BILLIONAIRE Donald J. Trump may lead the public opinion polls in his fight for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination, but most voters know little about his business practices or how he made his fortune. However, writes Robert Walters, a member of the GlobalSource LLC advisory board and a former UPI bureau chief, even a quick and limited examination of those issues reveals a picture of a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners entrepreneur willing to play fast and loose with the truth, cut corners and cross ethical lines. (This in-depth survey of Trump’s background for Global Sources Magazine is longer than our usual articles and runs over four pages).
GWENDA Blair is the author of two books on the family of Donald Trump and writes of “a family culture of doing whatever it takes to come out on top and never giving up.” She describes Donald Trump as “always spinning a positive scenario in which he was coming out on top and everyone else was left in the dust. And regardless of the circumstances, he insisted that he was a winner, everyone else was a loser, end of story.”
The family’s business history dates back at least to Donald Trump’s grandfather, Fredrich Trump, a 19th century immigrant to the U.S. from Germany who owned and operated profitable hotels, restaurants – and brothels – stretching from the state of Washington to Canada’s Yukon Territory. Donald Trump’s father, Fred, was even more successful in building and operating low-cost, high-rise apartment houses in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
Donald Trump expanded that business into the heart of New York City, building the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan. Never at a loss for self-praise, Trump proclaimed that it contained “the finest apartments in the top building in the best location in the hottest city in the world.”
When voters in New Jersey approved a November 1976 ballot measure that authorized the construction of casinos within Atlantic City limits, Trump quickly took advantage of that new opportunity.
Fooling New Jersey
Before the mid-1970s, casino gambling was legal only in one political jurisdiction in the United States – the state of Nevada. The New Jersey vote meant that millions of residents in the eastern U.S. – including those in the major cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington – no longer had to travel thousands of miles to play slot machines or table games.
During the closing decades of the 20th century, Atlantic City had approximately a dozen hotel-casinos, with the number varying from year to year. Three of them were Trump properties with his name emblazoned atop each in large letters – Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Castle.
When he initially applied for a New Jersey state license to own and operate casinos in Atlantic City, Trump told the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) that he “initially became interested in Atlantic City investment when he learned of the casino profits reported in 1978, the first year of a legalized gaming operation in New Jersey,” according to an October 16, 1981 DGE report to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission (CCC).
However, Trump told reporters who wrote a Barron’s article, which appeared in the on August 6, 1984 edition of that financial weekly, that he had purchased land in Atlantic City before the referendum to legalize casino gambling was passed in 1976. Additionally, an article in The New York Times Magazine said Trump had claimed that he bought into Atlantic City before the referendum increased property values. Further, Trump’s testimony to the CCC was contradicted in several respects by testimony in Greenfield v. SSG Enterprises et al., a civil case filed in the Atlantic County, New Jersey Superior Court.
Two members of the CCC questioned Trump’s honesty in making representations to the CCC about his financing plans for the Resorts International Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. CCC Commissioner Valerie H. Armstrong questioned whether Trump manipulated the price of Resort’s stock.
According to a DGE report on Trump, he did not disclose civil rights suits on his Personal History Disclosure Form #1, questions 77 and 79, as required when he filed this form with the DGE. Trump had signed a 1975 court order not to discriminate against minorities in New York City and was later accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of failing to comply with that order. Additionally, Trump’s Atlantic City casinos had “abysmally poor statistics” in affirmative action areas, DGE reported.
Trump Plaza allegedly employed four individuals who were specifically listed on the CCC’s Exclusion List, which identifies “persons who are to be excluded or ejected from any licensed casino in New Jersey, such as career or professional offenders, cheats or criminal offenders.”
When Trump bought an Atlantic City hotel, he assured the CCC that he had every intention of honoring the agreement between several casinos with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to share in the cost of building new roadways. But questions were raised about Trump’s testimony at a June 3, 1986 CCC re-licensing hearing regarding a meeting he had in April 1985 with the Hilton’s lawyers regarding the road improvements.
One CCC commissioner opposed re-licensing the Trump Castle Hotel and Casino in 1986 because of “numerous and direct and sharp conflicts involving the testimony of key officials of the licensee…the conflict is significant.”
Similarly, Armstrong stated: “I cannot reach a conclusion on the critical issue of whether the licensee [the Trump organization] set about in good faith to fulfill its obligations and representations, or whether it carried out a plan of subverting the Department of Transportation agreement…in order to obtain approval to open and operate its casino”.
The City Council of Atlantic City passed a resolution criticizing the “anti-competitiveness” of Trump’s objections to another proposed Atlantic City hotel-casino project. That resolution also cited Trump’s use of “force and intimidation” against Atlantic City land-use officials. The measure called for Trump to “be reminded of the necessity to move forward by consensus in the city rather than force of arms” and stated he should “operate within acceptable standards of behavior”.
Daniel J. Sullivan
Daniel J. Sullivan was a truck driver who rose in the ranks of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to hold various executive positions in the union. He also was a criminal whose arrest record included “impersonating a police officer, larceny, grand larceny, felonious assault and possession of a dangerous weapon,” according to the book The Boardwalk Jungle by Ovid Desmaris.
That substantial criminal record was documented by DGE during its investigation of Trump’s fitness to hold a casino license in that state. In an 11-page report, dated October 16, 1981 and prepared for submission to the CCC, the DGE cited following record of Sullivan’s arrests:
- On March 2, 1960, he was arrested in New York on a charge of impersonating a police officer. On June 15, 1960, he was released from the charge, on his own recognizance.
- On September 3, 1960, he was arrested in Mantoloking, New Jersey on a charge of larceny. On October 7, 1960, he was found guilty of that charge.
- On July 2, 1962, he was arrested in New York on a charge of grand larceny. The charge later was reduced to petty larceny. Sullivan was found guilty and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
- On February 24, 1972, he was arrested on a charge of unlawful weapons possession. He was convicted and sentenced on the charge, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Sullivan was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1984 federal criminal indictment of former Atlantic City Mayor Michael J. Matthews on extortion charges. In 1975, Sullivan pleaded guilty to a weapons charge. In 1985, he was convicted of tax evasion in federal court and sentenced to a two-year prison term.
Sullivan identified himself as a labor consultant and drywall contractor when he was retained by Trump in the late 1970s to deal with construction unions on Trump projects in New York City. In the early 1980s, Trump retained Sullivan to negotiate with Atlantic City unions regarding construction of one of Trump’s casinos.
The role of a “labor consultant,” often specializing in producing “labor peace” on large construction projects, is fraught with danger, as a September 22, 1986 FBI memorandum noted: “The Trumps have advised [the FBI] that [Sullivan] is involved as a labor consultant to their firm. They are aware that it is a very rough business and that [Sullivan] knows people, some of whom may be unsavory by the simple nature of their business.”
In its October 16, 1981 report to the CCC on Sullivan and his relationship to Trump, the DGE said it had been assured by Trump “that he would not have future personal, social or business dealings with Sullivan other than in the context of their Atlantic City lessor-lessee relationship.” That New Jersey state agency recommended in 1981 that Trump be licensed as an Atlantic City casino owner and operator after Trump agreed to have no further dealings with Sullivan.
The citation to a “lessor-lessee relationship” refers to another link between Sullivan and Trump. Sullivan and two other men, Kenneth Shapiro and Elliott Goldberg, were partners in a commercial entity known as SSG Enterprises. Beginning in July 1981, SSG Enterprises, leased to the Trump organization a parcel of the land under one of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. In 1983, the Trump organization purchased the land from SSG Enterprises.
Sullivan became the source of considerable derogatory information about Trump in the 1980s, providing reports to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. For example, he asserted that Trump’s wife Ivana used cocaine on the casino premises with numerous Trump Castle employees.
According to Sullivan, the frequency and pattern of Trump’s contacts with him did not change after Trump made his commitment to New Jersey authorities to drastically limit, if not sever, their relationship. In an article he wrote for the Pennsylvania Bucks County Courier Times, published on July 24, 1980, Sullivan described Trump as “an old friend from New York,” and added that “it’s nice being friends with a millionaire.”
In addition, Trump sought to undermine his pledge through legal measures. On April 29, 1982, Nicholas Ribis, acting as Trump’s attorney, wrote a letter to Robert Genatt, the CCC’s general counsel, requesting authority for Trump to employ Sullivan as a labor consultant, according to a description of the letter in a Trump deposition taken in connection with a civil suit.
On June 15, 1982 Genatt replied to Ribis’ letter, and on the following day, June 16, 1982, Robert Sturges, the DGE’s acting director, wrote to Trump, apparently about Sullivan. After receiving Sturges’ letter, Trump recognized that “I would have been foolish to have retained Mr. Sullivan,” according to Trump’s deposition in a civil suit.
A story in the July 13, 1990 edition of The New York Times reported:
“Donald J. Trump took the witness stand yesterday to deny seven-year-old charges that he knowingly used 200 undocumented workers to demolish the old Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, the glittering centerpiece of his real-estate empire.
“Testifying in a case that has survived years of legal challenges, Mr. Trump said he did not know the workers were undocumented and that the demolition in the summer of 1980 was delegated to a contractor, Kaszycki & Sons Contractors, which did all the hiring.
“The lawsuit, by some members of Housewreckers Local 95, charges that Mr. Trump, desperate to meet deadlines on a vast project whose intricate financing was partly dependent upon them, overlooked the use of undocumented Polish immigrants, who allegedly worked round-the-clock and even slept at the site.
“The lawsuit, being heard in United States District Court in Manhattan, pits Mr. Trump’s word against those of union members and a labor consultant turned F.B.I. informant who claims he was a close Trump adviser…
“Mr. Trump was cool and confident in a case that comes to court just after he faced severe cash shortages in his real-estate and casino empire. He said he rarely visited the demolition site and knew little about its details.
“But Daniel J. Sullivan, a labor consultant and sometime informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified that he advised Mr. Trump on the demolition and that the developer knew about the undocumented workers…
“Mr. Trump testified that…that Mr. Sullivan was a peripheral adviser.
“Asked whether he knew about undocumented workers, Mr. Trump said, ‘I really still don’t know that there were illegal aliens.’
“Mr. Sullivan, who testified on July 6, said that meeting deadlines was crucial for Mr. Trump to keep the tax abatements that he and his partners received on Trump Tower.
“Mr. Trump’s lawyers have sought to portray Mr. Sullivan as a hanger-on who has served jail time for income-tax evasion.
“Mr. Sullivan testified that he has provided the F.B.I. with information about more than 100 people, including ranking labor union officials involved in activity alleged to be corrupt.
Yesterday, Mr. Trump said Mr. Sullivan may have had a minor role in advising him on Trump Tower, but that Mr. Sullivan was ‘a man who constantly tried to ingratiate himself.’”