The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP” by David Cay Johnston from Chapter 8: “Showing Mercy” on page 59 and I quote: “Among the assorted criminals with whom Trump did business over more than three decades, his most mysterious dealings involved a drug trafficer named Joseph Weichselbaum. Trump did unusual favors for the three-time felon, repeatedly putting his lucrative casino license at risk to help a major cocaine and marijuana trafficer for reasons that remain unfathomable.
The Brooklyn-born Weichselbaum, four years older than Trump, was well-known in Miami cigarette-boat-racing circles, where narcotics trafficers and white-collar felons often mixed. He piloted the boat named Mighty Mouse and Nuts ‘n Bolts in races off the Florida coast. He came in third at a 1973 race behind Charles F. Keating, a Cincinnati lawyer who later went to prison in the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association swindle that cost taxpayers $2 billion.
Trump met Joey Weichselbaum through Steve Hyde, the portly Mormon elder who ran Trump’s Atlantic City casinos in 1986. At the time, Weichselbaum was already a twice convicted felon. HIs first offense was grand theft auto in 1965. His second was embezzlement in 1979. A judge ordered Weiselbaum to return $135,000 to S&S Corrugated Paper Machinery, a Brooklyn firm at which he had worked for a decade.
Weichselbaum and his younger brother, Franklin (who has never been charged with a crime), launched a New Jersey-based helicopter service in 1982. Many more experienced firms offered helicopter services, but in 1984 the Weichselbaum brothers landed the primary contract to ferry high rollers to and from Trump casinos. Their fleet served other casinos as well, but their main client was Trump. The brothers’ company also maintained Trump’s personal helicopter, a black Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma he named Ivana–after his wife at the time–that Trump valued at $10 million.
And Joey Weichselbaum was not the only felon Trump selected to provide helicopter flights for high rollers. He also retained Dillinger Charter Services, whose owners included John Staluppi, identified in law enforcement reports as a member of the Gambino crime family.
The brothers Weichselbaum called their firm Damin Aviation. Joey’s title was general manager. Damin Aviation was part of a convoluted financial arrangement that included Alan Turtletaub, founder of a high-interest second-mortgage firm called The Money Store. A Turtletaub company bought the helicopters and then resold them to an intermediary firm, who in turn leased them to Damin Aviation. The deal required little if any cash, thanks to a combination of tax shelter financing and tax-free bonds provided by the New Jersey Economic Development Administration.
Damin soon filed for bankruptcy and reorganized as Nimad (Damin spelled backward). The new firm kept Trump’s business, which is not unusual in itself, when a debtor retains possession of a firm, as the Weichselbaums did, the debtor often retains contracts with customers. But the firm went bankrupt again, and again reorganized, this time as American Business Aviation.
Why did Trump Plaza continue to pay $100,000 per month and Trump’s Castle $80,000 a month for helicopter services from a firm that was so financially unstable when Trump could have hired any its better-financed and more experienced competitors? One obvious question whether Weichselbaum was perhaps providing some other valuable service sub rosa.
Trump himself was no drug user. He didn’t even drink or smoke. But it was open knowledge in Atlantic City that high rollers could get anything they wanted as long as it was done discreetly. For those who brought lots of cash, signed big markers, or were assigned complimentary suites, certain butlers were known to provide, for a price, whatever the customer wanted–be it illicit sex, drugs, or anything else. As a state casino lawyer told me shortly after I arrived in Atlantic City in 1988, “We regulate what goes on involving gaming, not what people do in the privacy of hotel rooms.”
Another glaring question is whether Trump financed any of Weichselbaum’s activities. Trump was known to be an avid investor seeking big returns, whether through greenmailing competing casino companies–buying controlling shares in rival casino companies and selling back those shares at a higher price–or using Roy Cohn’s influence with mob-owned companies and mob-controlled unions.
Joey Weichselbaum’s pay and perks were unusual. Even though he had officially left the twice-failed helicopter company, Weichselbaum continued to receive his $100,000 annual salary. He also retained his company car and driver. All the while, he was deeply involved in drug trafficking in Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, according to his 1985 indictment by a federal grand jury in Cincinnati. One shipment alone involved three-quarters of a ton of marijuana.
