The Chicago Syndicate: Teamsters

Showing posts with label Teamsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teamsters. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Explosive Life and Death of Gangster Danny Greene

In the 1970s, Cleveland, Ohio was at war – rival factions fought for control of the city’s organized crime rackets, with deadly results. In 1976, Cleveland was the bombing capital of the United States.

High-profile crime figures were wiped out left and right with car bombs, leaving Cleveland residents shaken. In the center of all the mayhem and bloodshed was an Irish-American crime boss named Danny Greene who went to war with Cleveland’s long-established Italian criminal empire.

Danny Greene was born in Cleveland in 1933 and grew up in the city’s Collinwood neighborhood. As a teenager, he fought frequently with Italian-American kids and developed a dislike for Italians that he carried with him for his entire life. Greene joined the Marines, boxed in the Corps, and became an expert marksman. After his military duty, Greene returned to Cleveland and started working on the waterfront as a longshoreman. In 1962, before he had reached the age of 30, Danny Greene was elected President of the local dock workers’ union.

Greene caused controversy in Cleveland when he organized work stoppages and strikes. In 1964, Greene lost his union job when it came to light that he was allowing corruption to flourish, including kickbacks and having dock workers sign over their paychecks to him.

As he made headlines with the dock workers’ union, Greene caught the eye of a Jewish gangster named Shondor Birns, who had been active since the days of Prohibition. After Greene’s ouster from the union, Birns hired him on as an enforcer. While working for Birns, Greene also branched out on his own, building a criminal empire that included loansharking and gambling operations.

Despite his personal dislike for Italians, Greene also teamed up with a Teamster named John Nardi to expand his criminal activities. There has been speculation that Danny Greene may have been an FBI informant, which might help explain why he was able to avoid scrutiny from law enforcement for so many years.

Greene was a formidable figure, tough and not afraid to stand up for what he believed in. He was also fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, favored the color green, and wore a green crucifix around his neck.

He enjoyed notoriety in his home neighborhood of Collinwood, with many of the residents seeing him as a kind of Robin Hood figure because Greene gave money to the needy and was quick to help out his neighbors.

Greene took a job with the Cleveland Solid Waste Trade Guild, where he was seen as a skilled negotiator and peacekeeper. But when a trash hauler named “Big Mike” Frato pulled out of the guild, the two immediately went to war with each other. One of Greene’s men, 31-year-old Arthur Sneperger, was killed in 1971 when a bomb he was carrying to plant in Frato’s car exploded. Less than a month later, Greene shot and killed Frato after “Big Mike” tried to shoot him from a passing car. Greene was later acquitted on grounds of self-defense.

Danny Greene ran Shondor Burns’ numbers rackets while the old gangster served time in prison in the early 1970s. This only served to strengthen Greene’s reputation and cemented his power in Cleveland’s underworld. After Birns was released from prison, the relationship between him and Greene took a nosedive. Birns took out a $20,000 contract on Greene’s life, which severed the partnership completely. On March 29, 1975, Shondor Birns was killed by a car bomb, the weapon that would come to define the Cleveland gang war over the next couple years. Danny Greene’s house was bombed in May 1975, shortly after Birns’ assassination.

Greene and his army of men were now at war with other criminal elements in Cleveland, most notably the Italian mafia. Gangsters detonated an incredible 37 bombs in the Cleveland area in 1976. Attempts on Danny Greene’s life were made, but all failed – it seemed that the Irishman couldn’t be taken down. Then, Greene’s associate John Nardi was killed by a bomb in May 1977 outside the Teamsters office. After years of avoiding death, the Irishman’s luck was about to run out.

On October 6, 1977, Greene approach his Lincoln Continental after a visit to his dentist. Like many of Cleveland’s gangsters before him, Greene had reached the end of the road. That day, with newly clean teeth, the 43-year-old Greene was obliterated by a car bomb.

A mob hitman named Ray Ferritto was picked up for Greene’s murder, and he quickly turned informant, agreeing to spill everything he knew about Mafia operations across the United States in exchange for leniency. In the end, the death of Danny Greene and the testimony offered by Ray Ferritto brought down what was left of the Cleveland mob.

Thanks to Matt Gilligan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Teamsters Not Guilty in ‘Top Chef’ Extortion Trial

The four Teamsters members who crashed the filming of the “Top Chef” television show at a restaurant in Milton in 2014 were acquitted Tuesday of all criminal charges in a case that was closely followed by the entertainment industry and organized labor.

The verdict from the jury of nine women and three men was announced in US District Court in Boston around 11 a.m. Tuesday, prompting bear hugs and backslapping between defense lawyers and defendants, smiles and tears of relief, and at least one prayer of thanks.

“Oh, my God!” cried out one woman as the acquittals were announced. “Thank you, Jesus!”

The Teamsters — Daniel Redmond, 49; John Fidler, 53; Robert Cafarelli, 47; and Michael Ross, 63 — were each acquitted of a single count of conspiracy to extort and a single count of attempted extortion. They are members of the Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25.

US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, who presided over the trial, which explored the line between lawful union advocacy and menacing criminal activity, urged the defendants to pay closer attention to legal and physical boundaries in future labor action. “I would encourage the defendants to think long and hard . . . about approaching boundaries,’’ he said from the bench.

As he left the courthouse, Cafarelli said that when he was standing in the courtroom, waiting for the verdict to be announced, his heart was racing, but his mind was blank. Asked by a reporter for his reaction to having faced criminal charges, he replied in a sarcastic tone, “I’m thrilled I went through the process.” He then walked away, saying as he went, “I want to call my kids. That’s what I want to do.”

The case included testimony over a week from 17 witnesses, including “Top Chef” celebrity host Padma Lakshmi and judge Gail Simmons, who described feeling terrified and possibly being physically assaulted as they arrived at the Steel & Rye restaurant where the Teamsters were waiting.

“One guy came up, was coming toward the car, and he seemed really mad. They all seemed heated up,” Lakshmi told jurors. “I felt he was bullying me. I felt he was saying, ‘I might hit you.’ . . . I was just petrified and wanted it to be over.”

None of the defendants testified on their own behalf, but defense attorneys said in closing arguments that while the Teamsters might have used rough language, or behavior that might have seemed threatening, their actions were legal under federal law.

“There is a recognition that the Teamsters have the right to protest. . . . It doesn’t help anybody to have a production company come in to town, take away [union] jobs,’’ said defense attorney Oscar Cruz Jr.

The trial also generated attention on the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh as at least three witnesses testified that a top Walsh aide sought to withhold city permits for “Top Chef” unless the show hired union members.

The show began to film in Milton after two Boston restaurants canceled their participation following a tip from City Hall’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette, that the union would picket, according to testimony and court records.

Brissette and another aide, Timothy Sullivan, face extortion charges in a separate case alleging that they threatened to revoke permits for the Boston Calling music festival because organizers would not hire union members. They are set to go on trial in January, and the two have been on paid leave since their arrest last year.

Walsh has declined to answer questions about that case or the allegations made against Brissette in the “Top Chef” trial.

The jury started deliberations Thursday. In an unusual twist Monday afternoon, the forewoman sent a note to Woodlock reporting that one juror did not believe in the constitutional principle that people are innocent of a crime until proven guilty.

“We have a juror who is assuming guilt over innocence,’’ the jury forewoman wrote. “We are not sure how to go on from here. Any suggestions would be helpful.”

Woodlock, in his written response, emphasized the meaning of the presumption of innocence in American courts. “It is a cardinal principle of our system of justice that every person is presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt from evidence properly introduced and admitted at trial,” Woodlock wrote. “Presumption is not a mere formality, it is a matter of the utmost importance.”

Woodlock told jurors he would make their names publicly available Thursday. “You don’t have to talk to anybody at all. You were engaged in very tough discussions,’’ Woodlock said. “I leave it to you.”

Thanks to John R. Ellement, Milton J. Valencia and Maria Cramer.

Monday, May 08, 2017

All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops

This book tells the remarkable true stories of America’s most infamous Public-Enemy-Number-1 gangsters. Based on exhaustive documented research, Bill Friedman chronicles the true history of illegal gambling, rum-running, organized crime, and the politics of law enforcement during the Prohibition era.

