When Donald Trump addressed revelers at the annual New Year’s Eve bar at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Saturday, he was standing next to Joe Cinque, a convicted felon with rumored Mafia ties. Video published by the Palm Beach Daily News showed Cinque beaming as the president-elect gave brief remarks about his agenda.
“Your taxes are coming down, regulations are coming off, we’re going to get rid of Obamacare,” Trump said as Cinque pumped his fists in the air.
Cinque is the president and CEO of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, an organization that hands out Star Diamond awards to restaurants, hotels and businesses. The organization has extensive links to Trump.
According to the AAHS Facebook page, Cinque was at Mar-a-Lago to present Trump with “a One-of-a-Kind bronze Eagle award.” Pictures on the group’s page showed Trump being given a large statue of a flying eagle as Cinque stood by his side.
Prior to his work in the hospitality industry, Cinque had colorful past. In 1995, he was profiled by New York magazine. That article, which was written by John Connolly, said that Cinque had been “shot three times and left for dead” in 1980, in an incident Cinque described as a “robbery.” In the story, Connolly wrote that unnamed officials said it was “more likely a hit.” Connolly also noted that Cinque “used to be friends with John Gotti” and was known by the nicknames “Joey No Socks” and “the Preppy Don.” The New York article also chronicled how, in 1989, “Cinque was arrested on felony charges; police had retrieved a gallery’s worth of stolen art from his apartment.” Cinque later pleaded guilty to felony charges in that case. Cinque was also accused of criminal behavior in excerpts of a rambling, novelistic memoir published on a personal website by Richard Lawrence Dombroff, a former high profile plastic surgeon who was convicted of defrauding patients in 1987 and was convicted on fraud charges again in 2003 for allegedly operating a financial scam.
Yahoo News reached out to Cinque, the AAHS and Trump’s presidential transition team for this story. None of them responded to our requests for comment.
The AAHS has described Cinque as a fixture at Trump’s annual Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve fetes.
Yahoo News reported on Cinque’s relationship with Trump in May of last year. The article highlighted a 2015 blog post on the Star Diamond website that said Cinque “has been attending Mr. Trump’s party for the past 16 years” and “has become dear friends with the Trump family.” That blog post has since been deleted. The Star Diamond site also featured pictures of Cinque standing next to Trump in Mar-a-Lago’s ballroom and on stage at the Florida club presenting the future president-elect with another trophy in 2014.
Despite their clear connections, Trump denied being familiar with Cinque when speaking in May to Yahoo News.
“I don’t know him. I just find him to be a very nice man, and I don’t know his background. I really don’t,” Trump said of Cinque.
He repeatedly stressed that he didn’t know Cinque “well.”
Trump previously held one of the top three positions on the AAHS’ board of trustees. Archived versions of the organization’s Web page show that Trump was listed as its “ambassador extraordinaire” from at least 2013 until June 2015, when he launched his presidential campaign. But Trump told Yahoo News he “wasn’t involved” with AAHS and implied his title was largely ceremonial.
“I think I might have been on something, ambassador extraordinaire, you know. I never went to a meeting or anything,” Trump said.
However, Trump’s ties to Cinque’s group didn’t end with his title. Members of Trump’s family and multiple executives at his real estate company, the Trump Organization, have also been listed on the academy’s board of trustees, which selects award winners. AAHS gave Star Diamond awards to many Trump properties.
Handing out these Star Diamond awards, which the academy has called the “most prestigious emblem of achievement and true quality in the world today,” is the organization’s central activity. As “ambassador extraordinaire,” Trump’s signature adorned the Star Diamond plaques along with two other board members, Cinque and travel agent Bill Fischer.
When Yahoo originally reported on Cinque’s relationship with Trump, a woman who answered the phone at the AAHS headquarters placed a reporter in touch with Andrew Langsam, an attorney who was representing the academy. Langsam said Cinque “never mentioned” knowing John Gotti in their conversations. When Yahoo News asked about the allegations reported in New York magazine and on Dombroff’s site, the lawyer said “wrong information” had been reported about Cinque, but did not cite specific examples.