Sometime in early April 1981, Daniel Sullivan walks into Donald Trump’s office. Two agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations follow him in.
Sullivan is an informant for the FBI and a close associate of New York’s criminal underworld. He’s also a labor consultant to Trump and owns property in Atlantic City that Trump wants to use to build a casino.
Today, agents want to talk to Trump about casinos and organized crime. Sullivan, likely with Trump’s approval, had informed them that Trump was hesitant about moving into Atlantic City’s casino industry. He knew that part of the licensing process requires a deep investigation into his background, taking more than a year for would-be casino owners.
Trump advised Agents that he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City… Trump also expressed at this meeting the reservation that his life and those around him would be subject to microscopic examination. Trump advised that he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City but he did not wish to tarnish his family’s name.FBI Memo
Trump tells the agents (Damon Taylor and Walt Stowe) that he’s willing to “cooperate” with the Bureau if he decides to move forward in Atlantic City. The agents say they’re happy to discuss the matter if he does decide to pursue the casino business.
Taylor and Stowe meet with Trump (and his brother Robert) again in June. Trump is confident he’s going to open a casino, and he wants to fully cooperate with the FBI during construction and after the casino opens. Trump even has an idea to prove his loyalty: pack the casino with undercover agents.
Taylor tells Trump there’s not much he or Stowe can do. He doesn’t have the authority to make promises or agreements for the FBI or speak in an official capacity. Trump asks to meet someone who does have that power.
After the meeting, Taylor contacts officials at the FBI’s Newark and Atlantic City offices to hammer out an “undercover proposal” for the Trump casino. The proposal is “in a thoroughly finished state,” according to FBI documents, when agents schedule a third meeting with Trump for October 1.
The details of that meeting and a final deal with the FBI are still a mystery.
Trump’s supposed qualms about dealing with Atlantic City’s wiseguy element had subsided enough by 1982 that the developer paid Philadelphia mobster Salvatore Testa twice market rate for a piece of property that became part of a larger assemblage upon which the Trump Plaza casino was built. Additionally, as journalist Wayne Barrett reported in his investigative biography of Trump, the developer used a pair of construction companies controlled by leaders of Philadelphia’s mob family to help build his inaugural gambling den.The Smoking Gun
Trump becomes friends with Stowe and remains friends with Sullivan until 1985, when he testifies in court that Trump uses undocumented immigrants for labor in New York.
Photo: Don Hogan Charles—The New York Times/Redux