Here’s a snippet from an interview Donald Trump gave to CBS This Morning’s Norah O’Donnell:
Trump: “I’m the king of debt…Nobody knows debt better than me. I’ve made a fortune by using debt. And if things don’t work out, I renegotiate the debt. I mean, that’s a smart thing, not a stupid thing.”
O’Donnell: “How do you renegotiate the debt?”
Trump: “Because you go back and you say, ‘Hey guess what, the economy crashed. I’m going to give you back half.’ I like debt for me.”
You'd guess from that exchange that Trump had made savvy, and perhaps unethical, use of bankruptcy, which he essentially admits to. What he doesn’t acknowledge about his affection for debt is that all too often it seems to come at the expense of small-business owners who can’t afford it.
A recent USA Today investigation found Trump businesses have been at the center of nearly 3,500 lawsuits since the 1980s. An awful lot of those are filings from mom-and-pop vendors, little guy laborers and even white-shoe law firms who all charge that Trump accrues debt through the old-fashioned method of simply not paying his bills. Many say Trump's methods have hobbled or destroyed the businesses that took them lifetimes and generations to build.
There are hundreds of people and entities Trump allegedly owes money, and since financial transparency isn’t exactly his forte, there’s likely zero chance all of them will become publicly known. Nor can they be compiled into a single listicle. But for just a few examples of those who contend he has cheated, lied and strong-armed them out of their just due, here’s a list of 10 people who say Trump owes them money.
1. Architect Andrew Tesoro.
During the first presidential debate, Clinton referred to an architect in the audience who had been been short-changed by Trump, a charge the GOP nominee didn’t deny, but instead countered by stating, “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.” The architect in question is Andrew Tesoro, whose five-person firm designed the clubhouse for a Trump golf course in Westchester, New York. In an interview with Forbes in July, Tesoro said that after four years of work on a project that nearly doubled in size per Trump’s request, he was owed $140,000. Instead of paying him, Trump’s team of legal bulldogs bullied him into accepting a mere $50,000, a bill that remained outstanding past its due date. In a final face-to-face meeting with Trump himself, Tesoro was offered just $25,000. Advised by Trump’s lawyer that resource-draining litigation would be dragged out as long as possible, Tesoro accepted the paltry offer. His work must not have been too shabby since Trump, on company letterhead, described Tesoro as “a fine architect with great imagination and spirit. He did a great job for me.”
Tesoro, for obvious reasons, is going with Clinton this election, and appeared in a campaign ad where he recounts the story.
2. Cabinet-maker Edward Friel Jr.
According to USA Today, Friel was contracted to “build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah's at Trump Plaza” in Atlantic City. When the job was finished in 1984, the elder Friel’s son, Paul, the accountant for the family company, sent the Trump Organization a final invoice for $83,600. Instead of payment, Paul says his father was summoned to a meeting with Trump, during which he basically said the company had done a crappy job and he wouldn’t be paying the debt. Oddly, according to the story, the general contractor on the job had approved the work, and Trump invited Friel back to do more work. Advised by a lawyer that litigation would drain precious time and money, Edward Friel struggled financially to continue. He was ultimately forced to fold the company, founded by his own father, and filed for bankruptcy in 1989.
3. Paint store owner Juan Carlos Enriquez.
After two years of nonpayment on a $30,000 bill, the proprietor of the Paint Spot sued for work completed on the Trump National Doral Miami golf club. Here’s how USA Today says that went:
In courtroom testimony, the manager of the general contractor for the Doral renovation admitted that a decision was made not to pay The Paint Spot because Trump “already paid enough.” As the construction manager spoke, “Trump’s trial attorneys visibly winced, began breathing heavily, and attempted to make eye contact” with the witness, the judge noted in his ruling. That, and other evidence, convinced the judge The Paint Spot’s claim was credible.
The club has been ordered to be shuttered and sold, with the funds going to Enriquez. Trump’s lawyers have filed an appeal, delaying payment.
4. Dishwasher Guy Dorcinvil.
The USA Today investigation discovered that Dorcinvil, a dishwasher at Trump’s Palm Beach resort Mar-A-Lago, filed a lawsuit in federal court. In court papers highlighted by Think Progress, Dorcinvil claimed that despite routinely putting in more than 40 hours a week, he was never paid time and a half. In an out-of-court settlement, Mar-a-Lago paid Dorcinvil $7,500, an amount that, on a dishwasher’s salary, is fairly massive. The USA Today report notes that “terms of the settlement agreement includes a standard statement that Mar-a-Lago does not admit fault.”