Based on crime-scene eyewitness accounts, state’s witnesses harborers’ accounts, and historical records, Friedman paints exciting portraits of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and other luminaries of the underworld—and documents how surprisingly different that world was from the way Hollywood portrays it. Like great literary characters, history’s gangsters and bank robbers were complex and fraught with contradiction.

Captivating tales of criminal daring are balanced with shocking political exposés revealing how complicity and incompetence hindered the effectiveness of law enforcement. Written in fast-moving prose that’s sure to entertain, All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops, is a must-read for anyone who loves classic American ‘cops and robbers’ stories. Friedman’s historical accounts are as exciting and dramatic as any genre fiction, while ringing with the power of truth and authenticity.

All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops” covers U.S. major crime in the Great Depression era. It is the incredible stories of daring prison escapes and breathtaking police pursuits by the Great Depression’s four successive Public Enemies Number One - John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Alvin Karpis with the Barker brothers. These were the most aggressive and dangerous killers ever. When fleeing from pursuing lawmen, every one of these bank robbers either whirled their cars around and floored their accelerator towards their pursuers, or they ran in the open, charging pursuers while relentlessly blasting away with machineguns. All these ferocious counterattacks made them dreadfully successful at killing the most policemen and FBI agents of any American outlaws. This is the first complete history because the newspaper accounts and trial testimonies by both their criminal cohorts and the harborers during their long fugitive manhunts are included.

Against these fierce killers, Congress assigned a fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an accounting agency of government money made up of politically-appointed accountants and attorneys with no police experience. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, a librarian, he failed to teach his agents any of the fundamentals of police and detective work or instruct them to respect individual liberties and rights. Thus, his courageous but ill-prepared early agents conducted one amateurish and failed raid after another that occasionally caused disastrous results for both his agents and innocent civilian bystanders caught up in the lines of fire.

Hoover’s leadership and management of the FBI has been thoroughly discredited by contemporary exposé articles and scholarly historical biographies. This book penetrates the veil much further in presenting how politically-conservative Hoover failed to prosecute serious criminals, used underhanded illegal tactics against critics; occasionally fought to survive his malfeasance in office; and blackmailed errant Congressmen to further his own political agenda. All this made him an unaccountable malevolent fourth branch of the federal government totally outside the brilliantly-conceived Constitutional checks-and-balances system.

To disprove that the FBI’s chief suspect, Pretty Boy Floyd, was involved in the Kansas City Massacre that slaughtered four lawmen, and to finally reveal the actual perpetrators and their motives, the forty-year reign of that town’s unique political-power structure is laid bare. The town’s political kingmaker Jim Pendergast chose as his lieutenant the city’s Mafia leader, and this Mafioso selected the chief of police and his detectives. The state legislature tried to stop this affront to justice by having the governor appoint a Police Commission to control the city’s departmental hirings. This action just led Kansas City’s Mafia chieftain to expand his political sphere of influence across the state to elect puppet governors who appointed Commissioners of his choosing.

These Kansas City political leaders stuffed ballot boxes in every election of politically-progressive Harry Truman, who later became the only president to sell out to organized crime because of his long political ties to the Kansas City Mafia. The entire last chapter strictly covers the many interactions Truman had from the White House with this Mafioso. Their mutual political hijinks, conflicts, and intrigue are astonishing. As tensions mounted this Mafioso was murdered, and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress directly accused the President of ordering his political henchmen to kill him. This whole period in the White House is beyond mind-boggling.

A number of the gangsters in this book had ties to the early Nevada gambling industry, where the author spent his whole career. The action opens in that state, when Reno was its largest city, and Bill Graham and Jim McKay were the biggest casino operators both before and after gambling was legalized in 1931. Prior to Baby Face Nelson going into bank robbing, he was their doorman/bouncer. Graham and McKay operated the most popular casino in the state’s largest hotel, the Golden, and they developed an effective but very illegal tourist-marketing program to bring in high-rollers during the Great Depression. They offered an emporium of services for criminals who stole money through armed robbery, kidnapping, or by con. This drew financial criminals in large numbers from across the country. One service was to hide fugitives on the run in this isolated town and protect them from police interference. In the weeks to months before the FBI took down Dillinger, Nelson, Floyd, Karpis, and Fred Barker, all enjoyed the safe haven provided by Reno’s casino operators.

Before Ben Siegel began construction of his Fabulous Flamingo gambling resort, Kansas City Mafioso Charles Binaggio, who was shot to death under President Truman’s portrait, had planned to become a major investor in the Thunderbird Hotel & Casino on the Strip. A number of other links between the Kansas City Mafia and the Nevada casino industry during this era are presented. This book closes with the career of Kansas City’s fifth Mafia leader, Nick Civella. As the original pioneer gangsters, who had built the Las Vegas Strip from their Prohibition fortunes, retired and sold out, Civella financed a new wave of hidden underworld casino owners through the Teamsters Union Pension Fund, as was fictionally presented in the 1995 movie Casino.

This book is based on 47 years of research, and it has an enormous amount of new information. It details the major crimes of that era, and it exposes major corruption by politicians, police detectives, prosecutors, and judges. Justice eventually prevailed as the vast majority were imprisoned.

Every word comes from the victims, eyewitnesses, local police officials, or the pursuing FBI agents' official internal reports, as documented in 34 pages of 326 endnotes. the subject Index is 14-pages of double-columns.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Teamster Sentenced for Attempted Extortion of #TopChef Reality Television Production Company

A member of Teamsters Local 25 was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Boston in connection with his attempted extortion of a Top Chef reality television production company in June of 2014.

Mark Harrington, 62, of Andover, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to two years of probation with six months of home confinement, and ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 and restitution of $24,023. In November 2016, Harrington pleaded guilty to one count of attempted extortion.

In October 2015, Harrington was indicted along with John Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli, and Michael Ross for conspiring to extort and attempted extortion of money to be paid as wages for imposed, unwanted, and unnecessary and superfluous services from a reality television production company.

Beginning in spring 2014, a non-union production company began scouting locations to film a reality television show in Boston. A stage location was set up in Woburn, and a number of filming locations were chosen in and around the Boston area. In order to film in the City of Boston, permits must be approved by the City of Boston with the assistance of the Boston Film Bureau. In May 2014, with the necessary permits from the City of Boston, the company commenced filming at various locations in Boston. The company was scheduled to conduct further filming in the City of Boston, including at a hotel, a restaurant, and a college, in June 2014.

The company was not a signatory to any collective bargaining agreement with Local 25, and hired its own employees, including drivers, to produce and participate in the filming of the show.    

On or about June 5, 2014, Redmond allegedly approached the production crew as they were filming at a Boston hotel and demanded that members of Local 25 be hired as drivers. Redmond insisted that one of the producers on set speak with Harrington, the secretary-treasurer of Local 25. Harrington advised the producer that he did not care about the company and that all he cared about was that some of his guys get hired on the show. The producer explained that all of the drivers had been hired and there was no work for Local 25 to perform. Redmond allegedly demanded to know where else the crew would be filming and threatened to shut the production down that night. During several subsequent telephone calls that same day, Harrington and another union official warned the producer that if the company did not make a deal with Local 25, they would start to follow them and picket.

On or about June 9, 2014, a representative from the City of Boston allegedly called a second Boston hotel to inform them that Local 25 was planning to picket the company’s filming at the hotel the following day. In turn, the hotel notified the company that, despite their prior agreement, it would no longer permit the filming because it did not want to be associated with a Local 25 picket. As a result, the company found a new location for filming outside the City of Boston. The City of Boston representative made similar calls to other locations the company planned to film at in June 2014.

In the early morning hours on June 10, 2014, a Local 25 official told a producer that Local 25 was aware that the company was preparing to film at a Milton restaurant, and Local 25 would be sending 50 men to picket. As a result of that conversation, the company hired a police detail for the filming.  At 9:00 a.m. on June 10, 2014, defendants Harrington, Redmond, Fidler, Cafarelli and Ross showed up at the Milton restaurant. Two or three of the Local 25 defendants entered the production area and began walking in lockstep toward the doors of the restaurant where they chest-bumped and allegedly stomach-bumped production crew members in an attempt to forcibly enter the restaurant.

