by Philip Mattera
For more than 30 years, Donald Trump has been almost continuously in the public eye, portraying himself as the epitome of business success and shrewd dealmaking. He took a business founded by his father to build modest middle-class housing in the outer boroughs of New York City and transformed it into a high-profile operation focused on glitzy luxury condominiums, hotels, casinos and golf courses around the world. Operating through the Trump Organization, his family holding company, Trump also capitalized on the name recognition gained through years of reality-television appearances in a wide range of licensing deals.
Trump's decision to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015 brought a great deal of new attention to his wide range of business activities and the controversies associated with many of them. Those controversies -- involving issues such as alleged racial discrimination, lobbying violations, investor and consumer deception, tax abatements, workplace safety violations, union avoidance and environmental harm -- are summarized below.
Trump's upset victory in the election has made this track record all the more relevant as the relationship between his business activities and his political role has come under greater scrutiny.
"Profiteers in Housing"
After graduating from college in 1968, Donald Trump joined the real estate development business of his father Fred Trump, who built modest middle-class apartment complexes in Brooklyn and Queens. The elder Trump had been embroiled in a Federal Housing Administration profiteering scandal in the 1950s; in 1955 the FHA took over Trump's Shore Haven project in Brooklyn. A decade later he was caught up in a similar scandal involving New York's Mitchell-Lama program, which provided state financing for middle-income housing. Trump was mentioned in a January 29, 1966 New York Times editorial headlined PROFITEERS IN HOUSING: "The investigation has also established that at least one builder, Fred C. Trump, deliberately overestimated his construction costs, which enabled him to make use of the state's money to build a shopping center that is his own personal property." Trump was not charged with any crime in these cases.
Once Donald Trump got involved in the business, he was eager to focus on Manhattan rather than the outer boroughs. He got his chance in the mid-1970s, by which time he was president of the company. While Trump got only a broker's commission for providing the land on which the Javits Convention Center was built on the West Side, he was deeply involved in the replacement of the Commodore Hotel next to Grand Central Station with a Grand Hyatt -- a project that received a controversial public subsidy. He went on to build the lavish Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, which also received substantial public assistance after a protracted legal battle (see more on these subsidies below).
Trump soon turned his attention to Atlantic City, gaining control of three casino-hotels, including the huge Taj Mahal. In New York he purchased the famed Plaza Hotel and sought to replace an apartment house on Central Park South with a larger tower. In the latter case, Trump needed to evict the existing tenants, who resisted moving and accused Trump of harassment. After a five-year battle, Trump abandoned his demolition plans and decided to renovate the existing structure while the tenants remained.
Trump also encountered some resistance, though of a more subdued nature, in the old money town of Palm Beach, Florida, where he purchased the sprawling Mar-a-Lago estate of the late heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post as well as a 32-story luxury condominium project that was having trouble attracting buyers and was in foreclosure. He renamed the complex Trump Plaza and launched a marketing blitz.
Trump as Corporate Raider
In the late 1980s Trump became a corporate raider, launching takeover bids for numerous publicly traded companies. He often sold his interest at a profit after the firm's stock price rose rather than seeking to complete the deal. In the case of Bally Manufacturing, then the largest producer of electronic games and an operator of casinos and health clubs, he agreed to sell his shares back to management at a substantial premium, prompting charges by shareholders that greenmail was being paid (though Trump and Bally denied it, and a federal judge sanctioned the deal).
Trump later had to pay a $750,000 civil penalty to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department that he failed to comply with pre-merger notification requirements with regard to his investment in Bally and another in Holiday Corp.
In 1989 Trump acquired the Eastern Airlines shuttle service between New York, Boston and Washington, but in 1992 he turned its operation over to US Airways, which bought it outright five years later.
Visits to Bankruptcy Court
The loss of the shuttle was just one of the consequences of the financial crunch Trump experienced beginning in 1990 as he struggled under billions of dollars in debt. In August 1990 he had to put up his three Atlantic City casinos as collateral to get a debt restructuring deal from his major bank lenders.
