Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mob Control: Do Trump's Mafia Connections Reflect His Lack of Ethics and Accountability?

by Nomad

Any presidential candidate should expect some in-depth scrutiny about his business relationships. In Donald Trump's case, his past contact with the Mafia opens up a lot of questions.

As a rule, front-runner presidential candidate Donald Trump likes to denigrate reporters who report things he doesn't like. Or things he doesn't want the public to become aware of.
As an egomaniac, he likes to be in control of the message. And the message must always display the positive side of the Trump story.

For instance, when New York journalist Wayne Barrett published an unauthorized biography of Trump, Trump blasted the author and his reputation.
Insinuating that the author was on some kind of personal vendetta, Trump called Barrett “a second-rate writer who has had numerous literary failures" and his book "boring, non-factual, and highly inaccurate.”

In fact, Barret has been an investigative reporter and senior editor for the Village Voice for over 20 years. Trump might try to paint Barrett as some kind of tabloid columnist but Barrett is currently a Fellow at the Nation Institute and contributor to Newsweek.
Barrett's bio reads:
He has been an adjunct at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism for years, teaching courses on investigative and political reporting, as well as advising students on investigative projects.
In addition, Barrett was awarded the 1990 Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Alumni Award as well as numerous other journalism prizes.
As far as the book, James B. Stewart, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has called it "exhaustively researched"a penetrating portrait" and "the definitive account of how Trump got ahead and why he fell." If Trump fell, he was not too badly bruised or otherwise traumatized.

Trump might think otherwise or he might wish the rest of the world to think Barrett is "second-rate" but Barrett is no hack. Not any more than Trump is a failed real estate mogul.

Of course, the tycoon-turned presidential candidate has every reason to consider the author a threat and was apparently ready to silence him. 

Barrett claims that Trump first threatened and then attempted to bribe the author. Barrett recently said:
“Even at this early stage of his career, he both threatened me and tried to bribe me. He offered me an apartment. I don’t know how he knew that I lived in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, in Brownsville. He said, ‘I understand you live in Brownsville. Wayne, you don’t have to live in Brownsville. I can get you an apartment.’” 
Since that didn't work, the next step is to attempt to discredit the author.

Real Estate Deals with the Mob

Trump had plenty of reasons to dispute the allegations Barrett made in his 1992 book, "Trump: The Deals and the Downfall." The book charged that Trump had for decades nurtured close working relationships with New York and Philadelphia crime families.

To be a real-estate mogul of any substance, Barrett noted in a recent CNN interview, it was hard to avoid a certain amount of mob association. That was true both of Donald Trump as well as his father. It cannot be helped.
However in Trump's case, says Barrett,
"He went out of his way not to avoid [mob contacts], but to increase them."
That same CNN article points out that Trump purchased the property that his Atlantic City casino Trump Plaza would one day occupy -- for twice the market price.
The owners of that property had been a Philly crime figure Salvatore Testa, son of one-time Philly mob boss Philip "Chicken Man" Testa.

In his book, Barrett writes that Sal Testa and a partner together headed a Philly mafia hit squad called the Young Executioners. The pair had bought the property for "a scant $195,000" in 1977. In 1982, Trump paid $1.1 million for it.

Paying twice the market price for real estate might not sound like a wise arrangement but it must have put Trump in good company with the owners.

Once called "The Crowned Prince of the Philadelphia Mob," Sal Testa maintained rackets in drug trafficking, loansharking and extortion
Testa was a particularly vicious type too. He reportedly had no reservations about wiping out an entire family- including children.
One of his associates had this say about Testa:
"He had no mercy on anybody. Business was business, and killing to him was business..."Salvatore Testa loved it all, the stalkings, the murders, even the Enrico Riccobene suicide. He was the South Philadelphia equivalent of a Main Line blue blood. He was born to be a wiseguy."
(Eventually, at the age of 28, Testa was murdered in 1984 on orders from Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Domenico Scarfo.)

