Legal affairs of Donald Trump
Over the course of his career, Trump has been involved in a number of lawsuits, including at least 169 lawsuits in U.S. federal courts and many more in state courts, including over 150 lawsuits in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida (covering Broward County, Florida) since 1983.
Trump and his companies have been both plaintiffs and defendants in various legal cases, with topics ranging from contract disputes to defamation claims. On a number of occasions, Trump has threatened legal action but did not ultimately follow through. James Copland, director of legal policy at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, states that "Trump clearly has an affinity for filing lawsuits, partly because he owns a lot of businesses" and has sometimes used litigation as a "bullying tactic." Of Trump's involvement in many lawsuits, his lawyer Alan Garten said in 2015 that this was "a natural part of doing business in [the United States]."
Trump initially came to public attention in 1973 when he was accused by the Justice Department of violations of the Fair Housing Act in the operation of 39 buildings. The government alleged that Trump's corporation quoted different rental terms and conditions to blacks and made false "no vacancy" statements to blacks for apartments they managed in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
Representing Trump, Cohn filed a counter-suit against the government for $100 million, asserting that the charges were irresponsible and baseless. The counter-suit was unsuccessful. Trump settled the charges out of court in 1975 without admitting guilt, saying he was satisfied that the agreement did not "compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant." The corporation was required to send a bi-weekly list of vacancies to the New York Urban League, a civil rights group, and give them priority for certain locations. Several years later (in 1978) the Trump Organization was again in court for violating terms of the 1975 settlement; Trump denied the charges and there is no indication that he was found guilty.
In 1985, New York City brought a lawsuit against Donald Trump for allegedly using tactics to force out tenants of 100 Central Park South, which he intended to demolish together with the building next door. After ten years in court, the two sides negotiated a deal allowing the building to stand as condominiums.
In 1988, the Justice Department sued Donald Trump for violating procedures related to public notifications when buying voting stock in a company related to his attempted takeovers of Holiday Corporation and Bally Manufacturing Corporation in 1986. On April 5, 1988, Trump agreed to pay $750,000 to settle the civil penalties of the antitrust lawsuit.
In late 1990, Donald Trump was sued $2 million by a business analyst for defamation, and Trump settled out of court. Briefly before Trump's Taj Mahal opened in April 1990, the analyst had said that the project would fail by the end of that year. Trump threatened to sue the analyst's firm unless the analyst recanted or was fired. The analyst refused to retract the statements, and his firm fired him for ostensibly unrelated reasons. Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy in November 1990, the first of several such bankruptcies. After, the NYSE ordered the firm to compensate the analyst $750,000; the analyst did not release the details of his settlement with Donald Trump.
In 1991, Donald Trump sued the manufacturers of a helicopter that crashed in 1989, killing three executives of his New Jersey hotel casino business. The helicopter fell 2,800 feet after the main four-blade rotor and tail rotor broke off the craft, killing Jonathan Benanav, an executive of Trump Plaza, and two others: Mark Grossinger Etess, president of Trump Taj Mahal, and Stephen F. Hyde, chief executive of the Atlantic City casinos. Since one of the defendants was allegedly owned by the Italian government, the case moved to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case in 1992.
Trump Plaza was fined $200,000 in 1991 by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for moving African-American and female employees from craps tables in order to accommodate high roller Robert LiButti, a mob figure and alleged John Gotti associate, who was said to fly into fits of racist rage when he was on losing streaks. There is no indication that Trump was ever questioned in that investigation, he was not held personally liable, and Trump denies even knowing what LiButti looked like.
In 1991, one of Trump's casinos in Atlantic City, NJ, was found guilty of circumventing state regulations about casino financing when Donald Trump's father bought $3.5 million in chips that he had no plans to gamble. Trump Castle was forced to pay a $30,000 fine under the settlement, according to New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director Jack Sweeney. Trump was not disciplined for the illegal advance on his inheritance, which was not confiscated.
In 1993, Donald Trump sued Jay Pritzker, a Chicago financier and Trump's business partner since 1979 on the Grand Hyatt hotel. Trump alleged that Pritzker overstated earnings in order to collect excessive management fees. In 1994, Pritzker sued Trump for violating their agreement by, among other ways, failing to remain solvent. The two parties ended the feud in 1995 in a sealed settlement, in which Trump retained some control of the hotel and Pritzker would receive reduced management fees and pay Trump's legal expenses.
Vera Coking sued Trump and his demolition contractor for damage to her home during construction of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. In 1997, she dropped the suit against Trump and settled with his contractor for $90,000. Coking had refused to sell her home to Trump and ultimately won a 1998 Supreme Court decision which prevented Atlantic City from using eminent domain to condemn her property.