Trump, who was bumped from the Forbes list of richest Americans for a time, continued to have difficulty meeting his financial obligations. In November 1990 he was forced to file a bankruptcy petition for his Taj Mahal casino and turn over half ownership of the property to bondholders. In 1992 he had to put two other Atlantic City properties, Trump Plaza and Trump Castle, in Chapter 11. He also put the Plaza Hotel into bankruptcy and ceded a 49 percent share to lenders. In 1995 Trump was reduced to a minority partner in the Plaza, and the following year he sold his interest in the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. That year also saw the initial offering of shares in Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, a publicly traded company set up to hold Trump's casino properties, including those that had emerged from Chapter 11.
One of those, Trump Plaza, was involved in a long-running dispute with a homeowner in Atlantic City who successfully fought eminent domain efforts to take over her properties that stood in the way of an expansion of the hotel-casino. The battle was made famous by Gary Trudeau in several Doonesbury cartoons needling Donald Trump.
Trump found also faced opposition when he announced plans in 1998 for what he said would be the tallest residential building in the world on a site across the street from the United Nations complex in Manhattan. The New York Post reported that Trump invested only $6.5 million of his own money, with the rest of the $360 million cost coming from the Korean conglomerate Daewoo and German banks. The Post article listed a variety of other projects in which Trump was able to put up little cash and gain substantial ownership interests by capitalizing on the value of his name.
In 2004 Trump became even more famous when he began appearing in a realty-TV series called "The Apprentice," but his financial troubles in Atlantic City continued. That year, Trump Hotels filed for bankruptcy protection. When the company emerged from Chapter 11 the following year having been renamed Trump Entertainment Resorts, Trump's personal stake in the company had been reduced to 29 percent, with creditors owning most of the rest of the equity. In 2009 Trump left the board of the company, which again filed for Chapter 11, and his share was reduced to 9.5 percent. The company sold the Trump Castle in 2011 and closed the Trump Plaza in 2014. Trump Entertainment Resorts is now owned entirely by Carl Icahn.
A lengthy June 2016 article in the New York Times concluded that Trump's casino business was "a protracted failure" and added:
But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.
Trump became increasingly involved in licensing deals and less in real estate development. In 2012, however, the federal government's General Services Administration chose Trump, working with the private equity firm Colony Capital, to turn Washington's Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue into a luxury hotel. Trump has also been pursuing hotel and golf course deals in countries such as Russia and Dubai.
After Trump announced his presidential bid in June 2015 and made controversial comments about immigrants, he found himself at odds with some of his business partners. NBC Universal announced that Trump would no longer be part of the "Celebrity Apprentice" TV show and that Trump's two beauty pageants, Miss USA and Miss Universe, would no longer air on the network. Univision said it would no longer air the Spanish-language version of the pageants; Trump subsequently sold the businesses. Other fallout: Macy's announced it would no longer carry the Trump menswear line, and Serta said it would end its line of Trump mattresses.
Net Worth Controversies
In 2005 New York Times reporter Timothy O'Brien published a book called TrumpNation in which he estimated Trump's net worth at no more than $250 million. In response, Trump filed a defamation suit in state court in New Jersey seeking $5 billion in damages. The case dragged on for years. In 2009 Trump's case was dismissed.
In July 2015 Trump filed a financial disclosure form with the Federal Election Commission in which he reported being involved in more than 500 business entities and at the same time claimed to have a net worth of $10 billion. Bloomberg's estimate was $2.9 billion, and a couple of months later, Forbes put the figure at $4.5 billion.
An updated disclosure form filed in May 2016 implied that Trump's businesses were prospering during his presidential campaign. Some observers have suggested that Trump was using the campaign to promote his business interests.
In 1973 the Justice Department filed a suit in federal court accusing Donald Trump and his father of discriminating against African-Americans in apartment rentals, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens. Donald Trump vigorously disputed the charges and filed a $100 million countersuit while complaining that the government was trying to pressure him to rent to "welfare clients." Trump claimed that doing so would be unfair to other tenants and warned that it would result in "massive fleeing."