Cementing the Relationship

In a recent Federalist article, a senior contributor David Marcus charged that Trump's casino was built through two construction companies controlled by Philly mobsters Nicademo Scarfo and his nephew Phillip  Leonetti
Trump Plaza’s connection to the mob didn’t end with the land purchase from Testa. Nicademo “Little Nicky” Scarfo (who became boss after the elder Testa was blown up) and his nephew Phillip “Crazy Phil” Leonetti controlled two of the major construction and concrete companies in Atlantic City.
The two companies, Scarf, Inc. and Nat Nat, were mentioned in the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s 1986 report on organized crime. 
Crazy Phil Leonetti ran Scarf, Inc., and Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino and his brother Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, part of the Philly crime family, operated Nat-Nat, Inc. Together the two companies poured concrete or produced steel- reinforced concrete for most of the original casino construction projects. 

Testimony from a cooperative insider reported that the mob profited from its special influence over a few key labor unions- in particular Concrete workers Local 33 and Ironworkers Local 350. 
 "...there are relationships between the construction trade unions and key mob figures 'which go beyond what one would expect to exist between a union official and a principal in the construction business."
Wayne Barrett also points out that Trump had used the mob-controlled concrete company S&A Concrete Co. was hired in the construction of Trump Plaza condos.

According to federal court records, S&A Cement was controlled by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, the don of New York's Gambino family, the nation's largest Cosa Nostra family at the time.
(Castellano was murdered by John Gotti in 1985. )

Apparently, all these connections to cement extortion racket led Trump to make changes in construction.  
Barrett noted that he built the Trump Tower out of concrete, instead of steel, at a time when the mafia controlled much the concrete industry.
In the case of the concrete used in Trump Tower (constructed between 1979-1983,) we are talking about quite a lot of money. Trump Tower required ninety thousand tons of concrete at a cost of $22 million (that's about $63 million by today's rates). In this case, another concrete firm was used, according to Politifact
Trump World Tower, supported by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, is also tangentially related to La Cosa Nostra. The head of the company, John Quadrozzi Sr., was tied to the Lucchese crime family and indicted for making illegal payoffs to the mob in 1992.
Quadrozzi would later become notorious for owing New York the state tens of thousands of dollars in fines for illegally dumping 600,000 cubic yards of toxic sludge into Gowanus Bay.

In that Trump project, there was also a controversy about the use of 200 undocumented Polish immigrants for the demolition of the existing building. These workers labored "round-the-clock shifts (for which they were allegedly paid $4 and $5 per hour off-the-book wages, if at all)." They reported living on junk food and often slept at the work site.
All, says the New York Times, "in the interest of meeting the deadline to build Trump Tower, the gilded centerpiece of Donald Trump's real-estate empire."

Trump claimed he didn't know these workers were illegal and that "the demolition in the summer of 1980 was delegated to a contractor, Kaszycki & Sons Contractors, which did all the hiring." Trump claimed that he rarely visited the construction site.

If Trump knew, he was then part of the corporate hypocrisy that hires low-wage illegal aliens for profits. But, if, as he claims, he did not know then what does that say about his management skills? Can he be trusted as president?
Not knowing is not an acceptable excuse for the executive position. There was a lot of that "not knowing" going around when it came to illegal practices, it seems.

In March 1986, the owner of S&A Cement, Salerno was indicted in a Federal court, along with 14 other crime figures. He was charged with "extensive labor racketeering, construction bid-rigging, extortion, gambling and murder conspiracies.
The  29-count indictment charged that the Genovese group had infiltrated concrete companies to control the construction of high-rise buildings in Manhattan. 
(In fact, Trump Plaza was actually mentioned in the indictment.)

