Politics & Policy

Donald Trump’s Business Career Has Been One of Bullying Ordinary Citizens

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Donald Trump’s pitch to American voters can be summed up as “I’ve been wheeling and dealing all my life. In pursuit of personal advancement, I have made ‘great deals’ to build my company and my net worth. Elect me president of the United States and I will place those talents and services at your disposal.”

To many, it’s a compelling argument. Rather than another weak-kneed politician, America would have a CEO president — a titan of industry who could run a tight ship; a Gordon Gekko out to make America strong and rich again.

But how many Americans are aware of the grimy details of Trump’s famously #winning record?

And how many know that Donald J. Trump’s vaunted “business” career is marked less by innovative, hard-charging business acumen, and more by good old-fashioned bullying? As one might expect, Trump claims to represent the interests of the blue-collar citizenry of this country. But his business record reveals a man with a penchant for persecuting the little man — or even the little old lady:

Trump Asks the Government to Take Out an Atlantic City Widow

If there was ever an example of a caddish play, it was Trump’s persecution of five-foot-three-inch-tall Atlantic City widow, Vera Coking.

In 1961, Coking bought a modest three-story house on Columbia Place in Atlantic City a short walk off the boardwalk. She raised her children in that house. She made a life in that house. For 25 years, Vera Coking lived in that house while Atlantic City began its transformation into a Jersey-style version of Vegas, complete with mega casinos and their billionaire owners.

In the early ’80s, Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione offered Coking a cool million dollars for her property, which he wanted to raze to make way for a casino. She refused.

RELATED: Donald Trump: Thin-Skinned Tyrant

Unfortunately for her, the story didn’t end there. As the Washington Post reports, no sooner had Coking turned Guccione down, than Donald Trump — in the middle of building his giant Trump Plaza casino — moved in for the kill. Trump offered to buy the property — he wanted to turn Coking’s house into limousine parking – but, again, the sturdy woman refused his bid: The house wasn’t for sale.

And so, because nothing could be permitted to stand in the way of his ambition, Trump began playing hardball — with a widow.

This was her “dream house,” said Dana Berliner, an attorney with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm that represented Coking in her case against Trump and Atlantic City’s casino development authority. “She was a very determined person,” Berliner said. …

Coking held firm, even as the 22-story Trump Plaza soared outside her windows with its ever-flashing lights. The house was deteriorating, but Coking’s will wasn’t. Demolition crews had set fire to her roof, broken windows and smashed up much of the third floor, according to her attorneys. Still, she didn’t move.

In May 1994, Coking got a letter from the city’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority offering her $250,000 — a quarter of what Guccione had offered a decade before — and threatening to use eminent domain powers to take control of the property if she didn’t take the deal, according to a summary of the case by the Institute of Justice.

Trump was very much in favor of using the government’s eminent-domain power, a power that — until the Supreme Court’s scurrilous Kelo decision — was intended to (as a last resort) allow the government to forcibly acquire property from private owners for “public use.” By no reasonable interepretation could Trump’s limousine parking lot be charactized as “public use”; on the contrary, it was for Trump’s use and Trump’s use alone. Robert VerBruggen summed up the situation well in a recent National Review piece: “[Trump] has a track record of using the government as a hired thug to take other people’s property.”

RELATED: Dear Trump Voters, Your Darling Is a Two-Timing Cad

Coking fought Trump and the development authority in court, until, eventually, the New Jersey Superior Court finally threw out the case. “The court ruled that the casino and Trump were wrong,” wrote the Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia. “The government couldn’t take Coking’s house and let Trump have it.”

Coking, according to the New York Daily News, called Trump a “maggot, a cockroach, and a crumb” for his behavior in the ordeal.

Vera Coking — still going strong – is now past 90 years old; she faced down the Donald’s bullying and lived to tell the tale.

Trump Ran a Scam University, Cheating Students Out of Thousands of Dollars

If there is one thing that Donald Trump knows how to sell, it’s his reputation as a real-estate mogul. (What else, after all, was the premise of NBC’s The Apprentice?) But when little people attempted to learn from the master — to, in effect, become Trump’s apprentices — he screwed them.

As National Review’s Jillian Kay Melchior has extensively reported, in 2005 Trump set up an unlicensed educational venture he christened “Trump University.”

Trump promised to teach enrollees the secrets to his real-estate success. But, in reality, the venture was just a shakedown.

A class-action lawsuit in California and an ongoing civil suit brought by New York State allege that the now-defunct Trump University, later known as the Trump Entrepreneur Institute, defrauded up to 5,000 students, who paid as much as $35,000 to learn Trump’s real-estate investment strategies and techniques.

The students were told that they would be learning from “hand-picked” real-estate professionals. Moreover, they were pressured into paying for more expensive seminars where they were led to believe that Trump would personally impart his business secrets.

Instead, after spending thousands of dollars on the seminars, some attendees were taken on tours of dilapidated Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Some of the students were offered the opportunity to take pictures with Trump — or, rather, with a cardboard cut-out of the Donald.

Trump promised to teach enrollees the secrets to his real-estate success. But, in reality, the venture was just a shakedown.

While Trump’s people claimed that the courses were conducted “in a first-class manner and that the materials were high-quality and first-rate,” one attendee, Richard Hewson, wrote in an affidavit: “We concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the [organization’s] free seminar and three-day workshop . . . The whole thing was a scam.”