In 1975 the Trumps signed an agreement with the Justice Department in which they did not admit to past discrimination but promised not to discriminate against African-Americans and other minorities in the future. As part of the settlement, they agreed that for two years they would give the New York Urban League a weekly list of all vacancies and allow the group three days in which to provide qualified applications for every fifth vacancy in Trump buildings where blacks occupied fewer than 10 percent of the apartments. Donald Trump expressed satisfaction with the terms because, among other things, they did not contain "any requirement that would compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant."
In 1990 the New Jersey Casino Control Commission imposed a fine of $40,000 on the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, then owned by Trump, for hiring six accountants without the proper licenses and then sending paperwork to the commission to make it appear the accountants were doing jobs that did not require casino licenses (United Press International, July 18, 1990).
In April 1991 the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement announced that the Trump Castle Casino Resort, then owned by Trump, would pay $30,000 as part of a settlement of a case in which Trump's father Fred was found to have improperly lent $3.5 million to the casino by purchasing gambling chips not intended to be used for bets. The transaction, designed to help the casino's cash-flow problems, was allowed to proceed when Fred Trump agreed to apply for a license allowing him to lend money to the business.
In June 1991 the Trump Plaza was fined $200,000 for switching black and female dealers from table to table to accommodate the perceived preferences of big-betting craps player Robert LiButti (Associated Press, June 5, 1991). Another casino in Atlantic City had previously been fined $250,000 in a similar case involving LiButti. In November 1991 Trump Plaza was fined $450,000 for giving luxury automobiles to LiButti so that he could exchange them for cash for use in gambling (Associated Press, November 20, 1991).
In 1999 Trump Marina Hotel Casino had to pay $50,000 to resolve a complaint filed by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement claiming that an employee specified "no black driver" when ordering a limousine for patrons.
Also in 1999, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined the Trump Taj Mahal $237,000 for failing to collect required commissions from high-rolling baccarat players (Newark Star-Ledger, October 7, 1999).
In 2001 the Trump Taj Mahal was fined $90,000 for failing to prevent a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old from playing the slot machines (Newark Star-Ledger, September 20, 2001). In 2005 the Trump Marina was fined $100,000 for letting an underage woman gamble on numerous occasions (Newark Star-Ledger, May 26, 2005). Two years later, the Trump Marina was fined $75,000 for allowing teenagers to play the slots and drink alcohol (Press of Atlantic City, October 4, 2007).
Currency Transaction Violations
In 1998 the Trump Taj Mahal, then still controlled by Trump, was fined $477,000 for currency transaction reporting violations. The Taj Mahal subsequently received numerous warnings about such issues, and in 2015, by which time it was controlled by Carl Icahn, the Atlantic City casino was fined $10 million for "willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act."
In 2000 Trump and his associates had to pay $250,000 and issue a public apology to resolve a case brought by the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying over the failure to disclose that they had secretly financed newspaper advertisements opposing casino gambling in the Catskills. Trump was said to have been concerned that Catskills casinos would siphon business from the Atlantic City casinos he owned at the time.
In 2002 the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts had "recklessly" misled investors in a 1999 earnings release that used pro forma figures to tout the company's purportedly positive results but failed to disclose that they were primarily attributable to an unusual one-time gain rather than ongoing operations. No penalty was imposed on the company, which consented to the SEC's cease-and-desist order.
Trump University/Trump Entrepreneur Initiative
In 2004 Trump launched Trump University, a business offering online courses in marketing, entrepreneurship and real estate. It later added in-person seminars. In 2010 the New York State Education Department was reported to have sent a letter demanding that the operation, which did not confer college credits or degrees, cease using the term "university." Around the same time, complaints emerged and lawsuits were filed by people who had taken the courses and were now saying that they spent up to $35,000 each in fees and learned little of value at the unlicensed institution. One of those suits, filed in federal court in California, sought class-action status.
