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The daughter of a reputed New Jersey mob figure says her late father had a longtime relationship with Donald Trump that included gambling millions of dollars at one of his casinos, flying on his helicopter and partying aboard his private yacht.
In 1991, Trump first faced questions about his dealings with Robert LiButti, a plump, balding and nationally famous horse breeder with an explosive temper who would later be banned from New Jersey casinos for his ties to Mafia boss John Gotti. At the time, New Jersey state regulators had launched an investigation into allegations by nine employees of one of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos, the Trump Plaza, that the hotel had repeatedly removed African-Americans and women from craps tables after LiButti, one of the highest-rolling gamblers in the city’s history, loudly complained about their presence when he was playing.
Robert LiButti, top left, and Donald Trump. (Illustration: Yahoo News; sources: state of New Jersey, William Thomas Cain/Getty Images, Ron Galella/Getty Images)
The probe resulted in a $200,000 fine against the Trump Plaza by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for violating state anti-discrimination laws. Investigators found that LiButti had, on multiple occasions, berated blacks and women using what one state official described as the “vilest” language — including racist slurs and references to women in obscene terms — and that the Trump Plaza, in order not to lose his substantial business, sought to accommodate him by keeping the employees away from his betting tables, according to commission documents recently obtained by Yahoo News under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
“It was a substantial fine at the time,” said Mitchell A. Schwefel, then a New Jersey assistant attorney general who brought the state’s case against the Trump Plaza on behalf of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. “That was a red-flag issue for us because that was conduct [by the hotel] that was not going to be tolerated.”
Trump was not held personally liable for the violations of his hotel, and there is no indication that he was ever questioned by state officials as part of their investigation. When asked about LiButti by a reporter, the casino mogul suggested he barely knew the foul-mouthed gambler. “I have heard he is a high roller, but if he was standing here in front of me, I wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February 1991.
But Edith Creamer, LiButti’s daughter, told Yahoo News in two recent telephone interviews that Trump’s account was false and that Trump and her father knew each other quite well. “He’s a liar,” said Creamer. “Of course he knew him. I flew in the [Trump] helicopter with [Trump’s then wife] Ivana and the kids. My dad flew it up and down [to Atlantic City]. My 35th birthday party was at the Plaza and Donald was there. After the party, we went on his boat, his big yacht. I like Trump, but it pisses me off that he denies knowing my father. That hurts me.”
Asked for comment for this story, Trump, through his spokeswoman, sent this email to Yahoo News: “During the years I very successfully ran the casino business, I knew many high rollers. I assume Mr. LiButti was one of them, but I don’t recognize the name.”
Trump’s response to questions about LiButti underscores what critics say is a recurring theme in his career — a tendency to minimize or deny associations with unsavory characters with whom he has done business. Indeed, throughout his career as a real estate mogul there have been frequent allegations of interactions with reputed mob figures — something that may have been inevitable given the mob’s influence in the New York construction industry during that era. (Trump has consistently denied ever knowingly doing business with organized crime.)
However, in the case of LiButti, Creamer’s account of direct dealings between her father and Trump would appear to be corroborated by a 1991 book written by John R. O’Donnell, the former president of the Trump Plaza casino. In the book, “Trumped!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump — His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall,” O’Donnell recounts a meeting between Trump and LiButti aboard Trump’s private helicopter, a Super Puma, in the spring of 1988. Trump, according to O’Donnell, agreed to pay $500,000 for a racehorse named Alibi after LiButti showed him color photos of the “luxurious brown colt” and assured him he was going to be “another Secretariat.”
O’Donnell doesn’t use LiButti’s name in his book but describes him in unmistakable terms, calling the seller of Alibi a world-famous “horse broker” who was “our most lucrative player” at Trump casinos. O’Donnell, in a phone interview, confirmed to Yahoo News for the first time that the broker in question was LiButti. “Bob [LiButti] was selling him the horse, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “Everything in the book is true.”
John Gotti on trial and documents pertaining to Robert LiButti from the attorney general in New Jersey. (Photo: Daniel Sheehan/AP)
Trump, according to O’Donnell’s account, then “insisted” that the horse be renamed D.J. Trump. But the deal blew up after the stallion grew lame from illness and Trump sought to renegotiate the purchase price, enraging LiButti and causing him to temporarily boycott Trump’s casinos, according to O’Donnell. Trump “reneged on the deal when the horse came up lame,” said O’Donnell in the phone interview. (“Mr. Trump never owned a racehorse,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks in an email. “He vaguely remembers someone naming a racehorse after him.”)
Yahoo News has also obtained the full transcript of a Sept. 4, 1990, undercover New Jersey State Police tape of a conversation between LiButti and Trump’s top Atlantic City executive, Edward M. Tracy, that appears to lend further credence to Creamer’s account.
The New Jersey police had secretly wired Tracy after two reputed bookmakers for the Gambino crime family told an undercover officer that LiButti was “in Trump’s pockets.” That, police investigators concluded, was a reference to a highly lucrative contract at the Trump Plaza that LiButti had secured for his brother-in-law, Jimmy Roselli, a popular crooner once considered a rival to his childhood Hoboken neighbor, Frank Sinatra.
According to the transcript of the September 1990 meeting, LiButti makes multiple references to conversations he claimed to have had with Trump, telling Tracy, “I’m very close with him” and recounting how he had been advising Trump to unload one of his Atlantic City casinos to resolve his then highly public business problems. “I told him this right in the helicopter with, ah, Ivana and my daughter one night,” LiButti said to Tracy, according to the transcript. (Although portions of this conversation were reported on at the time, the full transcript — which was recently provided to Yahoo News by a confidential source — includes these and other references to Trump that have not been previously reported.)
