Donald Trump’s history with the Mob—beginning with early business partners in Atlantic City who were ‘dese dem & dose’ guys with crooked noses who knew where Jimmy Hoffa was really buried —is a virtual travelogue through 30 years of ever-more sophisticated organized crime.
Donald Trump’s Palm Beach Homies
Relying on the Mob for support in Atlantic City and during construction of his signature New York projects is certainly lamentable. But Trump’s questionable early partners are only half of the story.
At a moment when Americans have begun registering their anger at having been swindled financially, Trump’s ‘homies’ in Palm Beach, whose exploits have victimized entire nations, could provoke real outrage. If, that is, they ever receive exposure.
There’s a corrupt nursing home magnate, at least one Russian Mobster, and a serial thief who may have “hidden out on a Trump property in Palm Beach” while INTERPOL was looking to serve a criminal warrant for looting a big bank in Thailand.
There’s Trump buddy, and favorite for a Cabinet post in a Trump Administration, shady financier Carl Icahn, whose checkered career may finally get the attention it deserves.
Example: Icahn made a $100 million investment in a bogus St. Petersburg Florida company whose only “product” turned out to be 5.5 tons of cocaine busted on a company plane. The plane, a DC-9, was also used to give illegal free rides during the 2000 election to soon-to-be Florida Senator and later nationwide GOP Campaign Finance Chair Mel Martinez.
While Khashoggi specializes these days in robbing banks from the inside, (PDF, pg 8), and evading INTERPOL arrest warrants, he periodically rapes the American financial system for hundreds of millions of dollars—with STOCKWALK, for example, a scam that cost Deutsche Bank $278 million in fines.
Trump’s Palm Beach homies may be slightly more genteel… But they’ve stolen far more money than Trump’s Mob partners back in Jersey ever dreamed possible.
Why nobody likes Ted Cruz
The subject surfaced thanks to some inarticulate heavy breathing recently by Sen. Ted Cruz, who speculated last week that Trump hasn’t released his tax returns because they show ties to the Mob.
Then on Sunday Cruz doubled-down, accusing the media of knowing all about it, but waiting for just the right time. “The media is sitting on ‘bombshell’ exposes on Donald Trump,” he said, “but won’t publish it until the tycoon is the Republican nominee.”
When a taken-aback Chuck Todd asked Cruz if he had any basis to suggest Trump has mob ties, he replied: “Oh sure. ABC, CNN, multiple news reports have reported about his dealings with… ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, who is a mobster who is in jail. And that has been reported in multiple media outlets.”
Ted Cruz’ statement seems, for him, to be only slightly more than typically-inaccurate.
One-line memo to Cruz: Fat Tony Salerno isn’t in jail. He’s been dead since 1992.
Trump made his bones where everybody else does
But first, because its colorful, and because it goes to the heart of his claim that he would be the best President for America because he’s the best negotiator, a brief recap of Trump’s early Mob ties:
Before becoming big enough to rub elbows with the beautiful people who “winter” in Palm Beach and their friends from transnational organized crime, Donald Trump had to make his bones the same place almost everyone else does: In Jersey.
It’s July 16, 1985… Lightning strikes four golfers making a dash for the clubhouse during a storm in Michigan… Helicopter assault teams launch airborne marijuana-eradication raids in California (which in hindsight look like a ridiculously-huge waste of taxpayer money)…
And in Atlantic City New Jersey a crowd gathers at the launch of New Jersey’s glitziest new hotel/casino, “Harrah’s Trump Plaza” to hear the Governor and Atlantic City’s Mayor heap praise on Donald Trump for investing in the future of Atlantic City.
Trump wasn’t a tycoon yet, just a budding real estate wunderkind. But already he was a showman. 30 years before the current Presidential brouhaha, his bombastic style and tone were fully in place.
“Donald Trump was ecstatic,” reported Ovid Demaris, in “The Boardwalk Jungle.”
“I think this is going to be an incredible building!” Trump enthused at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I think its going to be the largest and one of the most spectacular hotels anywhere in the world. It’s magnificent! Three blocks long! A megastructure! Its incredible. The largest casino in the world! The tallest building in Atlantic City! It just dominates!”
The new Mayor’s enthusiasm may have been the aftermath of adrenaline over not being indicted for taking bribes from one of Donald Trump’s partners on the very project being launched that day, as the previous Mayor had.