In 2011 the New York Times reported that New York prosecutors were investigating the business, which by that time had changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative. Two years later, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a civil lawsuit against the business, its former president and Trump personally "for engaging in persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct." Schneiderman alleged that the business "misled consumers into paying for a series of expensive courses that did not deliver on their promises." The suit asked for "full restitution for the more than 5,000 consumers nationwide who were defrauded of over $40 million in the scheme, disgorgement of profits, as well as costs and penalties and injunctive relief prohibiting these types of illegal practices going forward."
In October 2014 a state judge threw out portions of the case for statute-of-limitations reasons but ruled against Trump on the issue of whether he could be held personally responsible for the practices of the business. In March 2016 a state appeals court rejected an effort by the defendants to have the case dismissed.
In May 2016 the judge in a related federal case unsealed testimony by former mangers of Trump University depicting it, in the words of the New York Times, "as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students."
In November 2016, shortly after being elected president, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle all the litigation relating to Trump University.
In 2006 Trump formally launched Trump Mortgage, a mortgage brokerage business. The Wall Street Journal wrote at the time: "Seeking to leverage exposure from his television show 'The Apprentice,' the real-estate developer and entrepreneur thinks it's the right time to get into the mortgage business -- even as some others head for the exits." The paper quoted Trump as saying: "The brand has never been stronger. This was just a good time to utilize the name and have a really good mortgage company."
Later that year, Money magazine revealed that the man chosen to run the business, E.J. Ridings, was inflating his credentials, claiming to have had 15 years of experience in the financial industry and to have been "a top executive at one of Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks." Money found that Ridings in fact had worked for less than three months at brokerage house Dean Witter Reynolds and was a registered broker for only six days before leaving the firm.
This controversy, along with the weakening housing market, led to the closure of Trump Mortgage in August 2007. Trump subsequently licensed his name to another mortgage firm, Meridian Mortgage, which started calling itself Trump Financial. It lasted a few years before shutting down.
Trump Network, ACN, Cambridge Who's Who and Trump Institute
In 2009 Trump formed a partnership with a nutritional products distributor called Ideal Health, which renamed itself Trump Network to take advantage of the fame of the real estate developer and television star. The business was a so-called multi-level marketing operation -- like Amway and Mary Kay -- designed so that those involved received commissions not only from their own sales but also from those of additional salespeople they recruited. At the time of the launch, Trump told the Associated Press that the business was a "rescue and recovery program" for people suffering through the recession.
The Trump Network faded from the national limelight until after Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015. A Boston Globe story found the health claims made by the business before it was sold in 2012 were of questionable merit. A subsequent report by the Washington Post report quoted numerous veterans of the network who were led to believe they would get rich and were disappointed at how things turned out. A frequent complaint concerned up-front costs. The Post wrote: "Sales representatives said they paid thousands of dollars for leadership programs, infomercials, starter kits and other materials, money that they never recovered in sales."
Trump has been involved in another multi-level marketing operation called ACN Inc. that sells video phones. In 2015 the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had received "millions of dollars" for promoting ACN in motivational speeches to gatherings of the company's sales agents. The Journal noted that ACN has been the subject of several regulatory investigations, including one in which Montana's securities commissioner alleged that ACN was an illegal pyramid scheme. The commissioner later concluded that the questionable practices were the responsibility of the company's independent representatives and reached a settlement with ACN under which it promised to provide additional training to those representatives.
A June 2016 article in the New York Times explored the connections between both Trump Network and Trump University and a business called Cambridge Who's Who, a vanity publisher that had been the subject of hundreds of consumer complaints.
That same month, the Times reported on another get-rich-quick initiative to which Trump licensed his name. Like Trump University, Trump Institute promoted itself as a way to gain access to Trump's supposed insights but in this case, according to the Times, it made used of plagiarized materials.