In the late 1990s, Donald Trump and rival Atlantic City casino owner Stephen Wynn engaged in an extended legal conflict during the planning phase of new casinos Wynn had proposed to build. Both owners filed lawsuits against one another and other parties, including the State of New Jersey, beginning with Wynn's antitrust accusation against Trump. After two years in court, Wynn's Mirage casino sued Trump in 1999 alleging that his company had engaged in a conspiracy to harm Mirage and steal proprietary information, primarily lists of wealthy Korean gamblers. In response, Trump's attorneys claimed that Trump's private investigator dishonored his contract by working as a "double agent" for Stephen Wynn's Mirage casino by secretly taping conversations with Trump. All the cases were settled at the same time on the planned day of an evidentiary hearing in court in February 2000, which was never held.
In 2000, Donald Trump paid $250,000 to settle fines related to charges brought by New York State Lobbying Commission director David Grandeau. Trump was charged with circumventing state law to spend $150,000 lobbying against government approval of plans to construct an Indian-run casino in the Catskills, which would have diminished casino traffic to Trump's casinos in Atlantic City.
In 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought a financial-reporting case against Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., alleging that the company had committed several "misleading statements in the company's third-quarter 1999 earnings release." Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. consented to the Commission's cease-and-desist order, said the culprit had been dismissed, and that Trump had personally been unaware of the matter.
Trump sued Leona Helmsley, and Helmsley counter-sued Trump due to contentions regarding ownership and operation of the Empire State Building. In 2002, Trump announced that he and his Japanese business partners, were selling the Empire State Building to partners of his rival Leona Helmsley.
In 2004, Donald Trump sued Richard T. Fields in Broward County Circuit Court (in Florida); Fields was once Trump's business partner in the casino business, but had recently become a successful casino developer in Florida apart from Trump. Fields counter-sued Trump in Florida court. Trump alleged that Fields misled other parties into believing he still consulted for Trump, and Fields alleged improprieties in Trump's business. The two businessmen agreed in 2008 to drop the lawsuits when Fields agreed to buy Trump Marina in Atlantic City, N.J. for $316 million, but the deal was unsettled again in 2009 because Trump resigned his leadership of Trump Entertainment after Fields lowered his bid. Fields never bought the company, which went into bankruptcy about the same time and was sold for $38 million. Trump's lawsuit was dismissed after a hearing in 2010.
In 2006, the town of Palm Beach began fining Trump $250 per day for ordinance violations related to his erection of an 80-foot-tall (24 m) flagpole flying a 15 by 25 feet (4.6 by 7.6 m) American flag on his property. Trump sued the town for $25 million, saying that they abridged his free speech, also disputing an ordinance that local businesses be "town-serving". The two parties settled as part of a court-ordered mediation, in which Trump was required to donate $100,000 to veterans' charities. At the same time, the town ordinance was modified allowing Trump to enroll out-of-town members in his Mar-a-Lago social club.
In 2008, Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit for alleged fraud and civil rights violations against the California city of Rancho Palos Verdes, over thwarted luxury home development and expansion plans upon part of a landslide-prone golf course in the area, which was purchased by Trump in 2002 for $27 million. Trump had previously sued a local school district over land leased from them in the re-branded Trump National Golf Club, and had further angered some local residents by renaming a thoroughfare after himself. The $100 million suit was ultimately withdrawn in 2012 with Trump and the city agreeing to modified geological surveys and permit extensions for some 20 proposed luxury homes (in addition to 36 homes previously approved). Trump ultimately opted for a permanent conservation easement instead of expanded housing development on the course's driving range.
In 2009, Donald Trump sued a law firm he had used, Morrison Cohen, for $5 million for mentioning his name and providing links to related news articles on its website. This lawsuit followed a lawsuit by Trump alleging overcharging by the law firm, and a countersuit by Morrison Cohen seeking unpaid legal fees. The suit was dismissed in a 15-page ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten, who ruled that the links to news articles concerned "matters of public interest."
In 2009, Trump was sued by investors who had made deposits for condos in the canceled Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico. The investors said that Trump misrepresented his role in the project, stating after its failure that he had been little more than a spokesperson for the entire venture, disavowing any financial responsibility for the debacle. Investors were informed that their investments would not be returned due to the cancellation of construction. In 2013, Trump settled the lawsuit with more than one hundred prospective condo owners for an undisclosed amount.
