The Felonious Friends of Donald Trump

It is amazing what just a 15-minute search on the internet can turn up. 

Did you know Donald and second wife Marla once lavishly entertained Gary Triano, a fellow real estate developer/gaming operator and Triano's second wife?  The Trianos hosted the Trumps in their home in Tucson and the Trumps reciprocated in Palm Beach. Not too long after those social exchanges,Triano and his by then ex second wife became notorious in true crimes circles; Triano was blown to smithereens via a pipe bomb after around of golf.. The crime was unsolved until years later, when the second wife, who had divorced him as soon as his business faltered, was convicted of having her new lover plant to bomb for the insurance money. The Trump connection has been documented several times on true crime TV shows like Dateline NBC, 48 Hours, Snapped, and American Greed.  

Then there was the $50,000 loan Trump once guaranteed to Andrew Stein, a Democrat who was running to be New York’s City Council president. Now most people don't guarantee the loans of people other than relatives or really good friends. Six months after the loan was made, Trump had to pay it off even though Stein had been successful in his bid as City Council president. (A cynic might say because he won. As City Council president he was now in a position to do Trump favors plus bad debts are tax deductible subject to limitations while political contributions are not).  Stein, who was convicted of a federal felony in 2010 because of his participation in a Ponzi scheme, has always been a real prince of guy. Consider this story about how he and his toupee would have to part company when Stein entered prison. 

The most famous story about Andy Stein concerns a summer day in the late '70s, when he was at the beach in the Hamptons with a certain real estate heiress.

The heiress went for a swim, only to be caught in an undertow. She called for help, but Stein remained on the shore, pointing to the top of his head.

The heiress kept calling for help, but Stein just kept pointing.

Finally, others dove in. She returned to shore safely, no thanks to Stein, who apparently would have let her drown rather than doff the toupee that only he imagined looked like his own hair.

Based on the above accounts, perhaps Trump needs to look closer at whom he has called friends over the years before he accuses a political rival of having none. 

The final fruit of my short search for friends of Donald Trump, in words other than his own boasts of greatness, came from a posting made this week at the true crime site, the Smoking Gun. The long piece covers the shady career of Joseph Weichselbaum, who was then general manager of a helicopter company that shuttled high rollers for Trump to the tycoon’s Atlantic City casinos and which provided services and pilots for Trump's personal helicopter. Trump maintains he hires only the best.  Yet long before the cocaine charges, Weichselbaum had done time for both grand theft auto and an embezzlement that ran into six figures.  According to the Smoking Gun.

Weichselbaum, who peddled drugs and palled around with wiseguys, seemed an odd choice for Trump to publicly embrace. Especially since the developer -- who has never been known for empathetic gestures -- owned casinos monitored by New Jersey regulators on the alert for licensees who maintained business or personal relationships with unsavory types.

Trump's relationship apparently didn't end with Weichselbaum's third felony conviction.

While Weichselbaum was locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, his girlfriend purchased a pair of adjoining apartments on the 49th floor of the Trump Tower condominium on Fifth Avenue. The deed to the multimillion dollar combined residence -- 17 floors below Trump’s own penthouse spread -- was in the name of Ronee Teitler, who bought the apartment from a Texas corporation.

According to records, Weichselbaum served about 18 months in the Manhattan lockup, where he worked in the business office. Upon his release, Weichselbaum spent about six months in a halfway house before being formally released from Bureau of Prisons custody in January 1990. He then joined Teitler in the couple’s Trump Tower aerie.

While ensconced in the Fifth Avenue skyscraper, Weichselbaum was frequently required to meet with his probation officer. Along with answering questions about his finances, IRS debt, and employment, Weichselbaum spoke often about Trump, his upstairs neighbor. In fact, Weichselbaum told his probation officer about Trump’s extramarital relationship with Marla Maples long before news of the affair hit tabloid front pages.

Nor is Weichselbaum the only felon Trump has done business with. 

Another felon with whom Trump was friendly was also in the helicopter business. John Staluppi, a Colombo crime family member, was an owner of Dillinger Charter Services, which flew gamblers into Atlantic City on behalf of Trump and other casino licensees. As TSG reported last year, Staluppi also worked closely with the billionaire to create the Donald Trump signature series Cadillac limousine, which debuted in 1988.

Speaking of ostentation and legal aggravations, there have been multiple legal hassles between Trump and the Palm Beach authorities over the years.  The most recent, dated a year ago January, involves a $100 million suit because of an alleged "malicious" and conspiratorial plot by local officials to create a noise hazard by routing most air traffic from the Palm Beach airport over Trump's property, The suit alleges this is being done in retaliation for Trump's efforts to thwart airport expansion plans some 20 years ago. (Wouldn't an airport expansion have created more jobs for regular Americans? Surely Trump could have afforded to add some more soundproofing to his buildings if it meant more jobs for working Americans?)

What damage does Trump claim? 

“The overflights of Mar-a-Lago have caused a direct and substantial invasion of the property by excessive, unreasonable, unwarranted and uninvited noise, vibrations, fumes, pollution and residue, which cause direct physical damage to Mar-a-Lago," reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the mansion is "by far and away the most important historical structure in Palm Beach and one of the most important in Florida and, indeed, the United States."

I was amused at the assertion Trump's Palm Beach holding is an important US historic property.  Mar-a-Lago was an ostentatious 110,000 square foot private residence designed in a Moorish style and built in the 1920s by Marjorie Merriweather Post with her then husband, Edward F. Hutton. It is set on a 17-acre strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth.  Some important people stayed there over the years, but such people have stayed in the homes of other wealthy individuals. When she died in 1973, Post bequeathed the property to to the US Government to be used as some sort of combination of the Camp David presidential retreat and a guest house for visiting dignitaries. The US government had the good sense not to want the estate and returned title to the Post Foundation, which eventually sold it to Trump in 1985. He and second wife Marla Maples lived there for a while, and then he converted it to a club. 

I remember being in Palm Beach in the early 1980s for a business meeting. There was a lot of humorous speculation as to who would be willing to sink millions into the restoration of the then decaying brick pile that to any modern eyes resembled an oversize movie palace from the Roaring 20s.  Mar-a-Lago is the product of the eccentricities of wealth, at most a footnote to how Florida became the seasonal home to rich snowbirds rather than an important national monument. As for Trump's claim that Mar-a-Lago is the greatest mansion ever built, I suspect the Cecil family of Asheville, North Carolina would take issue.  They control the 178,926 square foot Biltmore House, built in the 1890s, which still sits on 8,000 of the original 125,000+ acres acquired as "a little mountain escape" by their ancestor, George Washington Vanderbilt II.

When I looked at the photos of the gilt, marble and crystal interiors in Post's Moorish palace turned into Trump's club, I was reminded that the private club with the most exclusive membership in Chicago when I lived there was in nondescript one story building that was filled with well made, comfortable but unprepossessing furniture and fixtures. Those with power came there to relax rather than to impress. The constant need to impress is often the antithesis of real power and leadership.

Mobbed up fiends plus a gilt and marble palace turned private club and a not in my back yard attitude towards public facilities like airport expansion.  It seems a rather odd background for someone now claiming to be the only friend to honest, hard working Americans who want to play by the rules but who can't find jobs.  It makes me wonder what another 15 minutes of searching might turn up.