Disputes with Condo Purchasers
Trump has been involved in a number of legal disputes with condominium purchasers at Trump-branded properties. Here are several examples:
Tampa, Florida: In 2005 Trump and developer SimDag-RoBEL, LLC announced plans for a 52-story luxury condominium building in downtown Tampa. The $220 million Trump Tower Tampa project, which initially was supposed to be completed in 2007, ran into construction and financing problems, prompting SimDag to sell its interest to a private equity firm. Purchasers, worried that the building might not be completed, began to sue to recoup their deposits. Trump, whose involvement turned out to be limited to licensing his name, dropped out of the project, prompting more lawsuits, including some against him personally, saying he had misled investors about his role. It appears that these suits were settled out of court. The tower was never built.
North Baja, Mexico: In 2006 Trump and the Los Angeles developer Irongate announced plans for a luxury condominium and hotel project in North Baja, Mexico, south of San Diego. Two years later, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the project still had not received all of its required permits and was falling behind schedule. In 2009, as the delayed continued, Trump removed his name from the project, which soon failed. As in Tampa, purchasers sued Trump, saying they were misled into thinking they were buying into a Trump development rather than one that simply licensed his name. In 2013 Trump reached a settlement with the plaintiffs; the details were not disclosed.
New York City: Trump SoHo, a 46-story hotel-condominium in lower Manhattan developed by the Bayrock Group and the Sapir Organization, was completed in 2010. That same year, 15 buyers filed suit against the developers, saying they inflated sales figures during their pitches to potential purchasers and in statements to the press. The fraud suit also named Trump, who had licensed his name to the project, and several of his adult children, who along with their father had an equity stake of about 18 percent. After several months, the defendants were reported to be offering owners a refund of up to half of their deposits if they agreed not to join the lawsuit. In April 2016 the New York Times added new details about the settlement of the case, stating that the plaintiffs had received payments equal to 90 percent of their deposits, that the lawsuit involved allegations that the Trump SoHo had received financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan, and that in addition to the civil case, the Manhattan district attorney had conducted a criminal investigation of the matter that did not result in the filing of charges.
Panama City, Panama: In 2015 condominium owners on the board of the Trump Ocean Club, a 70-story hotel-condominium-casino built by Trump in Panama City, decided to fire a Trump company that was managing the building. The company was accused of running up more than $2 million in unauthorized debts, paying its executives undisclosed bonuses and withholding basic financial information from owners. Trump responded with a lawsuit that called the firing unjustified and demanded $75 million in damages. The case is pending.
Special Tax Breaks and Assessment Appeals
Trump's first major project, the transformation of the old Commodore Hotel next to New York's Grand Central Station into a new 1,400-room Grand Hyatt, depended on substantial public assistance. Trump arranged to purchase the property from the bankrupt Penn Central railroad and sell it for $1 to the New York State Urban Development Corporation, which agreed to award Trump a 99-year lease under which he would make gradually escalating payments in lieu of property taxes. The resulting $4 million per year tax abatement was criticized as excessive but was approved by the Board of Estimate in 1976. The deal also provided for profit sharing with the city. The total value of the abatement was been estimated at $45 million (Wall Street Journal, January 14, 1982) to $56 million. In September 2016, by which point Trump no longer owned the hotel, the New York Times published an investigation revealing that the cumulative value of the abatement for the hotel had reached $359 million.
In 1981 the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development denied Trump's request for a ten-year property tax abatement worth up $20 million on his project that replaced the old Bonwit Teller department store building with the glitzy Trump Tower. The decision came amid an effort by the city to rein in its abatement program, especially with regard to luxury projects. Trump, who in order to qualify had to argue that the property was under-utilized as of 1971, filed suit and got a state judge to overrule the city and allow the abatement.
A state appeals court reversed that decision, pointing out that in 1971 the Bonwit Teller store on the site had gross sales exceeding $30 million and thus was not under-utilized. Trump did not give up. He appealed to the state's highest court, which in 1982 ordered the city to reconsider the application. When the city turned him down again, Trump went back to court and got a judge to order the city to grant the abatement.The 2016 New York Times investigation put the value of the abatement at $37.5 million.
