kept large amounts of cash, hired bodyguards and used shell corporations to shield his involvement. An office manager in Satary’s organization told the FBI he regularly transferred money overseas to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.
Satary’s prison time and subsequent parole did not dent his lifestyle, according to public records and his son’s social media accounts. Jordan’s Instagram account prominently features his $90,000 Mercedes, vacations to the Caribbean and the family’s $1.2 million gated estate in Suwanee, which tax records show also is in Jordan’s name.
According to public records, Jordan also is CEO of Shefa Wellness Center, which claims to offer boutique health services from weight management and teeth whitening to pain management.
The address for the Shefa center in Tucker leads to non-descript gray building near the interstate with a sign that reads “Georgia Pain Associates.” A “now open” sign flaps in the breeze in front for the building, which is surrounded by an auto parts store and several bars.