Throughout the morning, the Local 25 defendants allegedly continued to use and threaten to use physical violence against members of the crew and others; yelled profanities and racial and homophobic slurs at the crew and others; blocked vehicles from the entryway to the set and used actual physical violence and threats of physical violence to try and prevent people from entering the set. On one occasion, the Local 25 defendants prevented a food delivery truck from delivering food.  The Local 25 defendants were also observed by the crew standing in close proximity to cars belonging to the crew, nine of which were later found to have had their tires slashed.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Heard You Paint Houses - Updated Edition

"I Heard You Paint Houses", Updated Edition: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa,” by Charles Brandt is based on the deathbed confession of a mafia hit man who claims to have killed Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa on the orders of Russell Bufalino, the reputed mob boss from West Pittston.

“The book is huge. It flies off the shelves,” said Mike Ashworth, manger of Borders in Dickson City.

The book owes its resurgence to the travails of Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples and his friend, diocesan priest Joseph Sica, who made headlines after indictments challenged their characterization of their relationship with Bufalino, his alleged successor William D’Elia, and others.

They won’t find direct answers in the book, which never mentions DeNaples or Sica. The book is based on the recorded deathbed confession of mafia hit man Frank Sheeran, who was a friend to both Bufalino and Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. In the book, written by former Delaware Assistant Attorney General Charles Brandt, Sheeran admits to carrying out several hits. Most notably, Sheeran said he killed Hoffa on Bufalino’s order.

Thanks to David Falchek

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

July 30 1975: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran allegedly murders Teamsters Leader Jimmy Hoffa in a house in northwest Detroit. The location of his body has been a mystery for over forty years. Follow Police Officer Jeffry Hansen's three-year journey as he investigates the most infamous disappearance of the twentieth century.

Digging for the Truth: The Final Resting Place of Jimmy Hoffa

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Jerry Brown Alleged to have Mob Ties

A book revives decades-old charges that California attorney general candidate and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown had close ties with individuals related to organized crime during Brown’s tenure in the 1970s as governor of California.

Written by respected investigative journalist Gus Russo and published by the American division of British publishers Bloomsbury, the book, Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, charges in part that during the 1970s, Brown took campaign contributions from mob figures and, in return, granted them political favors.

Russo has written several books on organized crime, including The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, Live By The Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death ofJFK, and Gangsters and Goodfellas: Wiseguys, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run.

Ace Smith, a campaign consultant for the Brown campaign, called the allegations “wacky and nutty” and “laughably idiotic.” When the Daily Planet offered to fax the Brown campaign copies of the passages from Russo’s book that make reference to Brown, Smith said, “I don’t need to see any passages from the book to make a comment. This is like talking about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. These allegations have about as much credibility as Al Capone’s vault.”

In his book, Russo repeats allegations that Brown ran for governor in 1974 with the help of several figures with alleged organized crime ties, including the powerful Hollywood attorney Sidney Korshak, whom the Bloomsbury book describes as “the underworld’s primary link to the corporate upperworld” and “according to the FBI, [the] player behind countless 20th century power mergers, political deals, and organized crime chicaneries.”

Korshak, who died in 1996 and is described by Russo as a “pal” of Brown’s father, Governor Pat Brown, has a thick online file on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website that alleges extensive ties to organized crime. Russo writes that a 1978 report on California’s Organized Crime Control Commission issued by then-California Attorney General Evelle Younger called Korshak “the key link between organized crime and big business … A U.S. Justice Department official has described Korshak as a ‘senior advisor’ to organized crime groups” in several states, including California.

“When Brown enlisted electronics mogul Richard Silberman … as his chief fund-raiser [for the 1974 campaign],” Russo writes in Supermob, “it quickly became apparent that the same Chicago money that had transformed California in the forties would continue to play a key role in the seventies. (Silberman would be convicted in a 1991 FBI drug-ring money-laundering scheme.) Thus, with a brilliant media campaign, massive contributions from the likes of Lew Wasserman, Jake ‘the Barber’ Factor, and later Sidney Korshak, Brown defeated [Republican State Controller Houston] Flournoy by 175,000 votes.”

In return, Russo alleges in his book that Brown gave favors back to alleged mob figures, including appointing the brother-in-law of Teamsters union leader and Korshak associate Edward Hanley as one of the directors of the California Agricultural Association, which Russo says “named the concessionaires at all the state’s racetracks and county fairs.”

Russo alleges that profits from these concessions were later “skimmed” off and sent to reported mob figures. In addition, Russo alleges that Brown once tried to close down the Hollywood Park racetrack as a favor to Korshak, who Russo says “was … trying to pave the way for an organized crime takeover of the facility.”

The racetrack allegations were so widely reported in California at the time that they later became the subject of a series of Doonesbury cartoons by Gary Trudeau. In one Doonesbury strip reprinted in Supermob, Trudeau depicts a reporter talking on the telephone to a Brown associate only named “Gray,” a reference to then-Jerry Brown Chief of Staff Gray Davis. “Let me get this straight, Gray—who exactly did Jerry solicit the contribution from?” the reporter asks. “A guy named Sidney Korshak,” ‘Gray’ answers. “He’s the local low-life, an alumnus from the Capone mob.”

Brown was quoted in Time Magazine in July of 1979 that he thought the Doonesbury cartoons were “false and libelous, but I’m flattered by the attention.”

When Gray Davis ran for governor in 1998, the San Francisco Chronicle made reference to the old allegations, with political reporter Robert Gunnison writing that “Brown … appointed [Davis] to the California Horse Racing Board in 1979. It was a particularly volatile time for the panel. Critics said he was appointed to help Service Employees International Union clerks during a strike at Golden Gate Fields. The union’s lawyer, Sidney Korshak, was alleged by the state attorney general to be an organized crime figure.”

Russo alleges that Korshak’s influence on California governors was not limited to Brown and his father, but also included Ronald Reagan. Russo also alleges that Korshak sought to help Brown achieve higher office past the California governship, writing that “Korshak’s Service Employees Union … dispatched workers and cars” to New Hamphsire in 1979 “to assist Brown’s effort” in the primary against Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

Some of Russo’s information concerning the allegations of the Brown-organized crime connection came from the Berkeley Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman, who wrote news articles on the issue in the 1970s while a reporter with the Santa Monica Evening Outlook. Brenneman is listed in the book as a source.

Thanks to J. Douglas Allen-Tayler

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Reviewing the History of @RealDonaldTrump and The Mob

As billionaire developer Donald Trump became the toast of New York in the 1980s, he often attributed his rise to salesmanship and verve. "Deals are my art form," he wrote. But there is another aspect to his success that he doesn't often discuss. Throughout his early career, Trump routinely gave large campaign contributions to politicians who held sway over his projects and he worked with mob-controlled companies and unions to build them.

Americans have rarely contemplated a candidate quite like Trump, 69, who has become the unlikely leader among Republican Party contenders for the White House. He's a brash Queens-born scion who navigated through one of the most corrupt construction industries in the country to become a brand-name business mogul.

Much has been written about his early career, but many details have been obscured by the passage of time and overshadowed by Trump's success and celebrity.

A Washington Post review of court records, testimony by Trump and other accounts that have been out of the public eye for decades offer insights into his rise. He was never accused of illegality, and observers of the time say that working with the mob-related figures and politicos came with the territory. Trump declined repeated requests to comment.

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."

Trump gave so generously to political campaigns that he sometimes lost track of the amounts, documents show. 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."

Trump alluded to his history of political giving in August this year, at the first Republican debate, bragging that he gave money with the confidence that he would get something in return. "I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me," he said. "And that's a broken system."

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 his depth of business relationships with the mob-controlled entities.

The companies included S & A Concrete Co., which supplied building material to the Trump Plaza on Manhattan's east side, court records show. S & A was owned by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. The men required that major multimillion-dollar construction projects obtain concrete through S & A at inflated prices, according to a federal indictment of Salerno and others.

Salerno eventually went to prison on federal racketeering, bid-rigging and other charges. His attorney, Roy Cohn, the former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), was one of the most politically connected men in Manhattan. He was also Donald Trump's friend and occasionally his attorney. Cohn was never charged over any dealings with the mob, but he was disbarred shortly before his death in 1986 for ethical and financial improprieties.

