"Heady days for crime cartels
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.
“Organized crime does not so much attack and subvert legitimate industry as exploit opportunities to work symbiotically with ‘legitimate’ industry so that ‘everybody makes money,’ ” the organized crime task force’s report found. “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’s 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,” the investigative journalist Wayne Barrett wrote in “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”
For three years, the project’s fate rested in part with 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 FBI 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 who became a 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 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 that 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.”