In 2004, the Trump Organization partnered with Bayrock Group LLC on a $200 million hotel and condo project in Fort Lauderdale Beach, to be called Trump International Hotel & Tower. After proceeding five years, real estate market devaluation stymied the project in 2009 and Trump dissolved his licensing deal, demanding that his name be removed from the building. Soon after this, the project defaulted on a $139 million loan in 2010. Investors later sued the developers for fraud. Trump petitioned to have his name removed from the suit, saying he had only lent his name to the project. However his request was refused since he had participated in advertising for it. The insolvent building project spawned over 10 lawsuits, some of which were still not settled in early 2016.
After the 2008 housing-market collapse, Deutsche Bank attempted to collect $40 million that Donald Trump personally guaranteed against their $640 million loan for Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. Rather than paying the debt, Trump sued Deutsche Bank for $3 billion for undermining the project and damage to his reputation. Deutsche Bank then filed suit to obtain the $40 million. The two parties settled in 2010 with Deutsche Bank extending the loan term by five years.
In 2011, Donald Trump sued Scotland, alleging that it built the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm after assuring him it would not be built. He had recently built a golf course there and planned to build an adjacent hotel. Trump lost his suit, with the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom unanimously ruling in favor of the Scottish government in 2015.
Also in 2011, an appellate court upheld a New Jersey Superior Court judge's decision dismissing Trump's $5 billion defamation lawsuit against author Timothy L. O'Brien, who had reported in his book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald (2005), that Trump's true net worth was really between $150 and $250 million. Trump had reportedly told O'Brien he was worth billions and, in 2005, had publicly stated such. Trump said that the author's alleged underestimation of his net worth was motivated by malice and had cost him business deals and damage to his reputation. The appellate court, however, ruled against Trump, citing the consistency of O'Brien's three confidential sources.
In 2013, in a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Trump was accused of defrauding more than 5,000 people of $40 million for the opportunity to learn Trump's real estate investment techniques in a for-profit training program, Trump University, which operated from 2005 to 2011. Trump ultimately stopped using the term "University" following a 2010 order from New York regulators, who called Trump's use of the word "misleading and even illegal"; the state had previously warned Trump in 2005 to drop the term or not offer seminars within New York. Although Trump has claimed a 98% approval rating on course evaluations, former students recounted high-pressure tactics from instructors seeking the highest possible ratings, including threats of withholding graduation certificates, and more than 2,000 students had sought and received course refunds before the end of their paid seminars. In a separate class action civil suit against Trump University in mid-February 2014, a San Diego federal judge allowed claimants in California, Florida, and New York to proceed; a Trump counterclaim, alleging that the state Attorney General's investigation was accompanied by a campaign donation shakedown, was investigated by a New York ethics board and dismissed in August 2015. Trump filed a $1 million defamation suit against former Trump University student Tarla Makaeff, who had spent about $37,000 on seminars, after she joined the class action lawsuit and publicized her classroom experiences on social media. Trump University was later ordered by a U.S. District Judge in April 2015 to pay Makaeff and her lawyers $798,774.24 in legal fees and costs.
Trump sued comedian Bill Maher for $5 million in 2013. Maher had appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and had offered to pay $5 million to a charity if Trump produced his birth certificate to prove that Trump's mother had not mated with an orangutan. This was said by Maher in response to Trump having previously challenged Obama to produce his birth certificate, and offering $5 million payable to a charity of Obama's choice, if Obama produced his college applications, transcripts, and passport records. Trump produced his birth certificate and filed a lawsuit after Maher was not forthcoming, claiming that Maher's $5 million offer was legally binding. "I don't think he was joking," Trump said. "He said it with venom." Trump withdrew his lawsuit against the comedian after eight weeks.
In 2014, the former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin ultimately settled a $5 million arbitration judgment against her, having been sued by Trump after alleging that the Miss USA 2012 pageant results were rigged. Monnin wrote on her Facebook page that another contestant told her during a rehearsal that she had seen a list of the top five finalists, and when those names were called in their precise order, Monnin realized the pageant election process was suspect, compelling Monnin to resign her Miss Pennsylvania title. The Trump Organization's lawyer said that Monnin's allegations had cost the pageant a lucrative British Petroleum sponsorship deal and threatened to discourage women from entering Miss USA contests in the future. According to Monnin, testimony from the Miss Universe Organization and Ernst & Young revealed that the top 15 finalists were selected by pageant directors regardless of preliminary judges' scores. As part of the settlement, Monnin was not required to retract her original statements.
