Sunday, February 11, 2018

Goodfellas: The Dark Tower and Beyond Part I



A few months ago I published a piece that examined, in part, President Donald J. Trump's brief control over Resorts International. Resorts was a curious creature that served as kind of bridge-way between both the Overworld and the Underworld. In addition to Trump, it also had close ties to another controversial Republican President: Richard M. Nixon. Nixon's longtime benefactor, Howard Hughes, also played a role in the Resorts saga during the 1970s.

At the same times Nixon was basking in the luxuries Resorts' Bahama casino (while Hughes was potentially being held prisoner there), the gambling interest also employed the bother of a close Lansky associate and counted among its shareholders William Mellon Hitchcock, a Mellon family heir who at one point was the financier for the largest LSD ring in the world (noted before here).

And then there was Intertel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Resorts. Intertel was a private intelligence agency staffed heavily with former FBI men and other assorted US intelligence veterans. It is most famous (or notorious, depending upon one's point of view) for spiriting Howard Hughes out of his Las Vegas penthouse in 1971 and keeping the reclusive billionaire under lock and key for the rest of his official life, nominally under the guise of providing Hughes with "security." It probably goes without saying, but Intertel is widely believed to have been an arm of the US intelligence community.

Intertel was still a part of Resorts in 1986 when Trump procured a controlling interest in the corporation. He would act as the company's CEO until 1988, when ownership passed to Merv Griffin after Trump played a key role in completing construction on Resorts most ambitions casino, the Taj Mahal, which he ended up the owner as part of his deal with Griffin. In addition to the spooks, it would seem that the Mafioso were still part of Resorts at this time as well. Hell, even Griffin had his own ties to the Gambino family, according to New York Times journalist Wayne Barrett in Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.


This certainly put the Orange One in some interesting company. Curiously, not long after I finished this blog a report emerged that Steven Bannon, Trump's disgraced former chief strategist, had compiled a dossier while working for Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries that addressed Trump's ties to organized crime. Bannon eventually switched his allegiance to Trump, hence the report has never seen the light of day. Still, what little has been reported about it is quite tantalizing. CNN notes:
"A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.
"The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years...
"The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump's campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group's chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.
"In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge."
Steven Bannon
Among other things, the existence of this dossier is yet further proof of how inept the "Resistance" truly is, for Trump's ties to organized crime are in fact legion and researchers have spent decades investigating them. But even more curious is the fact that Trump's organized crime ties lead to an organization with even more deep links than Resorts International.


"Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night"