"[T]he construction industry in New York City has learned to live comfortably with pervasive corruption and racketeering," according to "Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry," a 1990 report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. "Perhaps those with strong moral qualms were long ago driven from the industry; it would have been difficult for them to have survived. 'One has to go along to get along.' "

James B. Jacobs, the report's principal author, told The Post that Trump and other major developers at the time "had to adapt to that environment" or do business in another city. "That's not illegal, but you might say it's not a beautiful thing," said Jacobs, a law professor at New York University. "It was a very sick system."

Trump entered the real estate business full-time in 1968, following his graduation from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in Queens with his father, Fred Trump, who owned a development firm with apartment buildings and other holdings across the country. Donald, who had worked part-time for the firm for years, learned the business from the inside.

When he joined his father, Donald Trump examined the books and found tens of millions of untapped equity. Trump urged his father to take on more debt and expand the business in Manhattan. "At age twenty-two the young baron's dreams had already begun to assume the dimensions of an empire," Jerome Tuccille wrote in a biography of Trump.

Donald Trump took over in 1971 and began cultivating the rich and powerful. He made regular donations to members of the city's Democratic machine. Mayors, borough presidents and other elected officials often were blunt in their requests for campaign cash and "loans," according to the commission on government integrity. Donald Trump later said that the richer he became, the more money he gave.

After a series of scandals not tied to Trump, campaign finance practices in the state came under scrutiny by the news media. In 1987, Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York Mayor Ed Koch appointed the state commission on government integrity and gave it subpoena power and a sweeping mandate to examine official corruption.

The commission created a database of state contribution records that previously had been kept haphazardly in paper files. It called on politicians and developers to explain the patterns of giving identified by the computer analysis.

Trump appeared one morning in March 1988, according to a transcript of his appearance obtained by The Post. He acknowledged that campaign contributions had been a routine part of his business for nearly two decades. He repeatedly told the commission he could not remember the details.

"In fact, in 1985 alone, your political contributions exceeded $150,000; is that correct?" Trump was asked. "I really don't know," he said. "I assume that is correct, yes."

A commission member said that Trump had made contributions through more than a dozen companies. "Why aren't these political contributions just made solely in your name?"

"Well, my attorneys basically said that this was the proper way of doing it," Trump said.

Trump told the commission that he also provided financial help to candidates in another way. In June 1985, he guaranteed a $50,000 loan for Andrew Stein, a Democrat who was running to be New York's City Council president. Six months later, Trump paid off the loan. "I was under the impression at the time it was made that I would be getting my money back," Trump told the commission. "And when were you disabused of that notion?" "When it was time to get my money back," Trump said.

Asked whether he considered such transactions as a "cost of doing business," Trump was equivocal. "I personally don't," he said. "But I can see that some people might very well feel that way, sir."

Stein told The Post he did not recall the loan, but he said developers were close to city officials at the time. "The Donald was a supporter, as well as a lot of the real estate people were," Stein said. "They have a huge interest in the city and have their needs."

Trump's donations were later cited by the organized crime task force's report as an example of the close financial relationships between developers and City Hall. "New York city real estate developers revealed how they were able to skirt the statutory proscriptions," the report said in a footnote. "Trump circumvented the State's $50,000 individual and $5,000 corporate contribution limits by spreading his payments among eighteen subsidiary companies."

Trump, then in his early 40s, said he made some donations to avoid hurting the feelings of friends, not to curry favor. "[Y]ou will have two or three friends running for the same office and they literally are all coming to you asking for help, and so it's a choice, give to nobody or give to everybody," according to his testimony at a 1988 hearing by the New York Commission on Government Integrity.

John Bienstock, the staff director of the Commission on Government Integrity at the time, recently told The Post that Trump took advantage of a loophole in the law. "They all did that," Bienstock said. "It inevitably leads to either the reality, or the perception, that approvals are being bought by political contributions."

As his ambitions expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, Trump had to contend with New York's Cosa Nostra in order to complete his projects. By the 1980s, crime families had a hand in all aspects of the contracting industry, including labor unions, government inspections, building supplies and trash carting.

"[O]rganized crime does not so much attack and subvert legitimate industry as exploit opportunities to work symbiotically with 'legitimate' industry so that 'everybody makes money,' " according to the organized crime task force report. "Organized crime and other labor racketeers have been entrenched in the building trades for decades."

In New York City, the mafia families ran what authorities called the "concrete club," a cartel of contractors that rigged bids and squelched competition from outsiders. They controlled the Cement and Concrete Workers union and used members to enforce their rules.

Nearly every major project in Manhattan during that period was built with mob involvement, according to court records and the organized crime task force report. That includes Trump Tower, the glittering 58-story skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, which was made of reinforced concrete.

"Using concrete, however, put Donald at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers," according to "Trump: The Deals and the Downfall" by investigative journalist Wayne Barrett.

For three years, the project's fate rested in part with the Teamsters Local 282, the members of which delivered the concrete. Leading the union was John Cody, who "was universally acknowledged to be the most significant labor racketeer preying on the construction industry in New York," according to documents cited by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice in 1989. Using his power to disrupt or shut down major projects, Cody extracted millions in "labor peace payoffs" from contractors, the documents said.

"Donald liked to deal with me through Roy Cohn," Cody said, according to Barrett.

Trump was subpoenaed by federal investigators in 1980 and asked to describe his relationship with Cody, who had allegedly promised to keep the project on track in exchange for an apartment in Trump Tower. Trump "emphatically denied" making such a trade, Barrett wrote.

Cody was later convicted on racketeering and tax-evasion charges.

The mob also played a role in the construction of Trump Plaza, the luxury apartment building on Manhattan's east side. The $7.8 million deal for concrete was reserved for S & A Concrete and its owners, court records show. The crime families did not advertise their role in S & A and the other contractors. But it was well known in the industry.

"They had to know about it," according to Jacobs, the lawyer who served on the organized crime task force. "Everybody knew about it."

While these building projects were underway in the early 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York authorities carried out an unprecedented investigation of the five New York crime families. Investigators relied on informants, court-authorized wiretaps and eavesdropping gear. Over five years, they gathered hundreds of hours of conversations proving the mob's reach into the construction industry.

On Feb. 26, 1985, Salerno and 14 others were indicted on an array of criminal activity, including conspiracy, extortion and "infiltration of ostensibly legitimate businesses involved in selling ready-mix concrete in New York City," the federal indictment said. Among the projects cited was Trump Plaza. Salerno and all but one of the others received terms of 100 years in prison.

Trump also dealt with mob figures in Atlantic City, where he was pressing to go into the casino business, according to court records, gaming commission reports and news accounts. One of these figures, Kenny Shapiro, was a former scrap metal dealer in Philadelphia turned real estate developer on the Jersey Shore. Shapiro also was an associate of the Scarfo crime organization, serving as a financier of mob activities in south Jersey and Philadelphia, according to a report by New Jersey authorities.

Shapiro worked closely with Daniel Sullivan, a Teamster who also was an FBI informant, documents show. Trump's brother once described him as a "labor consultant" on Trump projects in New York.

Shapiro and Sullivan leased land to Trump for the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. They also agreed to help bankroll the campaign of a Michael Matthews, a mayoral candidate the mob considered to be friendly to its interests. Matthews was elected, but he later went to prison on extortion charges related to an FBI sting operation and a $10,000 bribe.

After questions surfaced about the mob's possible involvement in Trump's proposal, the state gaming commission delayed approval of Trump's casino license and eventually told him to buy the land outright to avoid trouble. In commission hearings, Trump defended Shapiro and Sullivan, according to "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with these people," he said. "Most of them have been in Atlantic City for many, many years and I think they are well thought of."

Records show Trump was aware of mob involvement in Atlantic City. In confidential conversations with FBI agents who contacted him about his casino deal, Trump said "he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City," according to a copy of a an FBI memo obtained by the Smoking Gun.

Trump told the FBI that "he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City but he did not want to tarnish his family name."

Thanks to Robert O'Harrow Jr..

Friday, September 02, 2016

Did @RealDonaldTrump Join Investors with Reputed Mobs Ties on First Casino?