In 2014, model Alexia Palmer filed a civil suit against Trump Model Management for promising a $75,000 annual salary but paying only $3,380.75 for three years' work. Palmer, who came to the US at age 17 from Jamaica under the H-1B visa program in 2011, claimed to be owed more than $200,000. Palmer contended that Trump Model Management charged, in addition to a management fee, "obscure expenses" from postage to limousine rides that consumed the remainder of her compensation. Trump attorney Alan Garten claims the lawsuit is "bogus and completely frivolous." Palmer has now filed a class-action lawsuit against the modeling agency with similar allegations. If approved, the class could include up to 250 other foreign fashion models whom Trump Model Management and another Trump company, Trump Management Group LLC, has attempted to bring to the US since 2000, or up to 1,100 foreign workers for whom Trump's companies filed visa paperwork since 2000 to be employed temporarily as waitresses, cooks, vineyard workers, laborers, managers, superintendents, and fashion models, including at least 850 H-2B visa applications for workers from Mexico.
In 2015, Trump sued Univision, demanding $500 million for breach of contract and defamation when they dropped their planned broadcast of the Miss USA pageant. The decision was made because of Trump's "insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants", according to the network's announcement. Trump settled the lawsuit with Univision CEO Randy Falco out of court.
In 2015, Trump initiated a $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County claiming that officials, in a "deliberate and malicious" act, pressured the FAA to direct air traffic to the Palm Beach International Airport over his Mar-a-Lago estate, because he said the airplanes damaged the building and disrupted its ambiance. Trump had previously sued the country twice over airport noise; the first lawsuit, in 1995, ended with an agreement between Trump and the county; Trump's second lawsuit, in 2010, was dismissed.
In July 2015, Trump filed a $10 million lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court for breach of contract against Spanish celebrity chef José Andrés, claiming that he backed out of a deal to open the flagship restaurant at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Andrés replied that Trump's lawsuit was "both unsurprising and without merit" and filed an $8 million counterclaim against a Trump Organization subsidiary.
Also in July 2015, Chef Geoffrey Zakarian also withdrew from the Washington, D.C., project with Andrés in the wake of Trump's comments on Mexican illegal immigrants, and is expected to lose his own $500,000 restaurant lease deposit as a result. Trump denounced and then sued Zakarian in August 2015 for a sum "in excess of $10 million" for lost rent and other damages. Trump's lawsuit called Zakarian's offense at his remarks "curious in light of the fact that Mr. Trump's publicly shared views on immigration have remained consistent for many years, and Mr. Trump's willingness to frankly share his opinions is widely known."
Trump is suing the town of Ossining, New York over the property tax valuation on his 147-acre Trump National Golf Course, located in Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, which Trump purchased for around $8 million at a foreclosure sale in the 1990s and to which he claimed, at the club's opening, to have added $45 million in facility improvements. Although Trump stated in his 2015 FEC filing that the property was worth at least $50 million, his lawsuit seeks a $1.4 million valuation on the property, which includes a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse, five overnight suites, and permission to build 71 condominium units, in an effort to shave $424,176 from his annual local property tax obligations. Trump filed the action after separately being sued by Briarcliff Manor for "intentional and illegal modifications" to a drainage system which caused more than $238,000 in damage to the town's library, public pool, and park facilities during a 2011 storm.
In September 2015, five men who had demonstrated outside of a Trump presidential campaign event at Trump Tower in New York City sued Donald Trump, alleging that Trump's security staff punched one of them. They also allege that Trump's security guards had been advised by city police that they were permitted to protest there. Several people videotaped the incident.
In June 2015, the Culinary Workers Union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that the owners of Trump Hotel Las Vegas hotel "violated the federally protected rights of workers to participate in union activities" and engaged in "incidents of alleged physical assault, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats by management." In October 2015, the Trump Ruffin Commercial and Trump Ruffin Tower I, the owners of Trump Hotel Las Vegas, sued the Culinary Workers Union and another union, alleging that they had knowingly distributed flyers that falsely stated that Donald Trump had stayed at a rival unionized hotel, rather than his own non-unionized hotel, during a trip to Las Vegas.
In 2015, restaurant workers at Trump SoHo filed a lawsuit that from 2009 to at least the time of the filing, gratuities added to customers' checks were illegally withheld from employees. The Trump Organization has responded that the dispute is between the employees and their employer, a third-party contractor. Donald Trump has been scheduled to testify in court on September 1, 2016.
Journalists David Cay Johnston and Wayne Barrett, the latter of whom wrote an unauthorized 1992 Trump biography, have claimed that Trump and his companies did business with New York and Philadelphia families linked to the Italian-American Mafia. A reporter for the Washington Post writes, "he was never accused of illegality, and observers of the time say that working with the mob-related figures and politicos came with the territory."
