Politics & Policy

The Definitive Roundup of Trump’s Scandals and Business Failures

(Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty)

Given their number and scale, it can be difficult to keep track of all of Donald Trump’s many scandals and debacles. And so, for those whose heads are still spinning, here is a comprehensive roundup of the man’s disastrous record:

1973: The Department of Justice’s racial-bias case against Trump’s real-estate company

Trump Management Inc. was accused of discriminating against minorities seeking housing at the company’s properties in Brooklyn and Queens. Two government-sanctioned undercover “testers,” one black woman and one white woman, posed as potential renters in 1972. The black woman was told nothing was available, but a short while later the white woman was offered a choice between two available Trump apartments. Federal investigators found that Trump employees marked applications from minorities with codes and allegedly steered blacks and Puerto Ricans away from buildings with majority-white tenants.

DOJ lawyers filed a case in 1973 accusing Trump Management, along with Trump and his father, Fred C. Trump, of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Trump claimed he didn’t want the government to force him to rent to welfare recipients. Eventually he and his father reluctantly agreed to the judge’s order to place ads in local newspapers proclaiming their properties equally open to minorities. Trump Management also had to agree to end discriminatory practices, and he and his father had to “thoroughly acquaint themselves” with the Fair Housing Act.

1983–1985: New Jersey Generals, a failed U.S. Football League team

Before Trump bought the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, the league briefly enjoyed some attention in its 1982 inaugural season. But near the year’s end, that attention flagged. Trump purchased the Generals in 1983 for a reported $9 million. But the league lost $30 million by the fall. Trump’s Generals improved their winning record the following year, but the league continued to struggle financially.

In a bid to attract attention, Trump lobbied to move USFL games to the fall to compete directly with the NFL (the USFL had played its season in the spring specifically to avoid the more established National Football League). The NFL commanded the TV networks, however, so with Trump’s lawyers, the league filed a $1.69 billion antitrust and monopoly lawsuit against the NFL. The jury ruled that the NFL had a monopoly, but also that the USFL contributed to its downfall with overspending. The jury awarded the USFL $3 — yes, three dollars — in damages, and the league folded.

1988–1992: Trump Airlines

Trump obtained a $380 million loan from 22 small banks in order to acquire a profitable division of the shaky Eastern Airlines. The division became Trump Airlines, officially named Trump Shuttle, Inc., and it never earned a profit. Trump defaulted on his loans in 1990. As owner, he invested in flashy technology and his signature luxury décor for the airplanes, while disregarding the real needs of his customers and falling victim to the high price of jet fuel during the first Iraq War. Trump Airlines ceased operation in April 1992.

1989–1990: Trump: The Game (board game) (revived in 2005)

Milton Bradley joined Trump to release “Trump: The Game.” Players’ goal is to make the best real-estate deals. The game undersold in its first year, but Trump justified its rerelease 15 years later with the success of the Trump-helmed The Apprentice reality-TV show.

1990: Failure to pay contractors for Taj Mahal hotel and casino

While Trump spent $1 million every week on extravagant personal expenses, he cheated builders out of more than $60 million for work on his Atlantic City, N.J., property. The team of construction firms and suppliers that built the Taj Mahal hotel and casino struggled to overcome their losses, with some firms approaching bankruptcy: Marty Rosenberg, then–vice president of Atlantic Plate Glass, said Trump owed his company about $1.5 million in late payments for a glass job on the hotel.

Rosenberg formed a committee of construction firms and suppliers defrauded by Trump. He then helped lead the committee’s efforts to procure from Trump what he owed them. Atlantic Plate Glass lost almost half a million dollars in the settlement, and Rosenberg suffered personal financial loss. Trump inveigled Rosenberg and the committee into accepting 20 cents on the dollar of their original agreement. The settlement allowed Trump to dodge an involuntary-bankruptcy lawsuit, but months later he filed for the first of his four bankruptcies.

1991: Trump Plaza’s violation of anti-discrimination laws in order to please Trump’s Mafia-connected pal

Robert LiButti, a famous horse breeder, was banned from New Jersey casinos after his connection to Mafia boss John Gotti was revealed. LiButti’s daughter Edith Creamer said her father and Trump had been comrades: gambling buddies, flying together in Trump’s helicopter, and partying on his yacht. New Jersey state regulators discovered their relationship while investigating allegations by nine Trump Plaza employees that the hotel had booted blacks and women from craps tables after LiButti complained about them. Trump Plaza was fined $200,000 for violating state anti-discrimination laws. Trump claimed he barely knew LiButti, but Creamer maintained that she flew in Trump’s helicopter and partied on his yacht with him and her father.