Cartel of the Corrupt

To be fair, Trump's affiliation with the mob wasn't necessarily a matter of choice.
In a December 2015 interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said that the S&A was "supposedly" associated with the mob. He actually praised the quality of the work of Mafia-owned companies.
"Virtually every building that was built was built with these companies. These guys were excellent contractors. They were phenomenal. They could do three floors a week in concrete. Nobody else in the world could do three floors a week. I mean they were unbelievable. Trump Tower, other buildings."
The problem that Trump ignores was that these companies were also tied to organized crime and were found guilty of various mob rackets.
Another danger of mafia infiltration of the construction industry- all over the world- is that it invariably leads to public safety concerns- through bribery of officials to ignore safety codes and compromised inspections. It's a lot more common than you might think and can lead to man-made disasters.
On a more benign level, it can also lead higher costs to the consumer and on government-projects, to the taxpayer.

The book, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success, author,  Michael D'Antonio, pointed out that concrete was a big money earner for the mob.  
The price of concrete was higher in Manhattan than it was in any other city in the country. Much of the difference, which ranged as high as 70 percent, was caused by organized crime's dominance of every aspect of the business, which, due to geography, was surprisingly easy to control.
The cartel of corruption could also make life miserable (and construction more expensive) in other ways.
D'Antonio explains that builders who resisted the extortionary attempts of corrupt union leaders and mob-owned cement companies suffered from "arson attacks, theft of equipment and materials and worker stoppages." It was safer and ultimately cheaper to play along and keep your mouth shut.

Indeed, there were suspicious fires reported during the construction which added to the construction costs. Like the concrete monopoly, presumed arson was pretty much routine for property developers in the 1980s.
Pay out or face the consequences.
As far we know, Trump never woke up with a horse head in his bed.

Backscratching in the Name of Empire Building

There were also other arrangements by Trump with shady characters were a little more unusual.
Here's one not-widely-reported but interesting story.

Superficially, St. Moritz socialite Verina Hixon was exactly the kind of apartment owner that Trump Towers sought. Hixon brought an air of European sophistication or so Trump probably thought. 
As the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Trump would have to learn the truth of that wisdom the hard way when it came to Hixon.

According to the book, The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire, although she had no visible income or assets, she managed, with Trump's help, to get mortgage financing for three duplex apartments at Trump Tower worth about $10 million. She was, in fact, Trump's neighbor. By the time, she was finished "uniting units" she was probably neighbors with a lot of people.

Hixon bought several units and proceeded to devise elaborate interiors which included knocking down walls to adjoin the units and to install an indoor swimming pool. She got the pool built, but then the condo board wouldn’t allow her to fill it fearing the building wouldn’t be able to withstand the weight. (That must have been a subject of many cocktail parties at the Hixon homestead.)

Throughout the time, she was often seen with the $100,000-a-year president of the Teamsters union Local 282, John A. Cody. He allegedly gave her half a million dollars to purchase the Trump apartments.
Moreover, Cody often appeared at Trump Towers to help "girlfriend" Hixon with any problems with her construction. (Insert you own dirty joke if you wish.)
Although she was often seen in Cody's company, she empathetically denied being his mistress. She was not- repeat not- the reason that the concrete deliveries flowed smoothly.
The precise meaning of that non-sequitur in unclear but it's certainly loaded. 
*   *   *
In order to understand the significance of this Trump-Hixon-Cody arrangement, you have to know a little more about Cody. 
At the height of his power, Cody was considered by many as the "construction industry's most powerful union leader." The most powerful man in the most powerful union in the construction industry.   

It has been pretty well-established that Cody used his New York mob connection to intimidate developers, first working with the Gambino crime family and then Paul Castellano.
As a biography points out,
Cody was responsible for delivering cement and building materials for virtually every major building site in Manhattan from the mid-1970s to the mid-'80s.
Cody was a man that Trump had to take very seriously.
"Cody had the power to ruin a builder's project by slowing down concrete deliveries and disrupting work on any part of a job."
If Boss Cody didn't approve of a contractor, for plumbing, for example, workers would refuse to carry pipes, fixtures, and equipment to the upper floors. In various ways, he could be a developer's worst nightmare. A man you wouldn't cross if you knew what was good for you.

