Election 2016

Trump's Wealth Built on Stiffing Scores of Contractors, Businesses and Employees for Years, Report Finds

A pattern of not paying bills in full is traced.

Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com

A major investigation by USA Today has revealed one of the sordid secrets to the profit making in Donald Trump’s business empire: don’t pay your bills in full, whether from small businesses, contractors or even the lawyers you’ve hired to stonewall them.

The overall ugly picture that emerges goes far beyond Trump’s use of bankruptcy court, where debts can be forgiven or restructured depending on their category and type of federal bankruptcy filing. What’s most provocative about USA Today’s reporting, which goes beyond previous accounts of the same tactics or his mob connections, is how Trump has a longstanding pattern of ignoring his bills and walking away from debts owed contractors and employees.

“At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments and other government filings reviewed by the USA Today Network, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work,” the newspaper wrote Friday. “Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.”

That summation is the tip of a later iceberg, and one that should make Trump’s white, working-class followers shudder—because he has a habit of stiffing blue-collar laborers.

“In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens—filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work—since the 1980s,” USA Today wrote. “The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.”

Trump’s real record in business matters greatly because it is the only lens into what kind of a manager and executive he actually is, rather than the made-for-reality-TV pose he strikes on the campaign trail. The same goes for Trump’s federal taxes, which he has refused to release, as those would show many other details about how he manages money and whether he even pays any income taxes. He might not, as real estate is a field filled with ways to declare losses and depreciate assets in order to offset tax liabilities.

USA Today sums up Donald Trump as an businessman who repeatedly doesn't pay his bills and relentlessly fights paying in court. It wrote, “The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.”

Trump and other family members responded to USA Today reporters, with the Republican presidential nominee characterizing the examples given as “a long time ago.” But the paper noted that's not true, as “new cases are continuing.” For example, “Just last month, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 servers at his Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a special event. The settlements averaged about $800 for each worker and as high as $3,000 for one, according to court records. Some workers put in 20-hour days over the 10-day Passover event at Trump National Doral Miami, the lawsuit contends. Trump’s team initially argued a contractor hired the workers, and he wasn’t responsible, and counter-sued the contractor demanding payment.”

There are many such examples. Digging deeper into that one, a lawyer for the stiffed workers said this is the way the Trump organization operates. USA Today quotes Rod Hannah, of Plantation, Florida, the lawyer who represented the workers. “Trump could have settled it right off the bat, but they wanted to fight it out, that’s their M.O.”

Ivanka Trump, who works with her candidate father, told USA Today these disputes are a small slice of their thousands of monthly payments, adding, “It would be irresponsible if my father paid contractors who did lousy work. And he doesn’t do that.”

You can be sure Americans will be hearing a lot more about Trump’s real record in business in coming months, as it is a telling counterpoint to his “make America great” meme. He didn’t make the lives of these tradesmen and businesses great, he made them miserable, and in many cases these solo operators and family-owned businesses did not survive after losing thousands to billionaire Trump.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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