The heavy burden of suspicion
The land where Trump Plaza stands in Atlantic City was owned at the time by several Trump partners. One, Dan Sullivan, was a Teamsters official and friend of Jimmy Hoffa whose arrest record, according to “Boardwalk Jungle” by Ovid Desmaris, included “impersonating a police officer, larceny, grand larceny, felonious assault and possession of a dangerous weapon.”
Sullivan was also famous, at least in certain circles (see clipping below) as the last person to have seen a dissident Teamster lawyer named Abraham Bauman alive. “Bauman disappeared after speaking with Sullivan,” read a Casino Gaming Commission report. “Neither he nor his body were ever found.”
“Neither he nor his body.”
Mankind is grateful New Jersey state troopers never found one without finding the other, making it clear that one big reason for Trump’s enviable success there is that state officials were—and, probably, still are—morons.
Being the last person seen with a guy everyone presumes is dead can be quite a burden.
Dan Sullivan shouldered it manfully. He was a useful person to know, with excellent connections on the labor negotiation front. He had influence with Mob-run unions like the Teamsters; Laborers International; and Hotel & Restaurant Employees.
So on a building project experiencing bargaining problems with the hotel and restaurant workers union, Trump arranged for Sullivan to be hired as a labor negotiator.
“Trump advised [the FBI] that [Sullivan] is involved as a labor consultant to their firm,” noted a September 1986 FBI memo.
The role of “labor consultant,” someone specializing in producing “labor peace” on large construction projects, can be fraught with danger. But the FBI showed itself to be understanding of people whose jobs involve potentially questionable activities.
“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,” stated the FBI memo.
“By the simple nature of their business.”
Trump told the New Jersey Casino Commission he met Sullivan “probably at one of the closings or during negotiations, let’s say, and then ultimately at the closings for Holiday Inn’s parcel. He had the middle parcel. Without that piece in the middle the deal wouldn’t have worked.”
For his part, Sullivan confirmed to The Casino Commission that he hadn’t met Trump until their negotiations for the land beneath Trump Towers. But a smirking Sullivan later called Trump “an old friend from New York.”
“It’s nice being friends with a millionaire,” he added.
As Trump’s Tower and Casino was opening, two of his partners in the venture were under a cloud for bribing Atlantic City Mayor Michael Matthews, who at his sentencing uttered the immortal phrase, “Greed got the best of me.”
Trump partner Dan Sullivan was “an unindicted co-conspirator,” while a second Trump partner, Kenneth Shapiro, was less lucky.
Shapiro, known as the “bag man” for Philly crime boss Nicky Scarfo, was indicted for making the payoffs.
“Crocodile Dundee, meet Guido; Guido, meet Croc”
A year later Australian officials conducting an investigation into Trump’s suitability to operate a casino in Sydney were given access to FBI surveillance transcripts of conversations between Trump and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno.
The phone conversation was enough to convince Australian officials to turn his bid down. In addition to being a capo in the Genovese Mafia family, “Fat Tony” owned a concrete company doing a lot of work, as might be expected, for Donald Trump.
The FBI report indicated Trump met Salerno through notorious attorney Roy Cohn, who represented both men.
Cohn had been red-baiting U.S. Senator McCarthy’s right-hand man in the 50’s. He was famous for once telling a client,” Don’t tell me what you’re charged with. Just tell me who the Judge is.”
In addition to being Donald Trump’s stablemate in Roy Cohn’s client roster, Fat Tony Salerno won the title of “richest and most powerful gangster in America” in a 1986 article in Fortune magazine.
Salerno earned tens of millions from loan sharking, Fortune reported, skimming at Nevada casinos and charging New York City construction projects a “Mafia tax.” Convicted in 1988 for payoffs on concrete in 16 Manhattan buildings, including the Jacob Javits Convention Center, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison, where he died 4 years later.
Sailing “The Octopussy” with another “vulgarian-at-large”
At a bankruptcy auction, Trump bought Maison de L’Amitie, situated on one of Palm Beach’s largest properties.
Its previous owner was a man one reporter called “nursing home magnate and vulgarian-at-large Abe Gosman,” whose career offers ample clues to what happens when Medicare money goes missing.
So far, so good. However, Lin Gosman, Abraham Gosman’s new wife, had not yet been divorced before the two lovebirds staged a big “theme” wedding aboard “The Octopussy,” Gosman’s luxury yacht, and a federal bankruptcy judge ruled he wasn’t legally married.
That’s right. The Octopussy.