1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009: Trump’s Four bankruptcies

First bankruptcy: Banks that had financed Trump’s real-estate investments bailed him out with $65 million in additional loans and credit. Nevertheless, nine months later, with Trump nearly $4 billion in debt, he filed for bankruptcy for his Taj Mahal casino.

Second bankruptcy: Trump was personally leveraged to almost $1 billion.

Third bankruptcy: Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts filed for bankruptcy. Trump paid $72 million out of pocket.

Fourth bankruptcy: The same company, renamed Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., filed for bankruptcy again.

RELATED: Trump, Lies, and Bankruptcy

1977–1992, 1992–1999: Trump’s two divorces and adultery

Trump’s marriage to Ivana Zelníčková ended after his affair with actress Marla Maples was discovered. He then married Maples, and divorced her seven years later, before marrying current wife Melania in 2005. Trump has also repeatedly bragged about sleeping with married women.

2005–2011: Trump University scam

Trump University was not a university — the New York State Education Department filed a lawsuit against it for operating without a NYSED license. (Its name was changed to the “Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.”) Trump is now the defendant in two class-action lawsuits filed in California along with one filed in New York by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who called the institution a “scam.” A New York court has refused Trump’s lawyers’ request to throw the case out. Now one California plaintiff, yoga instructor Tarla Makaeff, wants to withdraw from the suit, citing stress and health problems, but Trump’s lawyers won’t have it. Makaeff claims she was scammed out of $60,000.

The New York lawsuit alone represents 5,000 victims, and there are more.

Prospective students were lured by a free seminar, which was really the first part of a bait-and-switch scheme that led to attendees’ being pressured into increasingly expensive seminars, starting with a three-day, $1,495 seminar and culminating with a $35,000 “Gold Elite” program.

RELATED: Yes, Trump University Was a Massive Scam

Trump University advertised Trump’s “handpicked” instructors, access to hard-money lenders, and an improved credit score. These advertisements proved false.

Richard Hewson says he paid over $20,000 “for nothing.” In a series of anti-Trump ads by super PAC American Future Fund, Bob said the institution didn’t honor its promise to give him a list of hard-money lenders; Kevin said Trump U “ruined” his credit score — in fact, students were told to lie to credit-card companies; and Sherri said the Trump U was not supervised or run by Donald Trump, but was “just a fake.”

And not a single instructor was “handpicked” by Trump; many came from non–real estate backgrounds, and some were downright shady — including motivational speakers and a felon. The “school” didn’t even craft a curriculum.

2006: Trump sued a journalist for libel and lost, badly

Years before Trump vowed on the campaign trail to “open up libel” laws in order make it easier for him to sue news outlets, he tried invoking the reigning libel laws to sue a journalist for questioning his net worth. He went to court with Timothy L. O’Brien, then a business reporter at the New York Times. In 2005, O’Brien used estimates from people knowledgeable about Trump’s finances to argue Trump was worth between $150 million and $250 million — much less than the $6 billion Trump purported to be worth at the time.

RELATED: The Litigious — and Bullying — Mr. Trump

Trump sued O’Brien, claiming harm to his business and seeking $5 billion in damages. Trump spent more than $1 million in legal fees over the course of five years. He conceded, under questioning from O’Brien’s attorneys during a deposition, that he had consulted his own feelings to determine his net worth. Needless to say, he lost the suit. 

2006–2007: GoTrump.com

GoTrump was a Travelocity-powered search engine for customers seeking luxury-travel deals, such as discounts on private jets. It supposedly featured Trump’s personal recommendations and travel tips, but — recalling the “handpicked” faculty at Trump U — one doubts their authenticity. Called a “vanity site” by one financial analyst, it shut down a year later.

2006–2007: Trump Mortgage

The man Trump hired to head his mortgage company called himself a top Wall Street executive, when in fact he had lackluster banking credentials. The company folded in a year. But don’t worry — when running the country, Trump will hire “the best people.”

2006–2011: Trump Vodka

Trump “super premium” vodka was launched under the now-ironic slogan “Success Distilled.” The vodka ended production when the company didn’t meet threshold sales requirements.

