Trump's Atlantic City windfall left others broke | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on July 04, 2016

Here is a look at Donald Trump's 25 years as an Atlantic City casino owner.

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There is still a lingering misperception that Donald Trump is some kind of business wizard, but it's actually easy to identify one of his key strategies for success: He excels at ripping people off.

The Associated Press pulled back the curtain on his ruined casino empire in Atlantic City last week and exposed a gold-plated scam, on in which survivors from the Taj Mahal disaster – a long parade of naïve artisans who still have Trump's skid marks on their backs – all told similar stories, cautionary tales that make you wonder how anyone would consider him trustworthy enough to hold elected office.

Their consensus: Trump is a master grifter, who uses bullying and arrogance as negotiating methods, before ending the relationship by withholding payments and making contractors settle for far less by threatening them with litigation – knowing the cost of litigation would eat up most of the money in the dispute.

And frequently, these exploited contractors were left ruined after the Taj went bankrupt in 1991, the AP found.

One contractor whose company did $1.3 million in paving work ended up with one-third that amount.  Atlantic Plate Glass installed walls of glass and was screwed out of $1.1 million. Molded Fiber Glass sued Trump for the $3 million it took to install the Taj's famous onion domes, and ultimately settled for $1 million. A marble supplier was owed $3.9 million, and after he settled for 30 cents on the dollar, he went bankrupt.

Even the guy who was owed $232,000 for putting up the bathroom partitions had to lay off his brother after Trump reneged.

In hindsight, it seems so predictable: By the time the Taj opened in April 1990, Trump owed $70 million to 253 contractors. Within months, he was already missing debt payments to his investors, who had bought $675 million in junk bonds (at 14 percent interest) to finance the $1 billion Taj disaster.

Many of the contractors sued, but time ran out on collections in July 1991, when the casino went bankrupt.

The New York Times also published an AC retrospective that focused on Trump's uncanny ability to profit from failure. The pattern at his four casinos was consistent: He would buy high, mortgage even higher, promise that everyone was going to get rich, and then, inevitably, run out of cash because the casinos couldn't withstand the debt load.

In the same piece – entitled "How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, But Still Earned Millions" – Trump's takeaway was that "Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me. The money I took out of there was incredible."

His relationship with money is often incredible. He gave less than $10,000 to charity in the last seven years, the Washington Post learned this week, despite his claims he had donated $100 million in the last five. He faces three lawsuits for the scam known as Trump University. He even sold his name to a husband-wife team of convicted frauds without vetting them for something called the Trump Institute.

And so it goes. Trump's opponents no longer need to devise a dossier to beat him. It's easier just to buy every voter a daily newspaper.

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