Trump sought extensive tax breaks for his planned Television City mega-development on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that was designed to provide a new home for the NBC network, but in 1987 the city rejected the request. Mayor Ed Koch said: "Common sense does not allow me to give away the city's Treasury to Donald Trump." NBC decided to remain in Rockefeller Center.
Trump kept pushing for subsidies, and in 1993 he began withholding his tax payments to pressure officials to comply with his demands for tax breaks and state-backed financing. "I've always informed everyone that until such time that we get zoning and the economic development package together, to pay real-estate taxes would be foolish," Trump told a New York Times reporter. A day later he said he had changed his mind and would make pay the $4.4 million in back taxes he owed.
Trump later sought assistance for the project, renamed Riverside South, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the form of federal mortgage insurance, but was rebuffed. The project, with Trump in a minority ownership role, ended up getting a local abatement that was later estimated to be worth $332 million.
The 2016 New York Times investigation also found that the Trump World Tower near the United Nations received an abatement worth $119.5 million. Smaller abatements went to other Trump properties in Manhattan. The paper put the total tax breaks received by all projects in Manhattan in which Trump had been involved at $885 million.
After Trump took over Washington's Old Post Office Pavilion in 2012 to turn it into a luxury hotel, his company asked the DC government to forgo property taxes but it refused.
Trump's company then sought to get a tax reduction by challenging the assessed value placed on the property. It won a reduction from $98 million to $91 million but then sued DC for a bigger cut.
This effort to achieve a do-it-yourself subsidy through an assessment appeal has been employed by Trump in other places such as Palm Beach. Trumped bragged that he got a great deal when he bought the 118-room Mar-a-Lago mansion in 1986 for $10 million (but only $2,812 of his own money, according to a June 22, 1989 article in the Miami Herald), implying it was worth much more. But when Palm Beach County assessed the property at $11.5 million, Trump appealed, seeking an $81,000 reduction in his taxes. A judge ruled against him (UPI, September 28, 1989). Trump later challenged an increased assessment and got a $118,000 reduction for one year but not for the next (Palm Beach Post, December 9, 1992).
In 1990 Trump won an assessment fight with New York City concerning his then-undeveloped waterfront property on the Upper West Side. He gained a $1.2 million savings in his 1989 taxes (Newsday, July 6, 1990).
The casinos Trump used to control in Atlantic City brought assessment appeals, and in 2007 their parent company reached a settlement with the city under which it obtained a refund of $34 million.
In Las Vegas the Trump International appealed the $165 million value put on the property for the 2015-2016 tax year, prompting the Clark County Board of Equalization to reduce the valuation to $45 million. That was not sufficient for the Trump interests, which appealed to the state board of equalization and got the assessment reduced further to about $25 million.
More recently, Trump has been seeking a 90 percent reduction in property taxes on his Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. Trump listed the club as having a value of more than $50 million in the financial disclosure document he released as part of his presidential bid, yet his assessment appeal claims it is worth only $1.4 million.
In May 2016 the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Trump and his partners in the city's Trump International Hotel & Tower had received $11.7 million in tax reductions over seven years through assessment reductions accomplished with the help of a law firm headed by a prominent Democratic alderman.
In August 2016 the New York Times reported after Chris Christie became governor of New Jersey in 2010 the state agreed to accept $5 million to settle what had been a $30 million claim for back taxes on the Atlantic City casinos founded by Trump.
During construction of the Trump SoHo hotel in January 2008, a portion of the top two floors buckled while concrete was being poured, sending one worker, Yurly Yanchytsky, plummeting 42 stories to his death and injuring three others, one of whom survived only because he fell into protective netting.
All of the workers were employees of DiFama Concrete, a subcontractor which was charged by OSHA with various violations of regulations relating to cast-in-place concrete and fall protection. The agency initially imposed 10 violations with total penalties of $104,000. The company negotiated those down to five violations and penalties of $44,000.