For years, Donald Trump has boasted that his casinos are free of the taint of organized crime, using this claim to distinguish his gambling ventures from competitors. But Trump's casinos turn out not to be so squeaky clean.

One of his prime Atlantic City developments, the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, relied on a partnership with two investors reputedly linked to the mob, prompting New Jersey regulators to force Trump to buy them out. And he employed a known Asian organized crime figure as a vice president at his Taj Mahal casino for five years, defending the executive against regulators’ attempts to take away his license, according to law enforcement officials.

As the famously brash developer now considers a run for the presidency, this history could complicate his efforts to project an image of a trusted power in the business world. It exposes a seamy underside to Trump's rise to fortune -- one that involved intimate links to unsavory characters.

As voters learn more about such links between Trump and reputed organized crime figures, "it will get more difficult for him," says John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. "Under that withering examination, his past associations and troubles will all emerge and could make it tough in a Republican primary."

In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” released to coincide with an earlier prospective presidential campaign, Trump boasted:

“One thing you can say about Trump, as the holder of a casino gaming license, is that I’m 100 percent clean -- something you can’t say with certainty about our current group of presidential candidates.”

Trump has sought to lean on such claims while sometimes intimating that industry competitors are themselves tainted by mob associations -- in order to saddle them with restrictions on their casino licenses.

On Oct. 5, 1993, Trump told a Congressional panel examining the rise of Indian casinos -- then, a rapidly emerging threat to Atlantic City -- that the proprietors were vulnerable to organized crime.

It is “obvious that organized crime is rampant,” Trump told the panel, according to a transcript, drawing a direct contrast to his own operations. “At the Taj Mahal I spent more money on security and security systems than most Indians building their entire casino, and I will tell you that there is no way the Indians are going to protect themselves from the mob.”

That broadside garnered Trump a reprimand from then-House Interior Committee Chairman George Miller, a California Democrat, who complained that he had never heard more irresponsible testimony. But Trump continued, predicting that Indian casinos would spawn “the biggest crime problem in the nation’s history.”

Trump’s neglected to mention that his initial partners on his first deal in Atlantic City reputedly had their own organized crime connections: Kenneth Shapiro was identified by state and federal prosecutors as the investment banker for late Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo according to reports issued by New Jersey state commissions examining the influence of organized crime, and Danny Sullivan, a former Teamsters Union official, is described in an FBI file as having mob acquaintances. Both controlled a company that leased parcels of land to Trump for the 39-story hotel-casino.

Trump teamed up with the duo in 1980 soon after arriving in Atlantic City, according to numerous news reports and his real estate broker on the deal, Paul Longo. The developer seized on a prime piece of property and partnered with Shapiro and Sullivan, but the state’s gambling regulators were concerned enough about Shapiro and Sullivan’s mob links that they required Trump to end the partnership and buy out their shares, according to several Trump biographies.

Trump's office did not respond to requests for comment. Both Sullivan and Shapiro died in the early 1990s.

Trump later confided to a biographer that the twosome were “tough guys,” relaying a rumor that Sullivan, a 6-foot, 5-inch bear of a man, killed Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters boss who disappeared in July 1975.

“Because I heard that rumor, I kept my guard up. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be friends with this guy.’ I’ll bet you that if I didn’t hear that rumor, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now,” Trump told Timothy L. O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald” and current national editor of The Huffington Post.

Trump told a different story to casino regulators who were deciding whether to grant him the lucrative gambling license. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these people,” he said about Shapiro and Sullivan during licensing hearings in 1982, according to "TrumpNation : The Art of Being The Donald." “Many of them have been in Atlantic City for many, many years and I think they are well thought of.”

Sullivan's unsavory reputation did not stop Trump from later arranging for him to be hired as a labor negotiator for the Grand Hyatt, a hotel project on Manhattan’s East Side, according to People magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Trump also introduced Sullivan to his own banker at Chase, though he declined to guarantee a loan to Sullivan, reported the L.A. Times.

Longo, the real estate broker Trump used in Atlantic City on the Trump Plaza deal, says he wasn’t aware of Shapiro or Sullivan having any mob ties, and insisted Trump didn’t have any problems at all obtaining his gaming license. “In AC, you always had to be careful who you were dealing with, but Donald did things on the level,” Longo told The Huffington Post. But Wayne Barrett’s biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,” alleges Trump considered using Shapiro as a go-between to deliver campaign contributions to Atlantic City mayor Michael Matthews, in violation of state law.

Casino executives are prohibited from contributing to Atlantic City political campaigns in New Jersey. Sullivan later claimed that he was present when Trump proposed funneling contributions through Shapiro. Trump denied the allegation in an interview with O’Brien. Matthews, who was later forced out of office and served time in prison for extortion, did not return calls from HuffPost.

Barrett also reported that Trump once met Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, front boss of the Genovese crime family, at the Manhattan townhouse of their mutual lawyer -- infamous J. Edgar Hoover sidekick Roy Cohn. The author explained that Salerno’s company supplied all the concrete used in the Trump Towers in New York.

At the time of its publication, Trump slammed Barrett's book as “boring, nonfactual and highly inaccurate.”

Barrett's book prompted New Jersey casino regulators to investigate some of its allegations, but the state never brought any charges. "If there had been a provable charge, they would have brought it,” said former casino commission chairman Steven P. Perskie.

While Trump was making his bold statements about the integrity of the Taj Mahal at the 1993 congressional hearing on Indian gaming, a reputed organized crime figure was running junkets for the hotel, bringing in well-heeled gamblers from Canada. Danny Leung, the hotel’s former vice president for foreign marketing, was identified by a 1991 Senate subcommittee on investigations as a member of the 14K Triad, a Hong Kong group linked to murder, extortion and heroin smuggling, according to the New York Daily News.

Canadian police testified at a 1995 hearing before New Jersey’s casino commission that they observed Leung working in illegal gambling dens in Toronto alongside Asian gang leaders. Leung, who denied any affiliation with organized crime, had his license renewed by the commission over the objection of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Back in the early 1980s, just as Trump was dipping his toes into Atlantic City real estate, the developer did express concern to the FBI that his casino ventures might expose him to the mob and “tarnish his family’s name.” He even offered to place undercover FBI agents in his casinos, according to an FBI memo uncovered by TheSmokingGun.com. When Trump asked one of the agents his “personal opinion” on whether he should build in Atlantic City, the agent replied that there were “easier ways that Trump could invest his money.”

That proved prescient: In early 2009, Trump’s casino company in Atlantic City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, just days after Trump resigned from the board.

Thanks to Marcus Baram

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sidney Korshak was The Myth, Mr. Silk Stockings, The Duke and The Fixer

Some mobsters get ridiculous nicknames.

The Clown.

No Nose.

The Weasel.

But others, like Chicago mob lawyer Sidney Roy Korshak, get nicknames more reflective of their importance.

To the rich and powerful, Korshak was "The Myth."

He was "Mr. Silk Stockings" and "The Duke."

And most appropriately, he was "The Fixer."

Korshak was the ultimate fixer, in Chicago and later in sunny California, where he thrived in the shadows.

Need a criminal case fixed? Call Korshak.

Teamsters threatening to cripple your business and they're not in a mood to negotiate? Call Korshak.

Looking for an investment to launder the blood out of your mobbed-up money?

You get the picture.

His life spanned much of last century, and in his heyday he was the ultimate bridge between big business, politicians, Hollywood, Las Vegas and the mob. When the mob needed a smooth operator to work in the worlds where rough-hewn Chicago mobsters wouldn't fit in, Korshak -- the brother of the late Chicago Democratic politician Marshall Korshak -- was the man of choice.

He was the velvet encasing the hammer.

He's now the subject of a new, exhaustive look at his exploits in investigative reporter Gus Russo's magnum opus:Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers.

Russo tackled the Chicago mob in his 2003 book The Outfit. In Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers he expands on that work of melding big business and organized crime.

Russo underscores the Outfit's desire to move a lot of its money into legitimate and quasi-legitimate businesses and investments, and the need of organized crime for legitimate-looking men to help smooth that transition.