5. A group of singing children.
Maybe you remember the USA Freedom Kids, a trio of three little girls who performed at a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida, singing a song filled with “U-S-A!” chants that really got the audience clapping on and off beat, ugh. Anyway, the campaign told Jeff Popick, the guy who started the group, writes the songs and is father of the lead singer that they couldn’t be paid for their performance but that the girls could set up a table to sell merchandise. Team Trump neglected to actually provide said table, and all their merchandise was stolen out of their car in the parking lot of the venue while they were onstage. The group also took a red-eye to a Trump gig in Iowa (they’re from Florida) that was canceled at the last minute.
Popick says they were never reimbursed for the flight, rental car or hotel, and were told not to do any press, which was sort of the point to begin with. The Daily Beast reports Popick tried to get money out of the Trump team for nine months before he finally turned to a lawyer. The lyric “President Donald Trump knows how to make America great," has reportedly been cut from their signature song.
6. Two hundred undocumented Polish workers.
In 1980, a Trump contractor hired the “Polish Brigade,” a group of roughly 200 undocumented Polish laborers, to demolish an old building that stood where the billionaire planned to erect Trump Towers. In a 1998 New York Times article, one worker says they “worked in horrid, terrible conditions,'' and the Atlantic has reported “workers didn’t wear hard hats and often slept at the site.” For their work, Politifact has established they were paid $4 to $5 an hour, under the table, and no overtime.
After years of not being paid, the workers sued Trump for $1 million. Despite Trump's claims that he didn’t know they were undocumented, a judge ruled in favor of the workers, alleging that Trump took part in a "conspiracy" to bilk the laborers out of their due. He appealed, tying up the case for another decade, with charges now estimated at $4 million. In 1999, Trump settled the case out of court, and the records are now sealed. Bemoaning the whole debacle, one worker told the Times, “'We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights.''
7. Nearly everyone involved in the construction of Taj Mahal Casino.
Proclaimed the "eighth wonder of the world” by Trump, Taj Mahal Casino opened in Atlantic City in 1990. One year later, it filed for bankruptcy. In a look back at the story, the Washington Post notes that while seeking approval for the project, Trump touted his name recognition as a guarantee he would have an easy time getting bank loans. (“I’m talking about banking institutions, not these junk bonds, which are ridiculous,” Trump reportedly stated in a transcript from a licensing hearing. “The funny thing with junk bonds is that junk bonds [are] what really made the companies junk.”)
Once the project got the go-ahead, Trump financed it using $900 million in high-interest junk bonds—precisely the method he’d said he would avoid. By the time the venue opened, according to USA Today, “Trump’s companies owed a total of $69.5 million to 253 subcontractors on the Taj Mahal project.” Though not a personal filing, the convoluted intertwining of Trump’s personal and business finances meant he would have to sell off his 282-foot yacht, his airline and 50 percent of his casino holdings. A number of vendors were ultimately forced to take pennies on the dollar.
8. Many banks and other financial institutions, including Bank of China.
According to the New York Times, a deep dig “into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House.” Among those entities the Times identifies as lenders are Goldman Sachs “a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton.” The list of those owed money includes Bank of China, a major financial institution in the country Trump said in 2011 he would address thusly: "Listen you motherf**kers, we're gonna tax you 25 percent."
9. The very lawyers who protect him from having to pay anyone.
Trump actually sued New York-based law firm Morrison Cohen—which USA Today reports had “fought contractors over payments and other issues” on his behalf—twice: once because he said their fees were too high (“I have a Ph.D. in legal fees. I know when fees are fair and when they are not,” he told the New York Law Journal), and once because he didn’t want them using his name in PR materials (“They put my name up all over their ads like I’m in love with them, and I really don’t like them,” Trump told the New York Post). The firm countersued, claiming Trump owed them $500,000.
Virginia law firm Cook, Heyward, Lee, Hopper & Feehan reportedly also sued Trump for a debt they said amounted to $94,511. Both cases were settled out of court.
10. Trump's campaign staff.
In September, the Washington Post reported on a mass exodus of campaign staffers from Trump's D.C.-area office (based in Alexandria, Virginia) just after the Republican National Convention. A primary reason cited by many the Post spoke to was that they weren’t paid by the campaign. The agreements, which staffers said were honor-based and never put in writing, reportedly went totally unfulfilled.
“It’s a complete disaster. They use and abuse people,” one ex-staffer reportedly told Post writer Josh Rogin. “The policy office fell apart in August when the promised checks weren’t delivered.”
“There were some people who were treating it as a full-time job,” another told Rogin. “I suspect that those people were quite astonished when the pay didn’t come through.”
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign said that no oral agreements for payment were ever made and that campaign operations naturally shifted to New York City after the RNC.
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