But before getting to that, it is worth noting the extent to which Trump's activities in Atlantic City were mob-related. This was already briefly touched upon with his ties to Resorts, but his very first Atlantic City casino makes these links even more blatant. For starters, Trump opted initially to lease, rather than buy, the land on which he built Trump Plaza Casino from some rather dubious sources. One of these was a company known as SSG Inc., which featured some rather curious figures, most notably Philly scrap metal dealer Kenny Shapiro. Shapiro, it turns out, was very close to the Scarfo crime family.
"... SSG, the real power was its managing agent, the cigar-chopping Shapiro, who would later be identified in law enforcement reports as 'the mob's main dealmaker' in Atlantic City in the eighties. It was Shapiro who controlled the secret interest in Cleveland Wrecking. His two-story office building just off the Boardwalk became a checkpoint for visiting racketeers who passed through town. Shapiro was busily funneling Philly mob money into dozens of Atlantic City real estate deals, and the broker on thirty of his transactions in and around Atlantic City was none other than the son of mob chieftain Nicky Scarfo."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 207)
Kenny Shapiro
Shapiro was also reportedly the key conduit between Scarfo and disgraced Atlantic City major Michael J. Matthews, who was recalled and imprisoned over extortion charges. Matthews, at Shapiro's urging, played a key role in paving the way for Trump's gambling ventures in Atlantic City. One of Trump's earliest brushes with he FBI (which the Bureau now seems to have conveniently forgotten about) stemmed from his dealings with Shapiro and Matthews. During Matthews' trail, Shapiro reportedly dropped Trump's name during a closed session.
"Whatever Shapiro told the grand jury, it apparently involved the Trumps. Shortly after Shapiro's appearance, the FBI confronted Robert Trump in a restaurant in grilled him about Trump attempts to contribute to Matthews through New York subcontractors or Shapiro. The agents regarded his blanket denials as misleading. The agents returned for other sessions, including one at Trump Tower, with Robert, Donald, and John Barry, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who married Maryanne Trump and became one of Donald's prime attorneys in New Jersey. Barry attributed Robert's initial evasiveness to surprise. The various discussions with Shapiro and Sullivan about contributions to the mayoral candidates were confirmed at these meetings, but specific comments attributed to the Trump brothers drew muted denials mixed with memory lapses. There was little question but that the Trumps had contemplated donations to Matthews and had even sought a legal opinion from Nick Ribis about going forward with them."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 233)
Shapiro was hardly Trump's only tie to the Scarfo. There was also the son of Philip "the Chicken Man" Testa, whose death via nail bomb sparked the bloody Philadelphia Mafia War of the 1980s. In the midst of said war the Chicken Man's son made a very lucrative deal with the Orange One.
"Trump was simultaneously moving, fueled in part by Harrah's money, to acquire the nearer block for the Plaza's primary garage. One reason he did not even consider leasing the site was that a key corner parcel of it was owned by two men who, experience had taught him, could never meet a DGE standard – Salvy Testa and Frank Narducci, Jr., the sons of two Philadelphia mob bosses who had been murdered in the blood wars that had broken out in 1980. Narducci and Testa – who headed Nikki Scarfo's hit-man squad called the Young Executioners – had paid a scant $195,000 in the summer of 1977 for Le Bistro, a rundown, one-story, brick nightclub directly across Pacific Avenue from Donald's Plaza location. Predictably, they could never obtain a liquor license to run a club there; but they were only speculating anyway. Donald paid $1.1 million in late 1982 for the site, having the title transferred first from Testa and Narducci to Paddy McGahn's secretary and then to a Trump entity. The $220 per square foot that Trump paid for the Testa property was the second most expensive purchase he made on the block, even though it was one of the first parcels he bought. He paid twice as much for it as comparable parcels. While the routing of the purchase through McGahn's secretary may have been designed to put some distance between Donald and the acquisition, Trump would later boast in an affidavit in a court case with Harrah's that he had personally assembled the parcels for the garage, describing his involvement in the assemblage as the 'unique contribution' and 'critical skill' he brought to the joint venture with Harrah's."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pgs. 230-231)
Ruthless hitman and son of the Chicken Man Salvatore Testa
The construction of Trump Plaza was also littered with mob affiliates as well.
"The Shapiro, Testa, and Gerace mob cloud that hung over these Plaza issues extended to its construction phase as well. Three Plaza subcontractors had disturbing affiliations with the Scarfo crime family – including one, Robert T. Winzinger, who was eventually indicted and was said to have been visited by Scarfo himself on the Plaza site. The president of Trump's concrete contractor, Joseph Feriozzi, was accused by the State Commission of Investigation of evading questions under oath about why he awarded this unbounded work to two shadowy and inexperience firms."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 232)
There were some other organized crime ties to the Plaza's construction that shall be addressed in just a moment. But before getting to that, let us consider one final figure who happened to own a portion of the land Trump ultimately built the Plaza on.
"Aside from five private home spotted around the block, the bulk of the site was owned by three major groups of speculators, tied together by a maze of complicated contracts and leases redrawn every time one more of the various owners tried without success to build a casino there. Longo had his hooks into two of the three groups, and the one he didn't represent was the sites most recent would-be developer, Plaza Hotel Management Group, which was led by two New York dealmakers with unusual credentials – Columbia and Yale law professor Robert Lifton and former national Democratic treasurer Howard Weingrow.
"Lifton and Weingrow had driven down to the resort town hunting properties in 1978, pulled into a parking lot that occupied part of the block, and asked who owned it. 'Howard Hughes,' replied the attendant. And he wasn't far from wrong. Roberts Maheu, the former top aide to legendary billionaire who once owned half of Vegas, had indeed formed an entity that had a goodly chunk of the site. He was just one of the site's mysterious emissaries from Nevada. Also involved was flashy Grady Sanders, who was said to be accompanied on excursions to Atlantic City by union heavies from the desert strip. Prodded by the parking attendant's tip, Weingrow went to a pay phone on the Boardwalk and called Maheu in Vegas, urging him to fly out to Atlantic City the next day. Eventually the Weingrow group struck a deal to build a casino with the Maheu and Sanders entities. But a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the two Maheu companies after they allegedly made false and misleading statements in an attempt to push up the value of their stock. So Lifton, Weingrow, and another partner they brought into the venture took over control of the project, with the Maheu and Sanders groups assigned a secondary role."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pgs. 205-206)
Robert Maheu
Trump was then in effect leasing the property for Trump Plaza indirectly from one of the shadiest private detectives of all time. The name Robert Maheu should immediately set off red flags for regular readers of this blog and conspiracy buffs in general.

Maheu, a former FBI agent, had an especially close relationship with the mob for decades. In point of fact, Maheu is whom the CIA originally tapped to work as a middle man in their efforts to get the Mafia to assassinate Castro. This was hardly the beginning of Maheu's relationship with the CIA, however. As was noted before here, Maheu had longstanding ties to the CIA's notorious Office of Security (OS), the department that oversaw the infamous Project ARTICHOKE. It would appear that Maheu was used by the OS as far back as the early 1950s to run various "honey traps" (such as this) for the Agency prior to the PI taking over security for Howard Hughes. Curiously, it was Maheu's security forces Intertel bypassed in their rescue/abduction of Howard Hughes, as was noted before here.

Needless to say, by the time Maheu hooked up with Trump in Atlantic City he was no stranger to organized crime, spy games and eccentric billionaires. It is thus most interesting that he was there at the onset of Trump's Atlantic City empire. But moving along.


The Tower

Trump's close ties to organized crime predated his entry into Atlantic City, however. In point of fact, Trump's signature building --Manhattan's Trump Tower, which has long resided at the heart of his business empire --has been something of a mecca for organized crime for decades. As with his casinos in Atlantic City, the construction of Trump Tower was littered with mob associates. This is especially true of the concrete companies the Orange One contracted with. One individual in particular was believed to be quite prominent in one of the Five Families.  
"Using concrete, however, put Donald at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers, none more powerful than union boss John Cody. The balding, bulky, sixty-year-old Cody had weathered eight arrests, including one for attempted rape, and three convictions. Before Trump Tower was finished, he would be indicted in an eight count federal racketeering case, charged with taking $160,000 in kickbacks. His mob associations were so strong that the FBI claimed the Carlo Gambino, the most powerful mobster in America, came to his son's $51,000 wedding in Long Island in 1973. His bodyguard, indicted on a murder rap and bailed out by Cody's investment banker son, was later shot to death.
"Cody was president of the leading building trades union in New York, Teamsters Local 282. His members drove the barrel-shaped cement mixer trucks that would feed the Trump Tower job its daily requirement of concrete. The severe access problems of the site – located at one of the busiest intersections in the world and reachable only from the narrow 56th Street side – made the job utterly dependent on Cody's cooperation. Concrete can harden if it isn't used quickly, and Cody's trucks had to make their deliveries at precise intervals throughout the day. A slowdown – anything from delaying the pours to a full-pledge work stoppage – would have caused costly overruns or possibly even shut the job down.
"In the summer of 1980, FBI agents investigating Cody served Donald with a subpoena demanding that he appear for questioning at the Brooklyn office of the Organized Crime Strike Force. The Strike Force, which had been investigating Cody since he took over the union in 1970, had received information from a source close to Cody that the union leader had strong-armed Trump and won a commitment from him for an apartment in Trump Tower in exchange for labor peace during its construction. The investigators knew this was typical of Cody's modus operandi. His indictment would include a count alleging that he'd shaken down one developer for a rent-free, $1000- a-month apartment at Northshore Towers, a luxury Queens complex were a Cody mistress, Marilyn Taggart, lived comfortably. Scheduled to testify for the government at Cody's 1982 trial, Taggart disappeared shortly before it began. 
"Just as he had in the 1979 probe of the Penn Central acquisitions, Trump appeared at the interview without an attorney and willingly answered questions. He emphatically denied having promised Cody an apartment. Because all the investigators had was a loose allegation, apparently from real estate broker who'd paid kickbacks to Cody, and since the building was so far from completion that any deal could not have been consummated, the investigators were forced to abandon the Trump trail."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pgs. 185-186)
John Cody
Cody and Trump's other connections to the murky netherworld of the Philly-New York-New Jersey concrete racket is most significant and a point we shall return to in a moment, so do keep Cody in mind.

