In the early 1980s, Atlantic City's casinos were run primarily by those with mob ties. When GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump decided he wanted to build a now-defunct casino, the FBI got involved.
Trump just finished a development in New York City and his business partner had an "in" with the Jersey Shore mob. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI sat down with Trump and assured him there were other ways than going this route, but Trump persisted, built a casino and ended up owning four.
This wouldn't be the last time Trump would work deals with those tied to organized crime. He worked with a man law enforcement alluded to as "an agent of the Philadelphia mob." Trump also worked with a union leader, who was ultimately found guilty of racketeering as well as a real-estate developer who was convicted of running a stock scheme involved with members of the Mafia.
Kenneth Shapiro was the so-called "agent of the Philadelphia mob," specifically for Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo. Shapiro owned part of the land where Trump sought to build his first casino. Another portion was owned by Daniel Sullivan, a union leader who worked as an informant for the FBI because of his mob ties.
“They are not bad people from what I see,” Mr. Trump told a regulatory hearing in 1982.
He knew about the mob ties but explained in an interview that he never really dealt with them or didn't know specifics, so it was ethical.
“If people were like me, there would be no mob, because I don’t play that game,” Trump said, claiming he's “the cleanest guy there is.”
Trump ultimately ended up using Sullivan as his labor union advisor, which resulted in a dispute over Trump Tower because many of the workers clearing the site were undocumented, a fact Trump claimed he never knew.
Shapiro served as a go-between with Trump and the Scarfo crime family, who once bought influence in Atlantic City, including with a former mayor who was indicted for it and pleaded guilty to extortion.
During Trump's early development days, many unions and construction companies were run by people with mob ties, so it isn't outside the realm of possibility that Trump would be forced to deal with them. Most didn't seek those relationships, however.
Trump “wasn’t going to build Trump Tower without having those connections. Every builder in New York had to do that at that time,” said Michael Cody, the son of a mob-linked union leader Trump worked with.
Trump personally crafted the deal with one construction company, despite their mob ties.
“In the meantime, I was a builder. I was never going to run for office," Trump said. "I’d go by the lowest bid and I’d go by their track record, but I didn’t do a personal history of who they are.”
The 1990s brought with it an audit of Trump's casino accounting and lead to a book by reporter Wayne Barrett on alleged connections with organized crime.
“Donald was always trying to maneuver politically to get things done,” Shapiro’s brother Barry Shapiro told WSJ.
As a developer, Trump was never legally able to give political contributions to those on zoning commissions or boards that would regulate developments he would build. Still, Kenneth Shapiro seems to allude that money exchanged hands on behalf of Trump and he was never reimbursed for it.
“Donald just reneged; that’s his automatic thing,” Barry Shapiro said.
Gambling addict and racehorse trader Robert LiButti would frequently refer to gangster John Gotti as "my boss." His gambling losses scored over $11 million to Trump's casino between 1986 and 1989.
Trump said that he knew that LiButti was a high roller in the town but never actually knew him and "had nothing to do with him."
But that's not what Trump Plaza head Jack O’Donnell, said, “It isn’t like [Trump] saw LiButti once or twice—he spent time with him, saw him multiple times.” O'Donnell said that Trump also attended LiButti's daughter's birthday party, according to a March investigation by Yahoo News.
LiButti had a horrible temper and would say incredibly racist things about African Americans and sexist remarks about women. Eventually, it got him banned from Atlantic City casinos. Instead of kicking LiButti out of the hotel, however, Trump had blacks and women removed from his craps tables. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined Trump's casino $200,000 for the practice because he violated state discrimination laws.
It's illegal for casinos to give high rollers money to gamble with, but the commission also found that Trump Plaza gave LiButti $1.65 million in gifts and cars. Trump also bought a $90,000 horse from LiButti for $250,000.
One of Trump's attorneys at the time was Roy Cohn who also had mob clients including Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, who owned a cement company. Former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res said that Trump would pull out a photo of Cohn and threaten to sue people and tell them who his lawyer was. Trump denies it, however.
Cohn and Trump also had a tight relationship with Teamsters official John A. Cody, who had ties to mob bosses Carlo Gambino and Paul Castellano, a Justice Department memo from 1982 outlined.
Cody's union members drove the trucks that carried cement into the city for development projects. When he held a major strike, Trump's projects still managed to get their cement.
“My father wasn’t that generous, unless there was a reason,” Michael Cody said.
Trump claims he got his cement delivered during the strike because he wouldn't "put up with his bullsh*t."
It continued into 2000, when a real-estate firm called Bayrock Group rented an office in Trump's buildings. Russian-born Felix Sater was once a stockbroker but lost his license. Still, he was involved in a Mafia-linked scheme to artificially jack up stock value of marginal stocks and then dump them on investors who don't know any better and funnel the profit in offshore accounts.
Sater worked with Trump on the Trump SoHo condo project as well as the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
General counsel to the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, told the WSJ that they vet companies but not individual employees of companies they do partnerships with. Because Sater’s racketeering case was sealed, he said that it was unfair to look back and say “you should have known.”
However, in 2010, after Trump and his lawyers knew about Sater's conviction, they offered him free office space in Trump Tower and he served as "Senior Advisor to Donald Trump," according to his business card. Garten says that Sater was unpaid and Trump claims the "deals" Sater brought him weren't any good.