Trump helped a financier for the Scarfo family get a casino license, and constructed a casino using firms controlled by Nicodemo Scarfo. Trump also bought real estate from Philadelphia crime family member Salvatore Testa, and bought concrete from companies associated with the Genovese crime family and the Gambino crime family. Trump Plaza paid a $450,000 fine leveled by the Casino Gaming Commission for giving $1.6 million in rare automobiles to Robert LiButti, the acquaintance of John Gotti already mentioned.
Starting in 2003, the Trump Organization worked with Felix Sater, who had a 1998 racketeering conviction for a $40 million Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme, and who had then become an informant against the mafia. Trump's attorney has said that Sater worked with Trump scouting real estate opportunities, but was never formally employed.
Use of bankruptcy laws
Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy, but hotel and casino businesses of his have been declared bankrupt four times between 1991 and 2009 to re-negotiate debt with banks and owners of stock and bonds. Because the businesses used Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they were allowed to operate while negotiations proceeded. Trump was quoted by Newsweek in 2011 saying, "I do play with the bankruptcy laws — they’re very good for me" as a tool for trimming debt.
According to a report by Forbes in 2011, the four bankruptcies were the result of over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City: Trump's Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009). Trump said "I've used the laws of this country to pare debt. … We'll have the company. We'll throw it into a chapter. We'll negotiate with the banks. We'll make a fantastic deal. You know, it's like on The Apprentice. It's not personal. It's just business." He indicated that many "great entrepreneurs" do the same.
In 1991, Trump Taj Mahal was unable to service its debt and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Forbes indicated that this first bankruptcy was the only one where Trump's personal financial resources were involved. Time, however, maintains that $72 million of his personal money was also involved in a later 2004 bankruptcy.
On November 2, 1992, the Trump Plaza Hotel filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Trump lost his 49 percent stake in the luxury hotel to Citibank and five other lenders. In return Trump received more favorable terms on the remaining $550+ million owed to the lenders, and retain his position as chief executive, though he would not be paid and would not have a role in day-to-day operations.
By 1994, Trump had eliminated a large portion of his $900 million personal debt through sales of his Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza assets, and significantly reduced his nearly $3.5 billion in business debt. Although he lost the Trump Princess yacht and the Trump Shuttle (which he had bought in 1989), he did retain Trump Tower in New York City and control of three casinos in Atlantic City, including Trump's Castle. Trump sold his ownership of West Side Yards (now Riverside South, Manhattan) to Chinese developers including Hong Kong's New World Development, receiving a premium price in exchange for the use and display of the name "Trump" on the buildings.
Donald Trump's third corporate bankruptcy was on October 21, 2004, involving Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, the publicly-traded holding company for his three Atlantic City casinos and some others. Trump lost over half of his 56% ownership and gave bondholders stock in exchange for surrendering part of the debt. No longer CEO, Trump retained a role as chairman of the board. In May 2005 the company emerged from bankruptcy as Trump Entertainment Resorts Holdings. In his 2007 book, Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life, Trump wrote: "I figured it was the bank's problem, not mine. What the hell did I care? I actually told one bank, 'I told you you shouldn't have loaned me that money. I told you the goddamn deal was no good.'"
Trump's fourth corporate bankruptcy occurred in 2009, when Trump and his daughter Ivanka resigned from the board of Trump Entertainment Resorts; four days later the company, which owed investors $1.74 billion against its $2.06 billion of assets, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At that time, Trump Entertainment Resorts had three properties in Atlantic City: Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (closed in 2014), and Trump Marina (formerly Trump's Castle, sold in 2011). Trump and some investors bought the company back that same year for $225 million. As part of the agreement, Trump withdrew a $100 million lawsuit he had filed against the casino's owners alleging damage to the Trump brand. Trump re-negotiated the debt, reducing by over $1 billion the repayments required to bondholders.
In 2014, Trump sued his former company to remove his name from the buildings since he no longer ran the company, having no more than a 10% stake; he lost the suit. Trump Entertainment Resorts filed again for bankruptcy in 2014 and was purchased by billionaire philanthropist Carl Icahn in 2016, who acquired Trump Taj Mahal in the deal.
According to a New York state report, Trump circumvented corporate and personal campaign donation limits in the 1980s - although he did not break any laws - by donating money to candidates from 18 different business subsidiaries, rather than giving primarily in his own name. Trump told investigators he did so on the advice of his lawyers. He also said the contributions were not to curry favor with business-friendly candidates, but simply to satisfy requests from friends.
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