In the conversation, LiButti also offered personal advice, telling Tracy that Trump needed to “get rid of the broad” — a reference to his then publicized affair with Marla Maples. And he lamented the toll that both the business and personal issues were taking on Trump at the time.
“He’s lost that aggressiveness. … Walks around like a f***ing banana. I can’t believe it’s Donald Trump. I don’t understand it,” LiButti says.
“Yeah, I know you were shocked when you saw him,” Tracy replies.
“Yeah,” says LiButti. “I can’t believe it. My hero. Broke my f***ing heart. My f***ing idol. I wanted to grow up like him.”
LiButti recounts how on one occasion, when he had blown $350,000 at the Plaza craps tables, Trump personally handed him a check — apparently as a so-called comp to keep him coming back. “As I’m checking out … they call Donald. He goes in his pocket and takes out the f***ing check and goes, ‘I want to present this to you myself.’” (When questioned about that claim at the time by reporter David Cay Johnston, then with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Trump denied it, saying, “I never gave him a check at all.”)
The secret tape recording proved to be LiButti’s undoing — but because of other comments he made that day. The gambler was then trying to pressure Tracy to pay an additional $250,000 for Roselli’s services by repeatedly invoking the name of Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime family. LiButti referred to Gotti as “my boss.” He talked about meetings he had had with Gotti and suggested that he bring him down to Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. Calling LiButti’s statements “sinister and chilling,” Assistant Attorney General Schwefel filed a motion before the Casino Control Commission to bar LiButti from all New Jersey casinos on the grounds that he was a Gotti “associate” — a request that was approved by the commission on Aug. 21, 1991.
At the time, the Casino Control Commission was also moving to fine Trump Plaza for its past efforts to placate LiButti by keeping blacks and women away from his craps tables. According to the commission’s documents on the case, LiButti flew into fits of rage whenever he lost money at the craps tables, flinging dice and gaming chips around the casino and grabbing the stick from a stickperson’s hand and breaking it in half.
He also made it clear that “he did not want women, blacks or other minorities dealing or supervising his games,” according to one filing by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. He referred to one Trump Plaza floor person as a “dumb c***” and “dumb bitch,” another as a “Jew broad” and an African-American dealer as a “black bastard.” Finding himself playing with an African-American at his craps table, LiButti shouted, “Shoot the f***ing dice. Shoot the f***ing dice like you’re f***ing some n*****,” according to testimony in the case.
State officials argued that, rather than removing some of its employees from LiButti’s craps tables, the hotel should have removed LiButti from the casino. But it didn’t, the officials contended, because Trump’s casino had put profits above following the state’s laws against racial discrimination.
“Certainly, it would have been so much better if the casino itself had thrown LiButti out at the time that he committed these acts, but they didn’t because he was a very high roller, obviously,” Schwefel argued at a March 13, 1991, hearing on the case. “If LiButti had been a five- or 10-dollar customer, they would have thrown him right out, literally without asking any questions. The problem again is that the casino did not want to get rid of a high roller of his dimension.”
Trump’s lawyers aggressively challenged the charges of discrimination, seeking to discredit the testimony of its employees who filed complaints and arguing it had had “no formal policy” of removing African-Americans and women from LiButti’s craps tables.
“Trump Plaza is being found in violation based only on an aura of discrimination,” said Brian Spector, the lawyer for the Trump hotel. “Something may look like discrimination, feel like discrimination and even smell like discrimination, but you need discriminatory intent. It simply hasn’t been proven.”
But Casino Control Commission officials didn’t buy it, and on June 5, 1991, they doubled the gaming division’s recommended $100,000 fine to $200,000 to reflect what one commissioner contended was the “gravely serious” nature of the offense. Three months later, the commission leveled another $450,000 fine against the Trump Plaza — this time for buying LiButti nine luxury autos, including Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces worth $1.6 million, that he then exchanged for cash, a violation of state laws at the time that barred cash comps for high rollers. Documents from the case show that the Trump Plaza also provided LiButti with other “comps” that included paying $104,338 for five European vacations and one to California; $279,978 for tickets to the Super Bowl, boxing matches and other sporting and theater events; $121,712 for jewelry; and $40,020 for Champagne that included 178 bottles of Cristal Rosé, valued at $225 a bottle.
It was only the start of LiButti’s legal problems. He was tried and convicted in 1994 for tax fraud in what federal prosecutors described as the largest case of federal income tax evasion in New Jersey history. A federal judge sentenced him to five years in prison. He died in 2014.
Creamer, LiButti’s daughter, said her father blamed Trump in part for some of his problems, apparently because Tracy agreed to be wired for the conversation in which he had invoked Gotti’s name. She declined to talk about her father’s alleged Mafia associations. “That is something I don’t want to talk about,” she said. But she strongly insisted that her father was not a racist. “He was a character,” she said. “He had a heart of gold.” While acknowledging that her father “did have a foul mouth,” she added that derogatory comments were made to everybody. “He loved black people,” she said. “He used to throw them money all the time” when he won at the craps table.
And while keenly disappointed that Trump denied knowing her father, Creamer said she is still backing him for president. “I’m voting for Trump,” she said. “He’ll change the world — I think we need that.” In fact, Creamer added, before her father died — and Trump was talking about running for president in 2011 — he expressed similar sentiments. “I’m going to vote for the SOB,” she recalled him saying.