Actually, Cody and Trump seemed to have an "I'll scratch your back" kind of relationship. Cody came in handy, the book claims, when Cody gave him months advance notice of a workers strike that would hit New York in the summer of 1982. 
This forewarning allowed Trump to speed up shipments to avoid potential problems, presumably saving Trump organization quite a bundle.

But there was more to it than advance warnings. The strike, as arranged by Cody, made special allowances for certain projects.
The strike affected all projects that were in the foundation stage but not those where construction is out of the ground and therefore covered by other contracts with the union.
Therefore I.B.M. and A.T.&T. skyscrapers, the strike did not affect Trump Tower at all.

Another interesting connection emerges from the D'Antonio's book. Cody, who had been arrested 8 times and found guilty three times, counted the brash mob lawyer and former McCarthyite Roy Cohn as a friend and legal adviser. 

According to the investigation, Cody claimed that Trump preferred to use Cohn as an intermediary for their meetings. As we shall see, that claim of Cohn being a middle man for the Mafia was echoed similar claims made by other insiders. 

Cody was extremely careful about these transactions. He was, for instance, wary of possible FBI surveillance and installed "anti-bugging devices in his phones and patting down guests at his home for bugs." For this reason, federal prosecutors described Cody as "a tough case to crack."

It is easy to theorize that Hixon's extensive reconstruction of the original design provided a cover for "sound-proofing" by Cody in his quest for privacy. With Trump as a neighbor, it is easy to see the advantages.
That's one explanation that makes sense- outside of the possibility of a "love nest."

In any case, Hixon's decorating plans continued to change and this brought her into conflicts with Trump's contractors and architects. Cody's involvement certainly made things problematic.
Most of these complications came to end in December 1982 when Cody was convicted and  sentenced to five years and forced to pay $80,000   in fines on racketeering charges. (After five years, he wound up back in prison for trying to arrange a hit of the Teamster president that replaced him,)

The headache was only half over. There was still Hixon who became a quite a pain in Trump's pinkish neck.

A New York magazine article (August 1989) relates how Hixon ended up owing Trump Tower more than $300,000 in monthly maintenance charges and owed two city banks more than $5 million. This might have been loans secured or co-signed by Trump himself. 

Again remember Trump now pretends to know nada about Mafia. Even this information casts considerable doubt on Trump's claims of absolute ignorance about the mobsters, Trump was never, we should note, accused of illegality. 

In fact, one unconfirmed rumor went around that Trump provided information to investigators. That obviously would have been an extremely dangerous thing to do.
So dangerous, in fact, that even a blowhard like Trump would probably keep a low profile about this allegation. In any case, one should probably take it with the skeptical doubt as any of Trump's promotional claims.

The full story of the high society neighbor, the corrupt union boss, the gangsters, the slimy lawyer and real estate mogul will probably never be known but it would certainly make a great film noir screenplay.

Business, Politics, and the Mob

During the time Trump was becoming a real estate mogul, the lines between the mob, businessmen and politicians were blurred.
As a Washington Post article remarks, there was hardly any way to successfully do Trump's line of work without working with "mob-related figures and politicos."
One state examination in the late 1980s of the New York City construction industry concluded that “official corruption is part of an environment in which developers and contractors cultivate and seek favors from public officials at all levels.”
That report revealed the full extent of the Mafia infiltration of the construction trade in New York.  
The document's most disturbing charge is that the construction industry is alarmingly comfortable with the Mafia. The report bluntly concludes that many developers, builders, and contractors ''believe that the monetary costs of corruption are more than offset by the money saved or earned through corruption.'' As a result, the report contends, the industry has ''become dependent upon'' the crime brotherhood. Mafia muscle, it states, assures ''contractors that they will only have to pay off once, that the amount will be reasonable, and that the services paid for will be delivered.''
One might think that developers would be pleased that politicians and investigators were shining a light on the shady practices. Not so. Developers were leery against cooperating too much with law enforcement and preferred to keep things as they were, and pass the "tax" onto the consumers.

It could be argued that Trump was as much a victim of the corrupt system as anybody else. That's how Trump probably looks at it.