This was not the first blemish on DiFama's safety record. According to the OSHA inspection database, during the previous four years the company had been cited by OSHA for about a dozen serious violations and initially penalized $97,000 (negotiated down to about $67,000). One of those cases also involved a fatality. DiFama was founded by Joseph Fama, who had been identified as an associate of the Lucchese organized crime family. In 2005 he divested his interest in the firm because he was being imprisoned after pleading guilty to federal racketeering and extortion charges.
Trump initially distanced himself from the accident, saying that he had simply licensed his name to the project. Yet the New York Daily News reported in 2015 that a top official at Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor for the project, stated in a deposition that Trump had personally reviewed the agreements with the subcontractors, including the one with DiFama. The Trump SoHo is currently listed on the Trump Organization website as part of its real estate portfolio and its hotel collection.
The SoHo hotel is not the only Trump-related property to have had problems with workplace safety. The OSHA inspection database lists other violations at places such as the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas. Undoubtedly, there are many more listed under the names of the contractors and subcontractors hired on the various projects. Inspection records from the 1980s show numerous violations at the Atlantic City casinos Trump owned at the time but no longer controls.
Use of Undocumented Workers
In 1983 Trump was named in a lawsuit brought by a union pension fund alleging that his company made use of undocumented workers from Poland during the demolition of the old Bonwit Teller building in Manhattan to make way for Trump Tower. The plaintiffs claimed that by using those workers, who allegedly worked around-the-clock and even slept at the site, Trump avoided making payments to the Laborers union Local 95 pension plan. Although Trump denied knowledge of the use of undocumented workers, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1991 and ordered Trump and his joint venture partner to pay $325,000 in damages, well below what the plaintiffs expected. Both sides appealed the decision, and after making its way through the courts for years, the case was settled. The terms were not disclosed.
Use of Foreign Guest Workers
In 2011 the Palm Beach Post reported that Trump's Mar-a-Lago was among the country clubs and resorts in the area that were importing foreign guest workers through the H-2B program even as unemployment rates in Palm Beach County remained high (Palm Beach Post, June 12, 2011). After Trump began his presidential campaign Reuters reported that since 2000 Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties had sought to import at least 1,100 foreign workers on temporary visas. The New York Times found that while guest workers at Mar-a-Lago were being used, well over 200 U.S. residents had applied for jobs at the club and had been rejected.
Labor Relations Practices
Trump has generally maintained good relations with building trades unions in his real estate development activities. That's not always been the case in his hotel and casino businesses.
After entering Atlantic City, Trump went along with most of the other casino owners in accepting the unionization of their hotel and restaurant employees. Two of Trump's properties were thus among those targeted in a walkout by Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 54 members in 1999.
When the United Auto Workers began organizing Atlantic City dealers in 2007, Trump's casinos were a lot less union friendly. After dealers at the Trump Plaza voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW, the management of the casino filed a challenge with the National Labor Relations Board. The UAW called the move an effort to delay collective bargaining. The stance of Trump management may have been a factor in the UAW's narrow loss in a subsequent representation election at the Trump Marina. The vote at Trump Plaza was certified, but the UAW had difficulty negotiating a contract, even after the NLRB ordered the company to bargain in good faith. It appears that Trump managers dragged out the legal dispute until the Trump Plaza closed in 2014. The Trump Taj Mahal, now controlled by Carl Icahn, has had ongoing disputes with HERE Local 54.
In December 2015 the management of the non-casino Trump International Hotel Las Vegas challenged a vote by workers to be represented by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165. A hearing officer for the NLRB rejected the challenge, and the unions were certified in April 2016. Management filed another challenge that was rejected in July 2016. After Trump won the presidential election his organization dropped its opposition to the union in Las Vegas as well as at his new hotel in the District of Columbia, where the housekeeping staff subsequently voted to be represented by United Here Local 25.