No one would typify that more than Korshak, a product of Lawndale and DePaul University Law School who started representing mobsters in Chicago courthouses and ended up charging $50,000 a year as a retainer for "labor relations" for national businesses.

Early in the book, Russo does a masterful job of establishing the ethnic and political foundations for Korshak's beginnings in the Jewish section of the Lawndale neighborhood and in the 24th Ward of consummate machine politician Jacob Arvey.

In a neighborhood filled with young men hot for success, Korshak stood out. Russo shows how Korshak's friends from the same background would weave their way into Korshak's orbit again and again throughout his life, from MCA's Jules Stein to the Pritzker family, from mobster Alex Louis Greenberg to Appellate Court Justice David Bazelon.

Russo's ambition is to mark Korshak's place in the so-called Supermob of mainly Jewish lawyers and businessmen who often got a boost from mobsters early on in their careers and dealt with gangsters with varying degrees of involvement throughout their lives.

The amount of research in the book is staggering. It's a testament to Russo's doggedness to bring the full story to light, but it also turns into one of the book's main weaknesses.

Russo empties his notebooks into the tome. Some of the tales make for a good read but are ancillary. So his story, at times, gets away from him. Still other tales undermine the confidence one has in the reporting in the book. In one instance, Russo suggests Korshak is a man with a taste for teenage girls, with little to back it up. In another, Russo makes a convincing case for how former President Reagan had close ties to members of the Supermob, only to undermine it with innuendo.

Russo shows how Reagan carried out orders of the Supermob when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and effectively betrayed his own members in the 1950s to the benefit of Lew Wasserman's MCA. But then, Russo provides an account from the actress Selene Walters, who contends Reagan raped her one night. Two weeks later, Reagan married Nancy Davis, the woman who would become the first lady.

There are no interviews in the book with any of Walters' contemporaries at the time to see if she told them a similar story. There's no mention of any police report.

The accusation stands alone unsupported, and it's not worthy of the excellent reporting elsewhere in the book. Because salaciousness aside, Russo pulls plenty of substantive dirty deeds done by Korshak into the light.

Korshak would have cringed.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Here's What's Known about @realDonaldTrump's Reputed Mob Ties

In his signature book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump boasted that when he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City, he persuaded the state attorney general to limit the investigation of his background to six months. Most potential owners were scrutinized for more than a year. Trump argued that he was “clean as a whistle”—young enough that he hadn’t had time to get into any sort of trouble. He got the sped-up background check, and eventually got the casino license. But Trump was not clean as a whistle. Beginning three years earlier, he’d hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano. That story eventually came out in a federal investigation, which also concluded that in a construction industry saturated with mob influence, the Trump Plaza apartment building most likely benefited from connections to racketeering. Trump also failed to disclose that he was under investigation by a grand jury directed by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who wanted to learn how Trump obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan.

Why did Trump get his casino license anyway?
Why didn’t investigators look any harder?
And how deep did his connections to criminals really go?

These questions ate at me as I wrote about Atlantic City for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and then went more deeply into the issues in a book, Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business. In all, I’ve covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years, and in that time I’ve encountered multiple threads linking Trump to organized crime. Some of Trump’s unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven’t. And some of those links have continued until recent years, though when confronted with evidence of such associations, Trump has often claimed a faulty memory. In an April 27 phone call to respond to my questions for this story, Trump told me he did not recall many of the events recounted in this article and they “were a long time ago.” He also said that I had “sometimes been fair, sometimes not” in writing about him, adding “if I don’t like what you write, I’ll sue you.”
I’m not the only one who has picked up signals over the years. Wayne Barrett, author of a 1992 investigative biography of Trump’s real-estate dealings, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention, has tied Trump to mob and mob-connected men.

No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks. Professor Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said the closest historical example would be President Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, a bribery and bid-rigging scandal in which the interior secretary went to prison. But even that has a key difference: Harding’s associates were corrupt but otherwise legitimate businessmen, not mobsters and drug dealers.

This is part of the Donald Trump story that few know. As Barrett wrote in his book, Trump didn’t just do business with mobbed-up concrete companies: he also probably met personally with Salerno at the townhouse of notorious New York fixer Roy Cohn, in a meeting recounted by a Cohn staffer who told Barrett she was present. This came at a time when other developers in New York were pleading with the FBI to free them of mob control of the concrete business.

From the public record and published accounts like that one, it’s possible to assemble a clear picture of what we do know. The picture shows that Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.

Now that he’s running for president, I pulled together what’s known – piecing together the long history of federal filings, court records, biographical anecdotes, and research from my and Barrett’s files. What emerges is a pattern of business dealings with mob figures—not only local figures, but even the son of a reputed Russian mob boss whom Trump had at his side at a gala Trump hotel opening, but has since claimed under oath he barely knows.

Neither Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Hope Hicks, nor Jason Greenblatt, the executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, responded to several emailed requests for comment on the issues raised in this article.

Here, as close as we can get to the truth, is what really happened.

After graduating in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania, a rich young man from the outer boroughs of New York City sought his fortune on the island of Manhattan. Within a few years Donald J. Trump had made friends with the city’s most notorious fixer, lawyer Roy Cohn, who had become famous as lead counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy. Among other things Cohn was now a mob consigliere, with clients including “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, the most powerful Mafia group in New York, and Paul Castellano, head of what was said to be the second largest family, the Gambinos.

This business connection proved useful when Trump began work on what would become Trump Tower, the 58-story high-rise where he still lives when he’s not at his Florida estate.

There was something a little peculiar about the construction of Trump Tower, and subsequent Trump projects in New York. Most skyscrapers are steel girder construction, and that was especially true in the 1980s, says John Cross of the American Iron & Steel Institute. Some use pre-cast concrete. Trump chose a costlier and in many ways riskier method: ready-mix concrete. Ready-mix has some advantages: it can speed up construction, and doesn’t require costly fireproofing. But it must be poured quickly or it will harden in the delivery truck drums, ruining them as well as creating costly problems with the building itself. That leaves developers vulnerable to the unions: the worksite gate is union controlled, so even a brief labor slowdown can turn into an expensive disaster.

Salerno, Castellano and other organized crime figures controlled the ready-mix business in New York, and everyone in construction at the time knew it. So did government investigators trying to break up the mob, urged on by major developers such as the LeFrak and Resnick families. Trump ended up not only using ready-mix concrete, but also paying what a federal indictment of Salerno later concluded were inflated prices for it – repeatedly – to S & A Concrete, a firm Salerno and Castellano owned through fronts, and possibly to other mob-controlled firms. As Barrett noted, by choosing to build with ready-mix concrete rather than other materials, Trump put himself “at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers.”

Salerno and Castellano and other mob families controlled both the concrete business and the unions involved in delivering and pouring it. The risks this created became clear from testimony later by Irving Fischer, the general contractor who built Trump Tower. Fischer said concrete union “goons” once stormed his offices, holding a knife to throat of his switchboard operator to drive home the seriousness of their demands, which included no-show jobs during construction of Trump Tower. But with Cohn as his lawyer, Trump apparently had no reason to personally fear Salerno or Castellano—at least, not once he agreed to pay inflated concrete prices. What Trump appeared to receive in return was union peace. That meant the project would never face costly construction or delivery delays.

The indictment on which Salerno was convicted in 1988 and sent to prison, where he died, listed the nearly $8 million contract for concrete at Trump Plaza, an East Side high-rise apartment building, as one of the acts establishing that S &A was part of a racketeering enterprise. (While the concrete business was central to the case, the trial also proved extortion, narcotics, rigged union elections and murders by the Genovese and Gambino crime families in what Michael Chertoff, the chief prosecutor, called “the largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States.'')

FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family. The FBI believed that Cody previously had obtained free apartments from other developers. FBI agents suspected that Cody, who controlled the flow of concrete trucks, might get a free Trump Tower apartment. Trump denied it. But a female friend of Cody’s, a woman with no job who attributed her lavish lifestyle to the kindness of friends, bought three Trump Tower apartments right beneath the triplex where Donald lived with his wife Ivana. Cody stayed there on occasion and invested $500,000 in the units. Trump, Barrett reported, helped the woman get a $3 million mortgage without filling out a loan application or showing financials.