But before moving on, let us focus on the real significance of Trump Tower: namely, its use as a conduit of money laundering for various crime syndicates and individuals. It is likely in this capacity that Trump first forged ties with factions of the Russian Mafia. Consider one particular Trump Tower tenant:
"David Bogatin, a high-level member of a Russian émigré crime family, bought five tower apartments in 1984 for $6 million. Donald personally attended the Bogatin closing, meeting Bogatin and his lawyer. Working with Colombo capo Michael Franzese, Bogatin was part of a ring of oil entrepreneurs convicted in a record-setting gas tax evasion scam. After he pled guilty in 1987, agreeing to pay $5 million in back taxes, Bogatin fled to Vienna before he was sentenced and remains a fugitive today. The state seized Bogatin's tower apartments, and state prosecutors concluded that he purchased them 'to launder money, to shelter hide and assets' and use them on weekends and 'for parties.' "
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 194)
It would appear that Bogatin was in fact quite a high ranking member in the Russian Mafia. The New Republic noted:
"... A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the 'boss of bosses' of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich—feared even by his fellow gangsters as 'the most powerful mobster in the world'—was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America."
alleged "boss of bosses" Semion Mogilevich
Bogatin was not the only associate of the notorious Semion Mogilevich to take up residence in Trump Tower either. The New Republic goes on to note that in the early 1990s another associate was a tenant there --one Vyachelsav Kirillovich Ivankov, an alleged enforcer for Mogilevich.

Ivankov reportedly arrived in the United States in 1992 and quickly set up an elaborate protection racket bolstered by Russian Special Forces veterans Ivankov personally recruited. During his time in New York, before his 1995 arrest, he was a frequent guest at Trump's Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City (which, as was noted before here, was acquired from the notorious Resorts International) and kept a luxury condo at Trump Tower. He was ultimately deported in 2004 and assassinated in 2009 in Moscow.

As recently as 2013 it would appear the Russian mob was running rackets out of Trump Tower. The New Republic notes:
"In April 2013, a little more than two years before Trump rode the escalator to the ground floor of Trump Tower to kick off his presidential campaign, police burst into Unit 63A of the high-rise and rounded up 29 suspects in two gambling rings. The operation, which prosecutors called 'the world’s largest sports book,' was run out of condos in Trump Tower—including the entire fifty-first floor of the building. In addition, unit 63A—a condo directly below one owned by Trump—served as the headquarters for a 'sophisticated money-laundering scheme' that moved an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States. The entire operation, prosecutors say, was working under the protection of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, whom the FBI identified as a top Russian vor closely allied with Semion Mogilevich. In a single two-month stretch, according to the federal indictment, the money launderers paid Tokhtakhounov $10 million.
"Tokhtakhounov, who had been indicted a decade earlier for conspiring to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics, was the only suspect to elude arrest. For the next seven months, the Russian crime boss fell off the radar of Interpol, which had issued a red alert. Then, in November 2013, he suddenly appeared live on international television—sitting in the audience at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Tokhtakhounov was in the VIP section, just a few seats away from the pageant owner, Donald Trump." 
Trump Tower
In fairness, the Russians were not the first crime syndicate to run a gambling racket out of Trump Tower. It would appear that the American Mafia had beaten them to the punch several decades earlier.
".... Robert Hopkins, a Lucchese crime family associate who was arrested in his Trump Tower suite of apartments for ordering a mob murder of a gambling competitor. While the murder count was dismissed, Hopkins was convicted of running one of the city's biggest illegal gambling operations – taking in half a million week and running numbers out of as many as a hundred locations. State investigators maintained a tap on his Trump Tower phone for months, concluding that he 'controlled the enterprise' from the tower apartments."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 195)
As with Bogatin, Trump personally attended Hopkins' closing. Reportedly a briefcase containing some $200,000 was also present but could not be accounted for in the aftermath.

