Donald Trump often has referred to himself as the Master Builder. The name comes from an Ibsen play about an architect whose empire might have been sparked by the burning of his wife’s childhood home. Perhaps Trump misses the irony. Who better to school us about shady deals, scams and scandals than Donald Trump? It’s a matter of time, maybe until the debates, when the public eye is trained on Trump’s own questionable escapades.
“After all, the chief business of the American people is business,” said Calvin Coolidge. Doing business in America means rubbing up against federal and state officials and getting rules bent, if not splintered; buying your way into clover and out of the briar patch. Development especially requires governmental consent. Wherever official discretion tops the bill, motivation is a Stage-door Johnny.
Atlantic City: Trump Casinos
Let’s start with the easy one. Trump ran up a tax bill of about $30 million on his Atlantic City casinos. Bankruptcy couldn’t save him from the tax man. His casinos piled up debt by failing to file returns for years. New Jersey auditors pursued the case vigorously from the 2009 bankruptcy filing until 2011, the same year Chris Christie was sworn in as Garden State Governor. The case was soon settled for $5 million, with Christie’s people denying any knowledge of it. No one from the Trump Organization or the State of New Jersey has offered justification for the deep discount.
Texas: Trump University
In Texas, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott opened a similar investigation against the bogus school in 2010. Investigators led by Assistant Attorney General John Owens developed a case showing that Texans were cheated out of $2.9 million due to Trump University’s deceptive business practices. Owens recommended suing for $5.4 million. The lawsuit was stopped by Abbott’s Deputy, who outranked Owens. Trump University was permitted to slink off into the brush.
Three years later Abbott received a $35,000 contribution from Trump interests for his Gubernatorial campaign. The amount paid for tuition by a student victimized by the Trump U. boiler room operation: $35,000. Earlier this year, the current Texas Attorney General tried to muzzle Owens to prevent him from discussing the case.
Florida: Trump University
Next up, some fun in the Sunshine State. Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, began investigating Trump University on September 13. 2013. Four days later, Trump interests contributed $25,000 to Bondi’s reëlection campaign. One month after the grease, Bondi dropped her investigation.
New York: Trump SoHo
Trump touted his Trump SoHo as a $370 million masterpiece in 2006, while it was under construction. Four years later the project refunded $2.7 million to potential buyers, which represented 90% of all contract deposits. Around the same time, the Manhattan District Attorney closed a criminal investigation centering on the Trumps and the SoHo project. It’s been alleged that the buyers withdrew their criminal complaints as a condition of the settlement, documents of which have been kept confidential. Although Trump was not the developer, he licensed his name, was a minority stakeholder, and was contracted to manage it.
Next Stop, Potemkin Village?
Trump’s bankruptcies began shutting down his financing sources. Commercial banks wouldn’t touch his projects. It was Kismet that he hooked up with Bayrock, a development company headed by Tevfik Arif, a Kazakhstan native who became a developer. Arif established a beachhead in Manhattan with plans to settle the untamed Borough of Brooklyn.
Arif hired Felix Sater, Russian-born and Brooklyn-bred, as his lieutenant. Sater had already amassed an impressive record. He had been convicted of stabbing a woman in the face with the stem of a margarita glass. He was also under investigation for taking part in a stock fraud scheme with organized crime. He covered all bases by informing to the U.S. government at the same time. He is a defendant, along with Arif, in a racketeering case filed this summer.
Bayrock rented space in Trump Tower, while Arif and Sater dreamed of building towers across America and the former U.S.S.R. Sater’s plans for a Trump Moscow got no traction. However, Bayrock spearheaded the above-mentioned Trump Soho, which was branded a Trump project under a licensing agreement. The Trumps collected substantial fees in connection with the licensing.
Sater is now defending the racketeering and tax evasion charges in New York, as well as stock fraud charges in Israel. Trump for his part said that he barely knew Sater and might not even recognize him. He maintains this dubious posture despite the fact that Sater for a time was listed as a senior adviser to the Trump Organization, signed a development deal with Trump for Moscow, and also inked that licensing deal for the Trump SoHo, for which he received a lot of money.
We’ve just scratched the surface. The reader can draw his or her conclusions about Trump’s culpability in these schemes. He can’t argue that he was not a part of any of them. Mostly, he denies knowledge or memory of these shady dealings. Ignorance and faulty recollection are themselves disqualifying qualities for one seeking to be U.S. President. Treachery, ignorance, recklessness or feeble-mindedness? Mr. Trump, pick your poison.