In the summer of 1982 Cody, then under indictment, ordered a citywide strike—but the concrete work continued at Trump Tower. After Cody was convicted of racketeering, imprisoned and lost control of the union, Trump sued the woman for $250,000 for alteration work. She countersued for $20 million and in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could “be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation” into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars. Trump said at the time and since then that he hardly knew those involved and there was nothing improper his dealings with Cody or the woman.

There were other irregularities in Trump’s first big construction project. In 1979, when Trump hired a demolition contractor to take down the Bonwit Teller department store to make way for Trump Tower, he hired as many as 200 non-union men to work alongside about 15 members of the House Wreckers Union Local 95. The non-union workers were mostly illegal Polish immigrants paid $4 to $6 per hour with no benefits, far below the union contract. At least some of them did not use power tools but sledgehammers, working 12 hours a day or more and often seven days a week. Known as the “Polish brigade,” many didn’t wear hard hats. Many slept on the construction site.

Normally the use of nonunion workers at a union job site would have guaranteed a picket line. Not at this site, however. Work proceeded because the Genovese family principally controlled the union; this was demonstrated by extensive testimony, documents and convictions in federal trials, as well as a later report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

When the Polish workers and a union dissident sued for their pay and benefits, Trump denied any knowledge that illegal workers without hard hats were taking down Bonwit with sledgehammers. The trial, however, demonstrated otherwise: Testimony showed that Trump panicked when the nonunion Polish men threatened a work stoppage because they had not been paid. Trump turned to Daniel Sullivan, a labor fixer and FBI informant, who told him to fire the Polish workers.

Trump knew the Polish brigade was composed of underpaid illegal immigrants and that S&A was a mob-owned firm, according to Sullivan and others. "Donald told me that he was having his difficulties and he admitted to me that — seeking my advice — that he had some illegal Polish employees on the job. I reacted by saying to Donald that 'I think you are nuts,'" Sullivan testified at the time. "I told him to fire them promptly if he had any brains." In an interview later, Sullivan told me the same thing.

In 1991, a federal judge, Charles E. Stewart Jr., ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty, or duty of loyalty, to the workers and their union and that the “breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in his breach.” The judge did not find Trump’s testimony to be sufficiently credible and set damages at $325,000. The case was later settled by negotiation, and the agreement was sealed.

While Trump’s buildings were going up in Manhattan, he was entering a highly regulated industry in New Jersey – one that had the responsibility, and the means, to investigate him and bring the facts to light.

From the beginning, Trump tried to have it both ways. While he leveraged Roy Cohn’s mob contacts in New York, he was telling the FBI he wanted nothing to do with organized crime in Atlantic City, and even proposed putting an undercover FBI agent in his casinos. In April of 1981, when he was considering building a New Jersey casino, he expressed concern about his reputation in a meeting with the FBI, according to an FBI document in my possession and which the site Smoking Gun also posted. “Trump advised Agents that he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City,” the FBI recorded. “Trump also expressed at this meeting the reservation that his life and those around him would be subject to microscopic examination. Trump advised that he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City but he did not wish to tarnish his family’s name.”

Part of the licensing process was supposed to be a deep investigation into his background, taking more than a year for would-be casino owners, but Trump managed to cut that short. As he told the story in Trump: The Art of the Deal, in 1981 he threatened to not build in Atlantic City unless New Jersey’s attorney general, John Degnan, limited the investigation to six months. Degnan was worried that Trump might someday get approval for a casino at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, which could have crushed Atlantic City’s lucrative gaming industry, so Degnan agreed to Trump’s terms. Trump seemingly paid Degnan back by becoming an ardent foe of gambling anywhere in the East except Atlantic City—a position that obviously protected his newfound business investment as well, of course.

Trump was required to disclose any investigations in which he might have been involved in the past, even if they never resulted in charges. Trump didn’t disclose a federal grand jury inquiry into how he obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan. The failure to disclose either that inquiry or the Cody inquiry probably should have disqualified Trump from receiving a license under the standards set by the gaming authorities.

Once Trump was licensed in 1982, critical facts that should have resulted in license denial began emerging in Trump’s own books and in reports by Barrett—an embarrassment for the licensing commission and state investigators, who were supposed to have turned these stones over. Forced after the fact to look into Trump’s connections, the two federal investigations he failed to reveal and other matters, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement investigators circled the wagons to defend their work. First they dismissed as unreliable what mobsters, corrupt union bosses and Trump’s biggest customer, among others, had said to Barrett, to me and other journalists and filmmakers about their dealings with Trump. The investigators’ reports showed that they then put Trump under oath. Trump denied any misconduct or testified that he could not remember. They took him at his word. That meant his casino license was secure even though others in the gambling industry, including low-level licensees like card dealers, had been thrown out for far less.

This lapse illustrated a fundamental truth about casino regulation at the time: Once the state licensed an owner, the Division of Gaming Enforcement had a powerful incentive not to overturn its initial judgment. State officials recited like a mantra their promise that New Jersey casinos were the most highly regulated business in American history, more tightly regulated than nuclear power plants. In Temples of Chance, I showed that this reputation often owed less to careful enforcement than to their willingness to look the other way when problems arose.

In 1986, three years after Trump Tower opened, Roy Cohn was disbarred for attempting to steal from a client, lying and other conduct that an appellate court found “particularly reprehensible.” Trump testified that Cohn, who was dying from AIDS, was a man of good character who should keep his license to practice law.

This was not the only time Trump went to bat publicly for a criminal. He has also spoken up for Shapiro and Sullivan. And then there was the case of Joseph Weichselbaum, an embezzler who ran Trump’s personal helicopter service and ferried his most valued clientele. Trump and Weichselbaum were so close, Barrett reported in his book, that Weichselbaum told his parole officer about how he knew Trump was hiding his mistress, Marla Maples, from his first wife, Ivana, and tried to persuade Trump to end their years-long affair.

Trump’s casinos retained Weichselbaum’s firm to fly high rollers to Atlantic City. Weichselbaum was indicted in Ohio on charges of trafficking in marijuana and cocaine. The head of one of Trump’s casinos was notified of the indictment in October 1985, but Trump continued using Weichselbaum—conduct that again could have cost Trump his casino license had state regulators pressed the matter, because casino owners were required to distance themselves from any hint of crime. Just two months later Trump rented an apartment he owned in the Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan to the pilot and his brother for $7,000 a month in cash and flight services. Trump also continued paying Weichselbaum’s firm even after it went bankrupt.

Weichselbaum, who in 1979 had been caught embezzling and had to repay the stolen money, pleaded guilty to two felonies. Donald Trump vouched for Weichselbaum before his sentencing, writing that the drug trafficker is “a credit to the community” who was “conscientious, forthright, and diligent.” And while Weichselbaum’s confederates got as many as 20 years, Weichselbaum himself got only three, serving 18 months before he was released from the urban prison that the Bureau of Prisons maintains in New York City. In seeking early release, Weichselbaum said Trump had a job waiting for him.

Weichselbaum then moved into Trump Tower, his girlfriend having recently bought two adjoining apartments there for $2.4 million. The cash purchase left no public record of whether any money actually changed hands or, if it did, where it came from. I asked Trump at the time for documents relating to the sale; he did not respond.

As a casino owner, Trump could have lost his license for associating with Weichselbaum. Trump has never been known to use drugs or even drink. What motivated him to risk his valuable license by standing up for a drug trafficker remains unclear to this day. Trump, in his phone call to me, said he “hardly knew” Weichselbaum.

The facts above come from court records, interviews and other documents in my own files and those generously made available by Barrett, who was the first journalist to take a serious investigative look at Trump. Our files show Trump connected in various deals to many other mobsters and wise guys.

There was, for example, Felix Sater, a senior Trump advisor and son of a reputed Russian mobster, whom Trump kept on long after he was convicted in a mob-connected stock swindle. And there was Bob Libutti, a racehorse swindler who was quite possibly Trump’s biggest customer at the casino tables at the time. Libutti told me and others about arrangements that went beyond the “comps”—free hotel rooms and services, for example—that casinos can legally give to high-rollers. Among these was a deal to sell Trump a less-than-fit horse at the inflated price of $500,000, though Trump backed out at the last minute. Libutti accused Trump of making an improper $250,000 payment to him, which would have cost Trump his license. The DGE dismissed Libutti as unreliable and took Trump at his word when he denied the allegations. (Libutti was a major figure in my 1992 book Temples of Chance.)

