Video shows Trump with mob figure he denied knowing

Michael Isikoff
·Chief Investigative Correspondent

A newly uncovered video appears to contradict Donald Trump’s claim that he never knew a high-stakes gambler who was banned from New Jersey casinos for alleged ties to organized crime.

The reputed mob figure, Robert LiButti, can be seen standing alongside Trump in the front row of a 1988 “WrestleMania” match in Atlantic City, N.J. LiButti wasn’t there by accident, according to his daughter, Edith Creamer, who also attended the event. “We were his guests,” she told Yahoo News in a text message this week.

The video was given to Yahoo News by a confidential source who discovered it in the online archives of World Wrestling Entertainment, the sponsor of “WrestleMania.”

The video appears to lend new support to assertions Trump once had close relations with LiButti, who was banned from the state’s casinos in 1991 because of his ties to Mafia boss John Gotti, then the chief of the Gambino crime syndicate. Separately, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission that same year levied $650,000 in fines against the Trump Plaza hotel over its dealings with LiButti, who gambled huge sums at the hotel’s casino. LiButti died in 2014.

“That’s definitely Bob LiButti standing right next to Donald Trump,” said David Cay Johnston, an author and former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist who, as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, extensively interviewed the gambler in the early 1990s. At the request of Yahoo News, Johnston reviewed the video of the “WrestleMania IV” contest, held at the Atlantic City Convention Hall on March 27, 1988. “It’s at an event that Bob described to me a quarter century ago when I spent an afternoon in his Saddle River home,” Johnston added. “The ‘WrestleMania’ event is just one of many times that Trump was close to Bob, who was the biggest loser at Trump casinos and therefore Trump’s most important customer.”

In the video, LiButti can be seen alongside Trump as the real estate mogul greets the ring announcer, sportscaster Bob Uecker, and later as Trump kisses on the cheek special guest Vanna White. LiButti can also be seen sitting throughout the 3 1/2-hour event in a front-row seat next to Trump and his then wife, Ivana.

Robert Libutti and Donald Trump at Wrestlemania in 1988. (Yahoo News)
Robert Libutti and Donald Trump at ‘WrestleMania’ in 1988. (Yahoo News)

Asked to comment on the video, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks replied by email: “This was obviously a massive event, which took place decades ago. Mr. Trump attended many similar events with thousands of people during this time period.”

In the past, Trump has consistently downplayed his relationship with LiButti. “If he was standing here in front of me, I wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump told the Philadelphia Inquirer when he was first questioned by Johnston about LiButti in 1991.

Earlier this year, when questioned again about LiButti by Yahoo News, Trump emailed a reporter: “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.”

The video could raise fresh questions about two separate investigations by casino regulators that led to the huge fines levied in 1991. In one of those cases, Trump’s hotel was fined $200,000 for violating state anti-discrimination laws. Investigators found that the casino accommodated LiButti’s demand — couched in what one state official described as the “vilest” language, including racial and obscene slurs — that blacks and women be kept away from him at the gambling tables. Trump was never questioned as part of the state’s investigation, files reviewed by Yahoo News show.

A Yahoo News story last March documented multiple dealings between LiButti, a professional horse breeder, and Trump in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Creamer, LiButti’s daughter, said then the casino mogul was a “liar,” adding that “it pisses me off that he denies knowing my father.” In fact, she said, her father gambled millions of dollars at the Trump Plaza, flew frequently on Trump’s private Super Puma helicopter and partied aboard his yacht.

Jack O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza, said that Trump and LiButti even did a business deal together. During a trip the two of them took aboard Trump’s private helicopter, Trump agreed to pay $500,000 for one of LiButti’s prized thoroughbreds — a racehorse he promptly renamed “D.J. Trump.” But when the horse later went lame, Trump “reneged” on the deal, O’Donnell said.

Questions arose again about their dealings in July when a new book by Johnston, “The Making of Donald Trump,” charged that the mogul “lavished gifts” on LiButti, while also trying to seduce Creamer, who was married at the time. The mogul’s advances toward Creamer enraged LiButti, who, in Johnston’s account, threatened Trump, saying: “Donald, I’ll f***ing pull your balls from your legs.”

A sign marks the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in 2004 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo: Craig Allen/Getty Images)
The Trump Plaza hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo: Craig Allen/Getty Images)

Trump, in court depositions and interviews with casino regulators, has consistently denied knowingly associating with accused mobsters, often in language similar to what he said about LiButti. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump testified in a video deposition for a civil lawsuit in 2013 when asked about Felix Sater, a Russian émigré who was convicted in 2000 in a federal racketeering case over a “pump and dump” stock scam that involved members of four New York mob families. (As ABC News reported last December, Trump and Sater were photographed together in 2005 and appeared onstage together at a 2007 launch party for the Trump SoHo Hotel. Sater later went to work for the Trump Organization, carrying a business card that read: “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”)

Trump has never been charged with a crime, or lost a casino license, over allegations of ties to mob figures. But LiButti’s dealings with Trump were at one point especially sensitive for Trump’s Atlantic City casino business. The mob figure’s regular patronage of the Trump Plaza — he was described by one former executive as the casino’s biggest customer by far — prompted multiple investigations by New Jersey regulators. It also led regulators to permanently “exclude” LiButti from entering any casino in the state, after receiving an undercover state police tape in which LiButti repeatedly referred to Gotti as “my boss.”

In one of the 1991 cases, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined the Trump Plaza $450,000 after finding that the hotel gave LiButti $1.6 million worth of luxury autos, including Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, that he then exchanged for cash — a violation of state laws at the time that barred cash “comps” for high rollers. (Among other gifts the Trump casino gave LiButti: 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.)

The separate discrimination case stemmed from complaints filed by nine African-American and female employees at the hotel. According to the Casino Control Commission, documents on the case, LiButti flew into a rage whenever he lost money at the crap tables, flinging dice and gaming chips around the casino and once grabbing the stick from a stick person’s hand and breaking it in half.

Donald Trump and Robert Libutti to his immediate left after greeting Vanna White at Wrestlemania in 1988. (Yahoo News)
Donald Trump and Robert LiButti with Vanna White at ‘Wrestlemania’ in 1988. (Yahoo News)

He also made it clear “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.”

State officials argued that, rather than removing some of its employees from LiButti’s crap tables, the hotel should have removed LiButti from the casino. But it didn’t, the officials contended, because he was such a valuable customer.

“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,” Mitchel A. Schwefel, then a New Jersey assistant attorney general in charge of the investigation, said 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 crap tables.

Ivana Trump is seen seated between Robert Libutti (L) and Donald Trump (R) at Wrestlemania in 1988.
Ivana Trump is seen seated between Robert Libutti, left, and Donald Trump at ‘Wrestlemania’ in 1988.

“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 the Casino Control Commission didn’t buy that argument and, on June 5, 1991, doubled the fine recommended by the State Gaming Division from $100,000 to $200,000 to reflect what one commissioner contended was the “gravely serious” nature of the offense.