2006–2015: American Communications Network boondoggle

For nine years, Trump appeared in promotional videos hawking ACN’s “revolutionary products” such as the company’s videophone. But the business model of ACN, a telecommunications company based on multi-level marketing, was almost indistinguishable from a pyramid scheme. ACN sales agents received a commission for selling a product to a new customer, and then recruited that customer to become a new sales agent, earning commissions from their sales down the line.

RELATED: Trump’s Multi-Level Marketing Telecom Endorsement Is Another Example of His Terrible Judgement

Regulators in Canada and Australia flagged the company, but courts there concluded that ACN was not operating a pyramid scheme. In the United States, however, ACN was ordered to cease and desist on the grounds that it appeared to be running a pyramid scheme by Montana regulators (the fault was eventually determined to rest with individual ACN representatives and not with the company’s business model, though the company did agree to provide additional training to its representatives).

Furthermore, despite a plug on The Celebrity Apprentice, the videophone was already selling poorly, partly because it was compatible only with other ACN videophones. The company reduced phone orders from its supplier, which laid off 70 percent of its staff and later filed to liquidate in federal bankruptcy court.


2007–2008: Trump Steaks

You’d expect Trump-approved beef to at least be sprinkled with gold flakes. Alas, when Trump paraded “his” steaks at a post-primary-night press conference on March 8, the meat had been purchased directly from Bush Brothers Provisions and dubbed “Trump Steaks.” In fact, the steaks sold at Trump’s properties and clubs arrived still wrapped in Bush Brothers packaging. These were not the Trump Steaks that had been sold by the Sharper Image beginning in 2007 — steaks that sold very poorly before being discontinued; this business venture was not, shall we say, well done.

2007–2009: Trump magazine

This glossy quarterly of Trump self-aggrandizement folded in 2009 — the magazine Trump recently hurled into a campaign-speech audience was not, as he asserted, a Trump magazine, and you won’t find it at newsstands. Unsurprisingly, Trump magazine featured Trump or a Trump family member on almost every cover.

2009–2011: Trump Network

The Trump Network was another failed multi-level-marketing venture that was arguably a pyramid scheme. It sold customized vitamins based on urine samples collected by its “scientific” testing kits. Not only is this junk science, but the network worked on a bogus marketing strategy in which buyers become sellers and earn commission on their recruits’ sales, as with ACN. After financial troubles the company was sold in 2012 — and recruiters shouldered the losses.

RELATED: Add Another Yuuge Failure to Trump’s Pile: The Trump Network

2010: Foreign workers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and elsewhere

Back in 1991, Trump hired 200 illegal-immigrant Polish workers to demolish the building on the site of the future Trump Tower. More recently, since 2010 he pursued 500 visas for foreign workers at Palm Beach’s Mar-a-Lago resort, passing over hundreds of American applicants for the same jobs. Trump-owned companies have tried to import 1,100 workers on temporary visas since 2000. Trump Model Management and Trump Management Group LLC have also imported 250 fashion models, his current wife Melania among them.

RELATED: Donald Trump Thinks American Workers Aren’t Good Enough for the Trump Organization

2016: Wealthy Chinese investing cash in Trump Tower in exchange for visas

It’s no wonder that Trump continually warns of China’s “stealing” American jobs — yet again, he has facilitated the very thing he denounces. A Chinese-subtitled video was produced to entice Chinese investors to finance Trump Bay Street, a Trump-branded tower in New Jersey. About one-quarter of the $50 million raised by the project constitutes loans through the controversial EB-5 visa program, which offers overwhelmingly Chinese foreigners a two-year visa in exchange for a minimum $500,000 investment in an American project. Some EB-5 applicants are cleared in under a month, and critics argue that the program threatens national security. They further ague that it amounts to selling visas to wealthy foreigners who lack proven skills.

2016: Trump’s campaign manager allegedly assaults Breitbart reporter

Video and audio recordings, a picture of bruising, and a Washington Post reporter’s eyewitness account support Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields’s claim that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski yanked her arm at a Trump press conference, leaving bruises and nearly knocking her over. Lewandowski and Trump both accused Fields of fabricating the story and have refused to apologize. Fields and several other Breitbart staff resigned from the Trump-friendly news company when it failed to back her.

RELATED: Here’s How the Donald Trump Campaign and Trump’s Lackeys Smeared Michelle Fields


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