Some of the dealings came at a remove. In Atlantic City, Trump built on property where mobsters controlled parts of the adjoining land needed for parking. He paid $1.1 million for about a 5,000-square-foot lot that had been bought five years earlier for just $195,000. The sellers were Salvy Testa and Frank Narducci Jr., a pair of hitmen for Atlantic City mob boss Nicky Scarfo who were known as the Young Executioners. For several adjoining acres, Trump ignored the principal owner of record and instead negotiated directly in a deal that also likely ended up benefiting the Scarfo mob. Trump arranged a 98-year lease deal with Sullivan, the FBI informant and labor fixer, and Ken Shapiro, described in government reports as Scarfo’s “investment banker.” Eventually the lease was converted into a sale after the Division of Gaming Enforcement objected to Sullivan and Shapiro being Trump’s landlords.

Trump later boasted in a sworn affidavit in a civil case that he made the deals himself, his “unique contribution” making the land deals possible. In formal hearings Trump later defended Sullivan and Shapiro as “well thought of.” Casino regulators thought otherwise, and banned Sullivan and Shapiro from the casino industry. But the Casino Control Commission was never asked to look into FBI reports that Trump was involved, via Shapiro, in the payoffs at the time of the land deals that resulted in Mayor Michael Mathews going to prison.

Thanks in part to the laxity of New Jersey gaming investigators, Trump has never had to address his dealings with mobsters and swindlers head-on. For instance, Barrett reported in his book that Trump was believed to have met personally with Salerno at Roy Cohn’s townhouse; he found that there were witnesses to the meeting, one of whom kept detailed notes on all of Cohn’s contacts. But instead of looking for the witnesses (one of whom had died) and the office diary one kept, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) took an easier path. They put Trump under oath and asked if he had ever attended such a meeting. Trump denied it. The inquiry ended.

Taking Trump at his word that he never met with the mobsters in Cohn’s townhouse saved the casino investigators from having to acknowledge their earlier failure—that from the start, they had never properly investigated Trump and his connections to criminals. They certainly had the leverage to push harder if they chose. Indeed, two of the five Casino Control commissioners in 1991 declared that the DGE showed official favoritism to Trump. Commissioner David Waters complained that DGE did not go nearly far enough in seeking a $30,000 fine against Trump for taking an illegal loan from his father, which could be grounds to revoke Trump’s casino licenses. Waters called it “an outrage that the Division of Gaming Enforcement would take this position and fail to carry out what I understand to be its responsibility to enforce the provisions of the Casino Control Act.”

Even after he got his license, Trump continued to have relationships that should have prompted inquiries. For example, he made a deal to have Cadillacs dolled up with fancy interiors and exteriors beginning in 1988, marketing them as Trump Golden Series and Trump Executive Series limousines. The modifications were made at the Dillinger Coach Works, which was owned by a pair of convicted felons, convicted extortionist Jack Schwartz and convicted thief John Staluppi, who was so close to mobsters that he was invited to the wedding of a mob capo’s daughter. New York liquor regulators proved tougher than those in New Jersey, denying Staluppi, a rich car dealer, a license because of his rap sheet and his extensive dealings with mobsters, as Barrett’s former reporting partner Bill Bastone found in public records. So why did Trump repeatedly do business with mob owned businesses and mob-controlled unions? Why go down the aisle with an expensive mobbed-up concrete firm when other options were available?

“Why’d Donald do it?” Barrett said when I put the question to him. “Because he saw these mob guys as pathways to money, and Donald is all about money.” From a $400 million tax giveaway on his first big project, to getting a casino license, to collecting fees for putting his name on everything from bottled water and buildings to neckties and steaks, Trump’s life has been dedicated to the next big score. Through Cohn, Trump made choices that—gratuitously, it appears—resulted in his first known business dealings with mob-controlled companies and unions, a pattern that continued long after Cohn died.

What Trump has to say about the reasons for his long, close and wide-ranging dealings with organized crime figures, with the role of mobsters in cheating Trump Tower workers, his dealings with Felix Sater and Trump’s seeming leniency for Weichselbaum, are questions that voters deserve full answers about before casting their ballots.

Thanks to David Cay Johnston.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sidney Korshak and The Mafia's Shadow Men

In their quest to assemble fragments of the past into a coherent explanation for why things happened as they did, historians tend to take one of two paths.

Some stick to the deeds of kings, presidents and famous military commandersSupermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, agreeing with Thomas Carlyle that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." Others contend that the engines of history are really to be found in the anonymous multitudes, whose collective needs and capabilities determine the overarching economic, technological and social realities that shape the world and its future. And then there is a third notion, usually discredited but always seductive, that history is the product of a different breed of great men: the kind who plot their schemes in dark shadows and keep their identities secret. Such a man was Sidney Korshak.

For someone who never got convicted of so much as jaywalking and evaded public notice for nearly his whole life, Korshak had serious clout with powerful men. Having launched his legal career by representing the heirs to the Capone mob in Chicago, he was the kind of man who could come to Las Vegas during a Teamsters conference and have Jimmy Hoffa tossed out of the presidential suite so he could occupy it himself. His occasional mistress, Jill St. John, the 1960s Hollywood "It" girl, would reportedly turn down Henry Kissinger's invitations to the White House by saying, "Sorry, I have an invitation from someone more important." His preternatural abilities as a Hollywood fixer have been credited with enabling the production of "The Godfather," in which the non-Italian consigliere character played by Robert Duvall is thought by some to be based on Korshak. Together with men such as entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, tax lawyer Abe Pritzker and real estate speculator Paul Ziffren, Korshak represented the clean face of a dirty business, according to "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers," Gus Russo's book. He was the bridge between Mafia hoodlums and the white-collar world.

Russo, an investigate reporter who has written about the Chicago Outfit in depth before, sets out here to tell the story of the mostly Jewish lawyers who were recruited by Italian mobsters and eventually came to surpass their original paymasters in money and power. He begins in Chicago's West Side, home to Russian Ashkenazic Jews who had fled the late 19th century pogroms and were determined to protect themselves from becoming victims again. "They were always aware that their wealth and position in society could be noticed and another pogrom would ensue. Thus they worked surreptitiously, choosing to focus on the substrata of a business or event." In an era when Jews were barred from the white-shoe firms, where they might otherwise have made lucrative careers, these often brilliant men became integral parts of the Mafia's attempts to extend their westward reach into legitimate enterprises, ranging from casinos to hotel chains to real estate to the Hollywood studios. In the process, Russo contends, the underworld laid its tentacles on many great men of the more famous variety -- especially in California, where the Chicago Outfit's front men played significant roles in the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others.

Drawing heavily from FBI case files and countless interviews, Russo opts for thoroughness rather than a breezy prose style to make his case. The weight of evidence can make the book slow going at times, but it adds up to a compelling picture of the exercise of power in the 20th century. As a labor negotiator who eschewed written notes and mysteriously solved seemingly intractable problems with one or two phone calls from the table of his favorite Los Angeles bistro -- often reaping sweetheart deals for management from unions that had been infiltrated by hoods -- Korshak sat at the center of a wide, corrupt and stupendously profitable web. And while it can be hard to work up much outrage over the details of labor racketeering, stock swindles and real estate fraud, the human costs of such things can be heartbreaking. Russo's chapter on the shameless plundering of the assets of imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II, presided over by a bevy of Korshak's associates, is particularly stirring.

As an exercise in history, "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" is a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the "American century." Holding back from wild-eyed conspiracy theories, Russo documents unsettling connections between yesterday's underworld and a corporate oligarchy that has never been more ascendant than it is today, partly because it has adopted some of the same schemes with a still greater degree of sophistication. The conditions that spawned Korshak and his ilk have changed considerably, but only to be replaced by the likes of Enron and WorldCom. How many new Korshaks are thriving among us now, taking care to leave behind no paper trail? People like to say that history is written by the victors. What happens when the real winners have burned all their notes?

Thanks to Trey Popp

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