In October 2014, Reuters reported that a New York judge had ruled Trump “personally liable for operating a for-profit investment school without the required license.”

Trump University reportedly earned nearly $40 million in revenue before its unceremonious shuttering — with some students paying as much as $35,000 to attend the seminars.

Donald Trump may claim to mentor his “apprentices” on TV, but in the real world — he just screws them.


Trump Used Illegal Immigrants to Build Trump Tower — and Then Cheated Them

Donald Trump claims he will shut down illegal immigration — thereby protecting those low-skilled American workers whose wages and jobs are imperiled by the influx. What he doesn’t tell his audiences, however, is that he has employed illegal immigrants on various projects over the years, including the construction of his empire’s crown jewel: Trump Tower.

“We worked in horrid, terrible conditions,” Mr. Kozak said of the six months he spent in 1980 wielding a sledgehammer and a blowtorch in demolishing the Bonwit Teller Building on Fifth Avenue to make way for Trump Tower. “We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights.”

Mr. Kozak, like other laborers on that job, has no hope of collecting about $4,000 in back wages from a contracting company that began the demolition and later became insolvent. But after almost two decades, the demolition workers are still struggling to compel Mr. Trump and his business associates to compensate a union’s welfare funds and thus increase pension and medical benefits for some of the Polish workers.

Nearly 200 Poles — nicknamed the “Polish Brigade” — worked twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime and were paid irregularly (if at all), according to the New York Times; almost two decades later many of the Polish men Trump cheated were still trying to make him pay up.

“They were undocumented and worked ‘off the books,’” Manhattan federal Judge Charles Stewart said of the Polish Brigade. “No records were kept, no Social Security or other taxes were withheld.”

During the trial, Trump denied knowing that illegal immigrants had been working on his property, despite the fact that members of the Polish Brigade were easily distinguishable (they didn’t wear hardhats). Even more damning, many of the Poles testified that Trump’s people threatened the Polish Brigade with deportation if any “caused trouble.”

RELATED: The Art of the Deal-Breaker

The presiding judge found that Trump, his partner, and the contractor on the job, engaged in a “conspiracy” and that “[Trump] knew the Polish workers were working ‘off the books,’ that they were doing demolition work, that they were non-union, that they were paid substandard wages with no overtime pay, and that they were paid irregularly if at all”; the appeals court found that if it was true that Trump and his associates did not know he was employing illegal immigrants on his job “they should have known.”

The case was finally settled in 1999 — 19 years after demolition work began and 16 years after the suit was filed.

Trump, of course, now rails against illegal immigration, calling it a “wrecking ball aimed at U.S. taxpayers.”

Trump Loves Vets — Unless They Get in His Way

Donald Trump loves America’s veterans — or at least that’s what he tells us – going so far as to skip the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses in order to run his own show and raise funds for veterans’ charities.

But Trump’s championing of veterans may just be a campaign ploy, as his past actions have rarely matched his current rhetoric.

Forbes’s Emily Canal found that the billionaire developer donated only $57,000 to veterans organizations through his foundation between 2009 and 2013. To put that in perspective, the Trump Foundation donated nearly $5.5 million in total in that period, including between $100,001 and $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

EDITORIAL: Against Trump

Worse, Trump’s tight-fistedness pales in comparison to the way he treated veterans trying to earn an honest living.

Beginning in the years after the Civil War, New York granted special licenses to veterans who wanted to set up street-vending stalls. As any visitor to the Big Apple can see, many veterans have taken advantage of the special licensing program. But Donald J. Trump wanted the veterans out of sight: “Do we allow Fifth Ave., one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?” Trump wrote in a 1991 letter to John Dearie, the chairman of the state assembly’s Committee on Cities.

Michael Daly of the Daily Beast reports that Trump was “still at it in 2004” when he wrote a letter to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg pleading for the end to the veterans’ street stalls.

“Whether they are veterans or not, they [the vendors] should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street,” Trump declared.

He warned, “The image of New York City will suffer… I hope you can stop this very deplorable situation before it is too late.”

The state Legislature had originally accorded a special vendor’s license to disabled veterans in the aftermath of the Civil War. Trump and other moneyed folks were not able to get the vendors banned, but the authorities did cap the total number of veterans with special licenses and restrict the number who could work on particular streets at a given time.

Peddlers were largely banned from Fifth Avenue, but they continued to sell their wares on the side streets.

Donald Trump is all for veterans — unless they ruin his fabulous views of Trump Tower.


A single incident could be explained away as a one-off, an anomaly. Two or three or four incidents? That’s a pattern. And the pattern is clear: Donald Trump bullied his way through life. To Trump, the livelihoods, property rights, or expectations of fairness of the “little people” didn’t matter a wit in his pursuit of wealth and power.

#related#Trump implies that his record of ruthlessness is exactly what America needs: Vote in the man who didn’t hesitate in trying to muscle a little old lady out of the way for a limousine parking lot and he will outwit the Mexicans and the Chinese and the Saudis and Make America Great Again.

But what evidence do we have that Trump is finished being a bully? Sure, he says he’s ready to act in the interests of the most vulnerable Americans; sure, he says he will only push our enemies around; sure, he says that his less-than-ethical business practices will be used going forward only to make America rich.

But with a record like that, why exactly should any of us believe him? Donald Trump wants you to take his word for it, America.

Are we that gullible?


The Latest