Donald Trump has operated amid a swamp of corruption, self-dealing, and outright criminality ever since his real estate–developer father gifted him his first millions. For almost as long, Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett dogged Trump’s dirty deals. In this exposé from October of 1993, Barrett reveals how, in 1988, as a favor to Trump, then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani quashed an investigation into the shady financing of Trump Tower. Barrett uncovers a tale of a mobster looking to purchase an apartment with dubious financing while the Donald, of course, looks the other way, and even signs a six-figure bond for the numbers ring chief who would soon be on trial for murder and running a multimillion-dollar gambling empire out of his Trump Tower digs. Despite the convicted criminal later defaulting on his mortgage, the Trump organization termed him one of the complex’s “best tenants.” As Barrett reports:
Tony Lombardi, the G-man who thought the G in his unofficial government title stood for Giuliani, single-handedly conducted a low-profile probe of Donald Trump in early 1988, closing it despite evidence of fraud and an informant who said he could implicate the supposed billionaire. … Within a few weeks of Lombardi’s two face-to-face, hour-long interviews with Trump about his alleged involvement in the suspect sale of two Trump Tower apartments to the mob-connected operator of the city’s largest illegal gambling operation, the developer announced in May 1988 news stories that he could raise $2 million in a half hour if the the then U.S. Attorney decided to run for mayor.
Besides Trump and Giuliani — who, at the time this article was written, was in the midst of a mayoral run — the cast of characters also includes the notorious fixer Roy Cohn and various high-rollers enjoying Mike Tyson fights in Atlantic City.
As usual, Barrett seeks answers to questions that mobsters and crooked developers wish he had never asked. Every New Yorker has dealt with a credit check when they’re looking to rent or purchase an apartment. Here’s how Barrett describes the successful 1984 application of Robert Hopkins, the gambler who was one of Trump’s earliest tenants:
Accompanying Hopkins’s bank application were two purported tax returns, describing Hopkins as “a wholesale jeweler and Russian enamel dealer” and claiming a 1982 income of $563,000 and a 1983 income of $616,000. The problem is that the state prosecutors who convicted him on gambling charges a couple of years later could find no evidence that he had any job or reportable income in either year. In addition, the tax preparer who supposedly signed the returns sold his business after suffering a totally disabling stroke in January 1983, three months before the first return was executed. However, Hopkins’s mortgage broker, Frank LaMagra, had forged the name of the same incapacitated accountant on the 1983 tax returns of another mob associate of his, Louie “Ha Ha” Attanasio, and wound up convicted of conspiracy and aiding and abetting the submission of materially false returns a few years later. …To complete this bizarre transaction, Hopkins came to the closing with a suitcase containing between $150,000 and $200,000 in cash, which he sat counting at the far end of the Trump Tower conference table. Trump himself paid a visit to the assembled group, saying hello to Hopkins …
As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details, and Barrett was one of the first to give detailed briefs to the public on Trump’s endlessly shady business practices.