Airline labor relations. Trump's proposed purchase of the Eastern Airline shuttle in 1988 was opposed by the Machinists and other unions, which saw the deal as part of an effort by Eastern's controversial owner Frank Lorenzo to force them to accept deep contract concessions. Their hope was to keep the airline intact and find a friendlier buyer for the entire operation. When asked about Eastern's history of labor troubles, Trump said: "I have had good relations with unions. I expect that to continue. If not, we can all live with confrontation" (Wall Street Journal, October 13, 1988).
Trump completed the acquisition in 1989, shortly after the end of a walkout at Eastern, during which Lorenzo kept the shuttle operating with management pilots and workers who crossed the picket line. Trump kept on about 800 Eastern employees -- both strikers and non-strikers -- and he signed agreements with the unions that were essentially modified extensions of their contracts with Eastern. The Air Line Pilots Association later negotiated a new pact with the Trump Shuttle that provided improved wages and benefits in exchange for a relaxation of work rules. There were no major labor disputes at the shuttle during the several years Trump ran the business before turning it over to US Airways.
Controversy Over Tips
In 2016 a catering worker filed suit in state court in New York against Trump and two of his children alleging that they violated labor regulations by charging customers at the Trump SoHo a 22 percent service fee that was not shared with the plaintiff and other catering employees at the hotel-condominium. The case is pending.
Controversy Over Unpaid Bills and Fair Labor Standards Violations
In June 2016 articles in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's businesses have been repeatedly sued for failing to pay contractors for services rendered. USA Today also found two dozen instances in which Trump operations were cited for overtime or minimum wage violations.
In one case, the Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California paid $475,000 in 2013 to settle a class action suit alleging that workers were not paid for missed meal and rest breaks as required by state law.
An April 2016 segment on the Vice television show on HBO reported that a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai was being built with foreign workers toiling under conditions that amounted to forced labor.
Trump has faced environmental issues at some of his golf course projects. In 2001 a citizens group in Mount Kisco, New York campaigned against Trump's plan for a golf course, warning that pesticide and fertilizer chemical runoff could endanger Byram Lake, the sole source of drinking water for about 10,000 residences. In 2004 Trump abandoned the golf project and instead said he would build luxury homes on the property.
In 2007 Trump stepped in to save the EnCap golf and housing development in the New Jersey Meadowlands, located on several garbage dumps that required millions of dollars in environmental remediation. Trump's clean-up plan included an $82 million infusion from the state Department of Environmental Protection. In 2008 the state pulled the plug on the project, prompting a bankruptcy filing and threats of legal action by Trump.
Environmental concerns were among the key issues raised by a campaign formed to oppose Trump's plan to create a luxurious golf course on the coastline of Scotland. Despite a series of protests, Scottish authorities approved the project in 2010. The episode was chronicled in a documentary film called "You've Been Trumped." Trump later tried to block an offshore wind farm that would be visible from the golf course but lost in court. The Washington Post has reported that the golf course is losing money.
In 2012 the Trump International Hotel in Chicago was fined $46,000 for Clean Water Act violations.
During his presidential campaign, Trump has supported the Keystone XL Pipeline, described global warming as a "hoax," and vowed to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency, which he labeled a "disgrace."
In April 2016 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that about 20,000 Ivanka Trump-branded women's scarves made in China were being recalled because they did not meet federal flammability standards for clothing textiles, thus posing a burn risk. The importer of the scarves, GBG Accessories, has a licensing arrangement with Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump and an executive at the Trump Organization.
In September 2016 Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek published a lengthy investigation of the Trump Organization's foreign business dealings that described numerous potential conflicts of interest that a Trump Administration would face with regard to countries such as Azerbaijan, India, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
Key Books and Reports
Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by Michael D'Antonio (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015).
The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston (Melville House, 2016).
The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate by Gwenda Blair (Simon & Schuster, 2000).
Trump: The Deals and the Downfall by Wayne Barrett (HarperCollins, 1992).
Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump by John O'Donnell (Simon & Schuster, 1991).
TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald by Timothy L. O'Brien (BusinessPlus, 2005).
Last updated February 5, 2017
Note: The term "rap sheet" is used here to refer not only to criminal cases but also to civil matters and other controversies.