Donald Trump says he’ll succeed as President because he has succeeded in business, so it’s appropriate to scour his business record. One area in particular that deserves scrutiny is his business relationship with companies controlled by the Mafia.
The reporting on this has so far been scanty, and we have no new revelations. But Mr. Trump was active in construction in the 1980s, when federal racketeering cases highlighted the influence that a “club” of mobsters exerted over large construction projects in New York City. In one 1988 trial, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, was among those convicted in a scheme to control and profit from the concrete contracts for numerous buildings in Manhattan, including Trump Plaza.
We asked Mr. Trump about these ties on his recent visit to the Journal, and his answers are worth hearing at length. Mr. Trump recalled that in Manhattan there were perhaps three concrete companies and “virtually every building that was built was built with these companies.” He added that “a lot—all of these people—were somehow associated, according to what I read, I don’t know it for a fact.”
Since the Mafia is in the business of stealing, we figured Mr. Trump would be angry that he had to build a “mob tax” into the cost of his projects. But he seemed to be a satisfied customer.
In his stream-of-consciousness way, Mr. Trump described the concrete companies of that era: “You know, Wall Street Journal didn’t write about these guys but these guys were excellent contractors. They were phenomenal. They could do three floors a week in concrete. Nobody else in the world could do three floors a week. I mean they were unbelievable. Trump Tower, other buildings. They would do literally—and you’d say how can you do three? They’d set it, pour it; before the concrete was even dry, they would be putting forms on the floor working off the steel beams, okay?”
He added that “they were unbelievably good contractors in terms of doing the work. But a lot of them were supposedly associated with the mob.” Did he realize at the time that he was, for example, working with a company largely controlled by Salerno? “No, nobody would know that,” said Mr. Trump.
He recalled that after the bust following the 1980s real-estate boom, many contractors “tended to be not around so much after that. Then a lot of them got indicted I think by [former New York County District Attorney Robert] Morgenthau, who was a great D.A., fantastic guy, fantastic, but he indicted a lot of people. I don’t know in concrete, but a lot of people were indicted. And then they started sort of disappearing. Actually it’s a much different world today. But if you built a building in New York, you basically were, unless you didn’t want to build it, you basically had to use one of the two or three companies that were there, for the concrete structure mostly.”
Atlantic City brought more transactions with wise guys. The Washington Post recently reported that Mr. Trump’s casino license was delayed as he was developing the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in part because of ties to reputed Scarfo crime family associate Kenny Shapiro.
Asked about a July CNN report suggesting Mr. Trump had overpaid for a parcel of Atlantic City land from Philadelphia mobster Salvatore Testa, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t know who Testa is.” CNN reported that the transaction occurred in 1982. That was a long time ago—and two years before Testa was found shot to death.
What about the contractors in south Jersey? “You had contractors that were supposedly mob-oriented all over Atlantic City,” Mr. Trump said, adding that “every single casino company used the same companies, just I hope you will say that.” Mr. Trump said that “unlike the ones I told you about in New York, they had some lousy contractors. But basically when you’re in Atlantic City, you’re using all of the contractors, you bid them out. Some of them may have been mob-oriented, I don’t know.”
But if Mr. Trump didn’t know whether his associates had mob ties, why did he warn others not to get involved in casino gambling lest they attract organized crime? Mr. Trump now says he was merely trying to discourage potential competitors from entering the casino business: “I’d say negative about it because I didn’t want to have other jurisdictions do gambling. That’s sort of, like, you know, basic business sense.” So he says he warned about mob influence to deter competitors while claiming lack of knowledge about mob ties to his own projects.
Mr. Trump has never been accused of a crime, and his see-no-evil, he-had-no-choice explanation worked for him as a businessman. The question is whether this is adequate for someone who wants to be President.
The question is especially apt for GOP primary voters because Democrats would surely raise it in the general election. Mitt Romney lost in 2012 in part because Democrats trashed his stellar business record in private equity. Better to vet Mr. Trump’s business record now than next October.