When Gosman died, Lin was not mentioned in the family obituary notice. In 2009, she was charged with bankruptcy fraud, mortgage fraud and other charges, pled guilty, and was sentenced to house arrest.
Good-by, Maison de L’Amitie. Adieu, Octo-Pussy.
A ‘cosmetic upgrade’ from gangster to ‘businessman’
Dozens of news reports trumpeted Trump’s big sale—everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Entertainment Tonight. But although The Journal called Rybolovlev “one of Russia’s richest and most discreet businessmen, no U.S. news outlet (except the MadCowMorningNews, which hardly counts) saw fit to mention Palm Beach’s newest resident’s prominent “ties” to the Russian Mafiya, which were hiding in plain sight.
Instead they focused on billionaire mogul Trump’s massive windfall in scooping it up for a bargain-basement price of just $40 million before flipping it for a reported $100 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a home in the United States.
Official Russian news agency TASS had reported that Russian law enforcement authorities had accused Rybolovlev of being behind the murder of his chief rival for control of Russia’s lucrative fertilizer business, a man who had been “shot five times at the entrance to his apartment in Perm, a regional center in the Urals.”
On the day after the murder, TASS called the murder a “contract killing.” The suspected murderers and organizers of the crime, including the head of the FD-Kredit Bank, Dmitry Rybolovlev, have been arrested,” TASS reported.
It wasn’t as if the U.S. news media was ignorant of what is going on in Russia, which was being described as “a kleptocracy from top to bottom;” and a “semi-criminal state.”
Russia’s own Interior Ministry estimated two-thirds of the Russian economy was under the sway of organized crime, which enjoyed protection from the ruling oligarchy during Yeltsin’s long drunken twilight during the late 90’s.
Today two hundred of Russia’s largest crime gangs are global conglomerates.
“The Art of the Deal”
When surveying the “art” of Donald Trump’s deals, the question is whether he’s the dealmaker of the century, or… were invisible forces involved? If the man who authored “The Art of the Deal” was secretly getting a big hand up from his buddies in organized crime, that would be relevant to claims Trump’s been making during the campaign.
What follows is public record.
NEWSDAY reported that no other commercial developer had ever received a tax abatement from the city, yet Trump was awarded a 40-year tax abatement on the Grand Hyatt Hotel which saved him $3 million a year. The Wall Street Journal called it “the tax deal of the century.”
Yet local activists complained Trump that despite the huge tax breaks he got in Atlantic City, he gave nothing back to the city. All that money went somewhere. But where?
That giant sucking sound. Again.
Is this the ‘giant sucking sound” third party candidate Ross Perot warned about back in 1992? Let’s take a quick look.
Trump begun buying properties in Atlantic City in the early 1980s, but didn’t build a casino until he had a partner, Holiday Inn, which already owned Harrah’s Casinos, that was a lock to win regulatory approval from New Jersey officials.
In fact, Donald Trump built Trump Plaza only after Holiday Inn secured financing of $250 million. Trump had no previous track record of successful large development. But the young entrepreneur was lucky enough to get to build a big building with other people’s money. Good for him.
Then I read something I couldn’t believe. Donald Trump also got to put his own name on it? It wasn’t called Holiday Inn-World or Harrahs-Land? Adding insult to injury:
Holiday Inn had secured $250 million to finance the build, but Trump Plaza only cost $220 million to erect. Trump and company, who didn’t risk a dime, presumably made $30 million on construction.
Trump also got to take home half the take from the glitzy, new, and already paid for casino. He even got a clause holding him harmless for casino losses for five years. If somebody walked in and placed 37 winning bets in a row on ‘black’ at roulette while letting the winnings ride each time, it wasn’t Trump who was then forced to eat tuna fish out of cans for a month.
What I was looking at was not just the deal of the century. It was the greatest deal since the Universe began.
Later, when just a few a years after it opened, Harrah’s Trump Plaza became “Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel,” and Trump purchases the nearby Hilton Hotel and Casino because the chain is denied a casino license… the question arises: Where can an ambitious young man go to get a deal like that? Where indeed?
“If you have to ask,” goes the short answer, “you probably don’t qualify.”
TOMORROW: DONALD TRUMP AND THE GREAT CIRCLE OF BEING
Louis Lesser. Meyer Lansky. Howard Hughes. Imelda Marco. Japanese Gold. Liz Taylor playing dress-up in Palm Beach, and more.