The Fortune article points out that Trump gave and gave generously to candidates from both parties. It was, the writers suggest, merely another way of protecting his business interests.
As he fed the political machine, he also had to work with unions and companies known to be controlled by New York’s ruling mafia families, which had infiltrated the construction industry, according to court records, federal task force reports and newspaper accounts. No serious presidential candidate has ever had Trump’s depth of documented business relationships with mob-controlled entities.
The Washington Post gives us some idea of the sums involved.
In 1985 alone, he contributed about $150,000 to local candidates, the equivalent of $330,000 today.
Officials with the New York State Organized Crime Task Force later said that Trump, while not breaking any laws, “circumvented” state limits on individual and corporate contributions “by spreading his payments among eighteen subsidiary companies.”
As a candidate, Trump recently attempted to downplay his well-established connections to the Mafia.
That's hardly any wonder.
Still, there's one name that links Trump to the mobsters more than the rest. 

Mentor and Protege:
Roy Cohn and Donald Trump 

Swell Pal and Attack Dog Attorney Cohn

In addition, there was Trump's close relationship with the infamous Roy Cohn, the witch-hunter for Joe McCarthy, was also an attorney for the Mafia. 

In the Mafia slang, Cohn would have been described as a "hard-on with a suitcase." Cohn made a name for himself as a mob lawyer and his client list included Mafia figures  Carmine Galante, Mafia "boss of all bosses." and John Gotti. Another name that turned up was a familiar face, Tony Salerno.

When it came to Salerno, Cohn's connection went beyond legal representation, if the Fortune article is correct. Cohn also acted as Mafia conduit, passing sums raised through extortion and other activities. The paper trail was convoluted, to say the least, but federal prosecutors managed to make some connections.

The arrangement allegedly ran from Edward J. Halloran, operator of two concrete productions plants Transit Mix Certified Concrete and Big Apple Concrete Corporation, to Halloran's right-hand man,  Joe Culek to Roy Cohn to finally to Mafia boss Salerno.

In 1984, State Attorney General Robert Abrams opened a lawsuit in federal courts against Transit-Mix Concrete for violating Federal and state antitrust laws by conspiring to allow the company to become the dominant supplier of concrete in the city.
Mr. Abrams charged that in 1981, through a tangled series of acquisitions, the Transit-Mix Company acquired control of its two chief competitors in the city - the Certified Concrete Company and the Big Apple Concrete Corporation. The 19 companies and the 10 executives named in the suit were said to have been involved in transfers of property that allowed Transit-Mix and principal owner Halloran to gain control of the industry.
According to Barrett's biography of Trump, Trump met with mobster Salerno in Cohn’s New York apartment in 1983. (There is some doubt about that particular claim.) Even if true, what they discussed is not known. 
(That would have been the same year that Trump Towers was completed. A year before the federal indictments.)

Loathsome Best Friends

Liberal Journalist and an author of the book Citizen Cohn (1988), Nicholas von Hoffman points out that Cohn "lived in a matrix of crime and unethical conduct," "derived a significant part of his income from illegal or unethical schemes and conspiracies," and thrived "cheek by jowl with so many men of sharp practice and dim luster in business and politics."

Besides Cohn's assumed influence with the Mob, Trump found Cohn's representation very useful in other ways.  
According to one quote, Trump admired Cohn's reputation for intimidation and general mean-spiritedness. The Daily Beast cites a quote from the AP:
“If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy People will drop a suit just by getting a letter with Roy’s name at the bottom.”
In this imperfect world, that sort of intimidation by expensive attorneys, backed by billionaires can destroy all semblance of due process. That's the world that Trump has always lived in and would legitimize as president.

