It is the most under-reported story of the summer, and the mystery is why. Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is well known to have had ties to notorious crime figures like Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese mob, and others of their ilk in New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Trump’s palling around mobsters is well-documented. So why are his Republican opponents reluctant to use his sleazy connections against him, as they surely know he would do if the tables were turned?
While the story has gone unreported on cable outlets and by the major dailies, it has been public knowledge for at least a quarter century. All an intrepid oppo researcher would need to do to uncover the facts is spend a few seconds on a Google search.
There they would find three recent stories about Trump and the mob — two in legitimate online sources — “Trump’s Mobbed Up, McCarthyite Mentor Roy Cohn,” published by the Daily Beast on July 23, 2015, and “Donald Trump and the Mob,” published on CNN.com on July 31. 2015 — as well as a story in a right-wing outlet, the Federalist, published on July 28, 2015.
In his Federalist article, David Marcus makes the point that if “Trump wants to be a serious candidate for president, and has the numbers to back it up, he must be vetted like a serious candidate for president. A good place to start is to take a hard look at Trump’s ties to Philadelphia and New York organized-crime families.”
Marcus cites “Trump, The Deals and the Downfall,” by Wayne Barrett, a book that uncovered Trump’s ties to mobsters back in 1992.
“The Atlantic City story starts with Trump’s purchase of a bar, at twice its market value, from Salvatore Testa, a made man in the Philadelphia mafia and son of Philip ‘Chicken Man’ Testa, who was briefly head of the Philly mob after Angelo Bruno’s 1980 killing,” Marcus writes. “Harrah’s casino, half owned by Trump, would be built on that land, and Trump would quickly buy out his partner, Harrah’s Entertainment, and rename the casino Trump Plaza.”
Trump contracted with mob-owned construction and concrete companies to build his Atlantic City casino, just as he did on several projects in Manhattan, including Trump Tower, his garish Fifth Avenue headquarters. The contractor for Trump Tower was S&A Concrete Co., which was owned by Fat Tony Salerno and Big Paul Castellano, according to Marcus and other sources.
Hired Illegal Aliens
Marcus also points to an incident that ought to be of special interest to oppo researchers for Trump’s GOP foes. During the demolition of the department store that was cleared to make way for Trump Tower, Trump and his contractors hired crews of illegal aliens from Poland to take down the building — somehow managing to put dozens of “scabs” to work without incurring the wrath of local unions. The men were forced to work 12 hour days, seven days a week.
In 1991, Trump was found guilty of conspiring with union officials to hire the Polish workers who were in the United States illegally in order to avoid paying union pension and welfare-fund contributions. During the trial, Trump — who constantly brags about his superior management skills — blameshifted the hiring of the illegals onto underlings. The judge found him guilty nonetheless and imposed a $1 million fine.
“When the rubber hit the road Donald Trump didn’t walk the walk,” writes David Marcus, “he lined his pockets and sold out American workers.”
Five Questions for Trump
A Google search also produces an article published on July 1, 2015, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston titled, “21 Questions for Donald Trump.” Questions six through 10 probed into Trump’s mob activities:
6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete. Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?
7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were “Fat” Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.
If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?
8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.
9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.
How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite — without hard hats for the Polish workers?
10. A federal judge later found you conspired to cheat both the Polish workers, who were paid less than $5 an hour cash with no benefits, and the union health and welfare fund. You testified that you did not notice the Polish workers, whom the judge noted were easy to spot because they were the only ones on the work site without hard hats.
Casino License Was Not Revoked
Finally, another quick Google search also produces a review of Wayne Barrett’s book on Trump’s corrupt connections written by David Cay Johnston in 1992.
“‘Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,’ by Wayne Barrett, asserts that the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has failed to examine how Trump’s life ‘intertwines with the underworld,’ Johnston wrote then. “It also alleges that the Casino Control Commission has denied licenses to others for conduct far less serious than what the book alleges Trump has done.”
Key among these assertions is that in 1983, after Trump had obtained a casino license, he met with Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, at the Manhattan townhouse of Roy Cohn, a lawyer who represented both men. The book cites an unnamed eyewitness as its source.
Other casino executives have had their licenses revoked or were denied a license just for being photographed in the company of major organized-crime figures, including Salerno.
At the time of the purported meeting, Trump was using a concrete company called S&A to build his Trump Plaza condos in Manhattan, according to federal court records cited in the book. S&A was controlled by Salerno and Paul Castellano, then head of New York’s Gambino crime family, according to those same records.
Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor, was a powerful but disreputable lawyer who made his name in the 1950s as the chief council for disgraced Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunting committee. (In 2003, Al Pacino won an Emmy for his portrayal of Cohn in the HBO miniseries, “Angels in America,” in which Cohn was depicted as loathsome, self-hating, closeted and dying of HIV disease. In fact, Roy Cohn died from AIDS-related causes in 1986.)
Back in 1992, in response to Barrett’s allegations, Trump issued a statement that sounds eerily similar to his thin-skinned responses to criticism today. After claiming that he had not read the book, he called Barrett “a second-rate writer who has had numerous literary failures.” Trump described the book, which, again, he said he had not read, as “boring, non-factual and highly inaccurate.”
For the record, Wayne Barrett had a long career as a writer for the Village Voice and his books, including “The Big Apple: City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York,” have been quite successful.
Again, Why the Silence?
So what’s going on here? Why are Trump’s Republican opponents silent about his mob connections?
According to one noted mob expert, the reason the other candidates won’t expose Trump’s mob ties is that they all equally mobbed up. Exposing him would expose them all. It’s hard to imagine such a fractious cabal of self-serving strivers adhering to omertà. On the other hand, there is ample historical evidence of mob influence in politics.
It’s possible, perhaps, these Republican candidates are afraid that the notoriously litigious Trump might sue them. This seems unlikely. These facts are on the record, and there’s no evidence he sued Wayne Barrett or David Cay Johnston after they exposed his mob connections in the early 1990s.
Or maybe Trump’s opponents are holding fire based on political calculation. It would be more effective to unleash their attacks after Labor Day when voters are more likely to be focused on the campaign.
If so, it’s possible one of them could be waiting to achieve maximum impact by sticking the shiv between Trump’s ribs on live television during the next debate.