Trump, his doomed Taj casino and 253 contractors not paid in full

The Taj filed for bankruptcy a year after opening, and many contractors who built the doomed casino got 33 cents per dollar they were owed.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The contractor who provided the onion domes for the Taj Mahal casino had to eat $2 million in losses. The contractor who supplied the Carrara marble from Italy ended up filing for personal bankruptcy. The contractor who put in the restroom partitions had to lay off his brother.

A quarter of a century has passed since Donald Trump refused to pay in full 253 contractors who helped build his Taj in Atlantic City. But for many of them, it could have happened yesterday.

"We got next to nothing," said Michael MacLeod, whose 40-person studio made the giant elephant statues at the casino's entrance. "I took a big hit."

After the Taj opened in April 1990, the self-anointed King of Debt owed $70 million to contractors employing thousands who built the domes and minarets, put up the glass and drywall, laid the pipes and installed everything from chandeliers to bathroom fixtures. A year later, when the casino collapsed into bankruptcy, those owed the most got only 33 cents in cash for each dollar owed, with promises of another 50 cents later. It took years to get the rest, assuming the companies survived long enough to collect.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks and Trump attorney Alan Garten would not comment for this article.

Marty Rosenberg, former vice president of Atlantic Plate Glass, said the way Trump handled the contractors shows the candidate is shrewd and clever, but Trump won't get his vote.

Over decades of building a business empire in real estate, casino gaming, golf resorts, reality television and the sale of clothing and other merchandise, Trump has left a long trail of angry customers and vendors who accused him in court of cheating them.

Condo buyers at troubled Trump towers in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, claimed in lawsuits that they, too, were misled and lost deposits.

For the contractors in Atlantic City, the first signs of trouble came in February 1990. Regular checks for work completed stopped arriving.

Rosenberg, who was owed $1.1 million for installing floorto-ceiling curtain walls of glass, called one of Trump's men overseeing construction.

"I'll check it out, Marty, and call you right back," the man said. A day later, he got his answer: The money's coming in two weeks. The check never came.

Five hundred miles away, in Ashtabula, Ohio, Robert Morrison of the Molded Fiber Glass Co. was pressing his workers to finish the domes, minarets and other faux Moorish ornaments in time for an April 2 opening — and worrying about who was going to pay for it all. An invoice sent weeks earlier for $1.4 million still hadn't been paid.

Trump said he needed to complete audits first to make sure contractors weren't overcharging; he denied that he was in financial trouble.

Desperate for money to pay workers and suppliers, some contractors became easy targets for a new Trump offer: Agree to less than they billed, and he'd pay the lower amounts immediately.

One of the hardest hit was marble supplier John Millar, who was owed $3.9 million.

Court documents suggest that he got about 30 cents on the dollar over the next year.

Trump managed to open the Boardwalk casino on April 2, 1990, and dismissed rumors that he was in financial trouble.

Regulators unsealed a report in August written by Trump's own accountants that showed he had been burning through cash in his personal accounts so fast in the spring that he would have had nothing by the end of the year if he didn't take drastic action. The next year, the Trump Taj filed for bankruptcy.

When the casino emerged from Chapter 11, Trump got a contract to manage it.

Others caught up in the Taj turmoil didn't fare as well.

Millar had to lay off workers, shut down his business Avalon Commercial, close many of his retail stores and borrow from friends to make ends meet, according to court documents and Millar's lawyers and former employees. In 1996, he filed for personal bankruptcy.

Morrison ended up writing off $2 million of the $3 million Trump owed him.

MacLeod said his anger has faded. Giving a slide presentation of his work to an architectural firm two days after Trump won the New York GOP primary in April, he slipped in two photos — one showing one of the elephants, the other showing Trump's name on the casino marquee in red lights.

"This guy never paid me," MacLeod deadpanned.

This report includes material from the Los Angeles Times.

MONDAY'S DEVELOPMENTS

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was spending part of his Fourth of July with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, fueling speculation about his vice presidential pick. Trump said he looked forward to meeting with the first-term senator in New Jersey and praised her work. She said later that the two had a good talk.

Trump defended a tweet that described Hillary Clinton as "crooked" and that drew heat for containing an image that appeared to originate among white supremacists online. On Twitter, he repeated his frequent criticism of the media, saying the use of a star was misinterpreted. The original tweet Saturday morning showed a red Star of David shape against a backdrop of $100 bills. Trump deleted that tweet later in the morning and replaced the star with a circle.

— World-Herald press services

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