Trump and Cohn's relationship went beyond a lawyer-client bond. Cohn claimed he was something of a mentor in Trump's early years. There was more to it than that.
"... the depth of their relationship didn’t end with Cohn’s attack-dog defenses of his client. Cohn, in his own words to the Times, was “not only Donald’s lawyer, but also one of his close friends.”
Trump's relationship was also something of mentor/student too. Need proof. Reference this Cohn quote:
"I admit it, I love publicity." 
True, so long as he could control the subject. When he couldn't, he would resort to lying, and attacking the source and when necessary intimidation.
Although a closeted homosexual- one of the worst-kept secrets of the 1950s- Cohn was a homophobic persecutor of other closeted gay men. With connections shield him from the same kind of scrutiny, Cohn was a destroyer of careers.   

The Connection between the Mentor and Student

Even though he has been called "one of the most loathsome characters in US history," Cohn, some have suggested, taught Trump everything he knows about political street fighting and the art of personal attack. 
If there's any doubt of that, you only have to look at some of Cohn' s self-aggrandizing quotes:
I bring out the worst in my enemies and that's how I get them to defeat themselves.
Go after a man's weakness, and never, ever, threaten unless you're going to follow through, because if you don't, the next time you won't be taken seriously.
From the grave, Roy Cohn could be managing Trump 2016 presidential campaign. 
That's to be expected. 
There is, in fact, an even more direct connection- rather than merely a mutual love for power and publicity- between Cohn and Trump. 

In 1979, Cohn reportedly introduced Trump to a highly influential political dirty-tricks specialist named Roger Stone. One source notes:
Stone was for many years a lobbyist for Donald Trump on behalf of his casino business and was also involved in opposing expanded casino gambling in New York State..
Trump and Stone remain close to the present day and Stone remains a vocal advocate for the billionaire. (There's some dispute on this point. Some say Trump now calls Stone "a loser.")

Stone, the "keeper of the Nixon flame,"was an adviser to the former President in his post-presidential years, serving as "Nixon's man in Washington."

Incidentally, Trump's close friend Stone worked as a principal for Black, Manafort, a political consulting/lobbying firm, famous for representing people like oppressive dictator and human rights abuser, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, Mobutu Sese Seko military dictator and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Jonas Savimbi of Angola.

On the other hand, the firm also worked for Ronald Reagan's presidential candidacy in 1980. 
Of Roy Cohn, Stone says that Cohn was not gay. He only liked having sex with men. Whatever that means. Speaking of sex,   
After years of denying that he and his wife placed swinger's ads for "similar couples or exceptional muscular…single men," Stone finally admitted that they paid for the ads.
As if to prove Stone is an ideological offspring of Roy Cohn beyond all doubt, Stone recently made threats against 2016 Republican delegates.
Stone,... said in an interview with a libertarian podcaster this week that if a candidate other than Trump is nominated at a contested convention, he “will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal.”
“We’ll tell you who the culprits are,” Stone added. “We urge you to visit their hotel and find them.”
It's not even the first time, Stone has landed in hot water after being accused of making threats during a campaign

The behavior of Stone, Cohn, and Trump all suggest that the style of mobsters is as contagious as swine flu.  

The Unholy Alliance

All in all, when it comes to Donald Trump and his relationship with the Mafia, the candidate has shown himself to be the kind of guy who is short of morality if the price is right.   

Most Americans- whether they admit it or not- do not prefer saints for presidents. They'd choose a hard-nosed realist over any other type.
For those people, Trump may be the perfect candidate. 
Yet Trump's history demands that we ask serious questions about his basic sense of right and wrong. Voters will have to decide if Trump is actually the kind of president we need at this (or any other) time. 
Is he really the solution or, with all of his secret relationships with shady power-hungry and dangerous characters, simply more of the same problem?

"Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people," Theodore Roosevelt said back in 1912. 
The Progressive Republican Roosevelt was in many ways a mirror image of Trump but, like a mirror, the resemblance is exactly reversed. 
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become the tools of corrupt interests, which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes.
Had he the privilege to return, Roosevelt would take one look at Donald Trump and roar in disgust.
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
That unholy alliance of corruption, between bad business- the tacit approval of organized crime- and bad politics, has found the perfect poster child in Donald J. Trump.