The importance of Trump Tower in Trump's business empire can not be overstated. For many years it has been the headquarters of the Trump Organization while Trump and his family have kept residencies there since it was opened. When Trump kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign, it was announced at Trump Towers. After winning said election, Trump Tower was used as a base of operations for the incoming Trump White House. Trump accused then-President Obama of wiretapping his transition team there. Trump Tower is also where son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. reportedly met with Russian envoys.

Thus while the Tower's legacy is assured due to the political intrigues there, the seemingly decades-spanning money laundering operations there are probably far closer to its true legacy.


The Biff

The principal villain in the first two Back to the Future movies is a high school bully known as Biff Tannen. In the second film, a dystonian future is shown in which Biff has become a powerful gaming mogul who has turned his home town into a crime-ridden cesspool. Reportedly this version of Biff is based upon Trump and the Atlantic City of the 1980s. It is thus rather surreal that one of the most dubious rogues Trump allied himself with in the 1980s was nicknamed "Biff" by his associates in the 1980s.

Biff
Edward "Biff" Halloran was a close associate of the above-mentioned union boss John Cody and a reputed member of the Genovese crime family. He was convicted of racketeering in 1987 and spent four years in prison before obtaining his release 1991 after pleading guilty to lesser charges. In 1998, at the age of 57, he disappeared and has never been heard from since. Naturally, his family claimed it had nothing to do with his organized crime links and that his disappearance was most likely the result of some type of car accident he had one the way home from Florida. Of course, if organized crime was involved, his family likely had good reason to keep quiet:
"Biff Halloran had extensive oil and real estate holdings, including a racetrack in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was looking for someone to run his industrial cleaning service. Individuals familiar with Halloran's operation said later that Halloran needed to hide his ownership in the company, called the Armstrong Corporation, because of conflicts of interest in the awarding of government contracts to construction firms owned by Halloran's family..."
(The Bluegrass Conspiracy, Sally Denton, pg. 60)
As we shall see, Halloran's construction companies were closely linked to the mob, which would provided ample incentive for the families member who ran them to keep quiet. On that note, let us turn our attention to Biff's concrete monopoly and his ties to Trump:
"... Biff Halloran, who'd supplied the concrete to the Hyatt, was also given the Trump Tower contract. Cody's drivers worked for Halloran's company, and the two were so closely links that Halloran had reciprocated with complementary services for Cody in a Manhattan hotel he owned. Halloran had in fact been questioned by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn about his hotel suite and other payoffs to Cody shortly before they spoke with Donald in 1980. Halloran was another one-time Cohn client who, according to the government, 'obtained his monopoly over the supply of readi-mix concrete through the direct intervention' of the mob, and was convicted in the federal racketeering case with Nick Auletta. While Halloran did, during the construction of Trump Tower, buyout the only other Manhattan-based concrete suppliers and establish a virtual monopoly, he had at least one wholly independent competitor at the time he was awarded the Trump job."
(Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, Wayne Barrett, pg. 190)
While often overlooked, Biff Halloran was an extremely well connected figure in organized crime circles during this era. His connection to Trump especially significant in light of other, more reputable individuals Trump was courting in the early 1980s. In the next installment we shall consider the murky netherworld Halloran inhabited and the implications it has for other Trump associates.

Be warned, it is quite a journey down the rabbit hole, one that will amongst a Nazi-tinged right wing paramilitary outfit, the long alleged Son of Sam cult and the dirty dealings of Trump's chief political mentor. Stay tuned dear reader.