In addition to his helicopter business, Joey Weichselbaum was an officer at a used-car dealership in partnership with his brother. Couriers from Colombia delivered drugs there, which were sometimes sold on the spot. According to the indictment, Weischselbaum put cocaine in vehicles himself or handed it over to couriers who delivered it to buyers. The dealership, essentially a front for drug trafficking, paid phony commissions for the sale of cars in an effort to hide the real business, as court records show.
As a casino owner in Atlantic City, Trump had every reason to avoid business dealings with known criminals, which Weichselbaum was even before the drug trafficking and tax evasion charges in Cincinnati. Under the New Jersey Casino Control Act, Trump and all casino owners were “required to establish by clear and convincing evidence” his or her “good character, honesty, and integrity. Such information shall include, without limitation, information pertaining to family, habits, character, reputation, criminal and arrest record, business activities, financial affairs, and business, professional and personal associates.”
Yet, instead of dropping the helicopter service, Trump retained American Business Aviation for his casino shuttles and to service his personal helicopter. Trump later acquired three helicopters when he divvied up the old Resorts International casino company in a deal with entertainer Merv Griffin. Trump got the unfinished Taj Mahal casino hotel, Merv the aging Resorts hotel (the original Atlantic City casino). Depite having these three choppers, Trump kept paying more than $2 million per year for Weichselbaum copters.
Two months after Weichselbaum was indicted, the Weichselbaum brothers rented apartment 32-C at the Trump Plaza condominiums on East 61st Street in Manhattan. Trump personally owned apartment 32-C. The rental terms were unusual. Rent was $7,000 per month, which was at the low end of a reasonable rate. The brothers paid $3,000 a month in cash–using checks made out to Donald J. Trump personally–and paid the rest in helicopter services. Short of a costly forensic audit, it would be impossible for any law enforcement agency, including New Jersey casino regulators, to ascertain whether the brothers actually paid any more than the cash rent. What motivated Trump to agree to this arrangement has never been explained.
When Weichselbaum made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to one of the eighteen counts in the Cincinnati case, something very suspicious happened. His case was transferred out of Ohio for the guilty plea and the sentencing. Logically, the case might have gone to South Florida, where Bradford Motors was located, or to New York, where Weichselaum lived. Indeed, that is exactly what Weichselbaum’s Ohio lawyer, Arnold Morelli, sought in a January 30, 1986, motion requesting his case be transferred to either Manhattan or Miami for “the convenience of human beings such as the defendant and witnesses.” Instead, the Weichselbaum case was moved to New Jersey. There it was assigned to Judge Maryanne Trump Barry–Donald Trump’s older sister.
Judge Barry recused herself three weeks later, as judicial ethics required, but the mere act of removing herself from the case came with a powerful message: a sitting federal judge, as well as her husband (lawyer John Barry) and family, repeatedly flew helicopters connected to a major drug trafficker. As a new judge assigned to the case, including the district’s presiding judge, was on notice that this case had the potential to embarrass the bench.
When Judge Harold A. Ackerman replaced Trump’s sister, Trump wrote him a letter seeking leniency for Weichselbaum on the drug trafficking charge. Trump characterized the defendant as “a credit to the community” and described Weichselbaum as “conscientious, forthright and diligent” in his dealings with the Trump Plaza and Trump’s Castle casinos. When asked about the letter under oath in a private 1990 meeting with New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement lawyers, Trump testified that he could not recall whether “he had written any letters of reference to the federal judge who sentenced Weichselbaum.” Subsequently, the division obtained such a letter, and Trump acknowledged that it bore his signature.
Two years later, the DGE had to explain itself publicly after journalist Wayne Barrett’s unauthorized 1992 biography of Trump revealed the letter. The DGE, citing my reporting on the issue, published a report on fourteen issues raised by Barrett. Its report said nothing about what would prompt Trump to write such a letter, whether he actually believed what he wrote, and what his purpose was in writing it. The DGE lawyers merely recorded Trump’s denial, then later his admission that he had in fact signed the letter. That was typical of the DGE lawyers, who declined again and again to ask probing questions that might raise deeper issues about Trump’s fitness to hold a license.
Likewise, the DGE’s response to Barrett’s book did not request an explanation of the unusual terms under which Trump rented an apartment he personally owned to the Weichselbaum brothers. As with other matters–like the accusations made by high roller Bob Libutti–the DGE took Trump at his word and avoided asking questions that might require more investigation.
Judge Ackerman gave Weichselbaum a sentence that stood in stark contrast to the sentences levied on the others named in the Cincinnati indictment. The small fish got sentences of up to twenty years; Weichselbaum, the ringleader, got three. He served only eighteen months. When he was up for early release, Weichselbaum told his parole officer that he already had work lined up. He was Donald Trump’s new helicopter consultant. He also said he would be moving into Trump Tower. While he was behind bars, Weichselbaum’s girlfriend bought two adjoining thirty-nine-story Trump Tower apartments (numbered 49-A and 49-B because Trump skipped tenth-floor numbers to inflate the apparent height of his signature building erected a few years earlier). The price was $2.4 million. Trump confirmed to the DGE that he believed Weichselbaum moved into Trump Tower and lived with a girlfriend after he was released from prison, but said he had no contract with him except for seeing him in the building.
Weichselbaum also told his probation officer that he had known about Marla Maples, Trump’s mistress, long before that relationship became public knowledge. He said he tried to talk Trump into ending the affair. He said Trump asked him to let Marla stay at the Trump Plaza high-rise apartment the Weichselbaum brothers rented from him, just a few blocks from Trump Tower. The DGE dismissed this, saying simply that it was “not in possession of any credible information which would suggest that DJT asked Weichselbaum to permit his friend Marla Maples to reside in the Weichselbaum condominium. DJT has emphatically denied this allegation.”
The report offered no indication that the DGE had interviewed Weichselbaum, his brother, Maples, the probation officer, or anyone else who might have contradicted Trump’s denial. Again, not asking questions was key to how the DGE protected its own reputation while simultaneously protecting casino owners from themselves.
As a casino owner, Trump could have lost his license for associating with Weichselbaum. But the DGE never asked whether he had any financial entanglement, obviously undisclosed, with Weichselbaum or anyone connected to him, including whether he had staked any of the drug deals, based on its publicly released reports. Without the DGE putting into the public record the very obvious questions, together with the answers, about what motivated Trump to make such risky moves–including denying the letter he wrote seeking soft treatment of Weichselbaum–we can only speculate about what may have influenced Trump’s conduct regarding the drug trafficker.
Trump called my home in spring 2016, when I was working on a long piece for Politico magazine about his ties to various criminals. After a few questions about what I was up to, Trump asked what I wanted to know, even though he already had my twenty-one questions in writing. I asked what motivated him to write the letter for Weischselbaum. Trump said he “hardly knew” the man and didn’t remember anything about him. When I reminded Trump that he said on national television just a few months earlier that he has “the world’s greatest memory,” Trump just said that “that was long ago.”
As trump often does in calls to journalists, he told me he liked some of my work and that I had been fair at times. Then, with a pause, he added that if he didn’t like what I was about to publish he would sue me. That last comment surprised me a bit. Trump knows that I am not intimitable. I reminded him that he is a public figure. Under the law, that means a libel suit would require him to show that I wrote something with reckless disregard for the truth–something no one has ever accused me of in nearly fifty years of investigative reporting.
“I know I’m a public figure but I’ll sue you anyway,” he said before ringing off.
Weichselbaum was not the last unsavory character Trump got close to. Much more recently, Trump chose to work with a convicted art thief who goes by the name “Joey No Socks,” as well as with the son of a Russian mob boss, a man with a violent history. . . and there’s video to prove it.”
(THE FOLLOWING IS ON THE BACK COVER AND I QUOTE:
“WHO IS DONALD TRUMP, AND HOW HAS HE RISEN TO THE PINNACLE OF AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE?”
“In the making of Donald Trump, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, who has spent nearly three decades chronicling Trump, sets out to answer these questions, presenting the often little-known facts of Trump’s life and career.
In a deeply researched account, Johnston takes readers from the origins of the Trump family fortune all the way to the 2016 campaign, giving us a full picture of one of the most controversial figures of our time.”
MY COMMENTS: THIS IS WHAT DAVID CAY JOHNSTON WAS TALKING ABOUT ON PUBLIC TELEVISION WITH PAUL SOLMON LAST NIGHT, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016, ON PBS NEWSHOUR TITLED “Why Seeing Trump’s Tax Returns Really Matters.” ALL OF THESE ISSUES WILL AFFECT THE TAXPAYER IN A BIG NEGATIVE WAY IF DONALD TRUMP GETS TO BE PRESIDENT.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran