The Swiss Connection

The Party Girl Who Brought Trump to His Knees

Verina Hixon, who lived below Trump in his tower, was protected by wealthy and powerful men—the kind of men who, it is said, could make young Donald cry.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — She is in her 70s now, but it is easy to see, still, why she broke hearts and made and lost fortunes with her looks and her charm. Once, asked in a deposition how she earned her living, “That’s a good question!” she answered. Asked another time what it was she did for a powerful Teamsters boss, she said, “I lit up his life.” Along the way there was a Texas billionaire, an Arab billionaire, a Caribbean private equity investor. Big money. Quiet money. Powerful money.

And then there was the matter of Donald Trump. But he was not her kind of man and, defiant and stubborn, she definitely was not his kind of woman.

For decades now, when investigative reporters have dredged up court records linking Trump to the mob in New York City, her name has floated to the surface.

The basic oft-repeated tale is this: Trump was erecting his signature tower on Fifth Avenue in the early 1980s and that put him at the mercy of local Teamsters boss John Cody, who allegedly was tied to the Gambino crime family. Cody could slow or stop the flow of building materials, concrete could dry up in the trucks, and construction would grind to a halt. But in Trump’s case Cody did not do that, according to these accounts. Indeed, even when Teamsters went on strike everywhere else in the city in 1982, Trump Tower kept going up.

A payoff was assumed, and that was presumed to be several apartments combined into two huge apartments just below Trump’s own at the top of the tower. At the time they were worth upward of $10 million. But they were not in Cody’s name, as the story went, they were in the name of his friend (the general assumption was his girlfriend or mistress). And that person was Verina Hixon.

Then, as now, Hixon would not sit down for an on-the-record interview. As a result, much that has been written about her was by way of inference and innuendo. But through sources intimately familiar with her story, friends, acquaintances, and public records, we’ve been able to piece together a detailed picture of her life in those heady days of the 1980s when Gotham was ruled by would-be “masters of the universe” like Trump and, sometimes, the mob put them in their place. Indeed, sometimes the real tough guys this woman knew could make The Donald cry.

***

Verina tells her friends that she was born in Austria to German parents in 1944 at the height of World War II. Public records show, precisely, that Verina Herud first saw the light of day on May 14 of that year in the tiny village of Alberschwende in the Austrian Alps near the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein.

Her family came from the German port of Hamburg, where British and American warplanes had carried out a devastating campaign, “Operation Gomorrah,” only 10 months before. The Allied bombing had slaughtered some 40,000 people.

When the fighting ended, the Herud family returned to Hamburg and Verina grew up amid its ruins. There were no shortages of food for her or her siblings. Her family owned some farmland where they raised what was needed. But she would play in streets where one house had been left standing, one had been utterly destroyed, and another was only half intact. It was the Aleppo of its time, but far worse.

Because of this background, whatever kind of party girl, whatever kind of enchantress, she became, she was cut from a different mold than many of the other bacchants who shared the strobe lights of Studio 54 and Xenon in the 1970s.

Verina went to college in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1960s, she tells people. Although how much she studied, and how much she made the social scene in that city of very private bankers, is hard to determine at this remove.

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Some time in 1969, when she was 25, a girlfriend invited her to a party in Texas—in San Antonio, which was a pretty sleepy town back then. Among the people she met was George C. “Tim” Hixon, a young heir to an enormous Texas family fortune. As she told the story later, he showed up on her doorstep in Geneva not long afterward with “a huge diamond.”

Rather like Marilyn Monroe’s adorable Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Verina found herself persuaded this was the guy for her. (“Don’t you know that a rich man is like a pretty girl?” says Lee. “You don’t marry her just because she’s pretty. But, my goodness, doesn’t it help?”)

But the Hixons were not to live happily ever after. Verina found San Antonio small and boring, and was less than enthusiastic about her husband’s passion for hunting. According to Texas divorce records, the marriage produced one son, then ended in divorce after two years and 100 days.

By the end of November 1971, Verina Hixon was a single woman once again, and apparently quite a wealthy one. Certainly she had enough wherewithal to make it into gossip columns dating the likes of Mexican millionaire Bruno Pagliai, previously married to movie star Merle Oberon.

“Verina and Bruno had eyes only for each other when they arrived at the posh party given by Richard Gully at Buddy Greco’s opening at the Princess Hotel in Acapulco,” wrote Dorothy Manners in 1974. “Verdict of the South-of-the-Border insiders is that this is a serious romance.”

By the late 1970s, Verina Hixon was living in Manhattan at the exclusive Olympic Tower, built by Aristotle Onassis on Fifth Avenue next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and across from Rockefeller Center. She has told friends she could look from her apartment directly into the office of Steve Ross, the tycoon who built his Warner Communications into Time Warner. He would wave to her and invite her to lunch, and of course she’d join him.

In 1979, Donald Trump, the brash heir to the real-estate development business of his father, Fred Trump, was determined to make his own mark on Fifth Avenue, and he started building his eponymous tower.

By then, Verina was living in New York with the son of one of the richest men in the United Arab Emirates, which is saying something. She was in her mid-30s, he was in his early 20s. And this is where the plot thickens.

***

In 1982, Verina Hixon decided to pour all the money she had, and then some, into the collection of apartments at the top of Trump Tower just below Donald Trump’s own sky-high palace. Among the amenities she was determined to have: the only swimming pool in the building.

As she has explained to friends, she spent some $12 million, including a mortgage of about $3 million arranged with the help of her Arab boyfriend’s father. She signed the deal in 1982; Trump Tower’s official opening was in February 1983, and she moved in later that year or at the beginning of 1984.

During this same period, as she’s told the story, she got to know John Cody, president of the Teamsters union Local 282: a man who could make or break the projects of New York real-estate developers and who, Verina understood, had a close relationship with Fred Trump, Donald’s father.

Verina, her young Arab boyfriend, and Cody, along with Cody’s pregnant mistress, who normally lived in Queens, all took a trip together down to Florida. They rented a yacht, and it must have been quite a scene aboard: Cody was in his early 60s; Verina was pushing 40; her boyfriend was about 25; and Cody’s mistress? She was pretty young, too, but Verina remembered her as distinctively “dreary.”

At the time, as Verina has told the tale, Verina was being dressed by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent. She was resplendent. Which is why, when a friend asked what it was she did for Cody, she said, “I lit up his life.”

When, several years ago, New York investigative reporter Wayne Barrett asked Verina about the nature of her relationship with Cody, Verina said it was platonic, and Cody told Barrett the same thing. She has continued to insist that was the case.

In fact, the rubric “it’s complicated” would hardly begin to describe the tangled web of relationships that surrounded Verina Hixon and her Trump Tower apartments in the early 1980s.

***

John Cody was fun to be with and loved a good time, as Verina has recalled. But he was also a hard man who’d grown up tough in mean times. Born in Hell’s Kitchen when it really was Hell’s kitchen, he started driving trucks in his teens, served in the Marines, and did seven years for burglary before he started working his way to a position of extraordinary power in New York as a Teamsters boss.

According to a report prepared for New York’s governor in 1989 (PDF), Teamsters Local 282 had been “closely associated with or controlled by members of Cosa Nostra for decades.” The same report noted that, “From 1976 to 1984, Local 282’s president was John Cody, a close associate of the Gambino Crime Family. An investigation revealed that Cody paid $200,000 per year to Carlo Gambino, the Family’s boss.”

Nothing major got built without Cody’s cooperation, and he made that clear to the younger Trump on several occasions.

As Cody’s son Michael recalls, Trump was “a guy who would talk tough, but as soon as you confronted him, he would cry like a little girl. He was all talk, no action.

“My father walked all over him. He did. Any time Trump didn’t do what he was told, my father would shut down his job for the day. No deliveries; 400 guys sitting around.”

When asked at one point about Cody, Trump told a reporter, “I didn’t really know him. He was a bad guy.” Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment on this story.

One time Trump’s then wife, Ivana, hired a painting contractor, apparently for their apartment. “My father found out,” Michael Cody recalls. “He said, ‘No, no, you don’t do that.’ They had to hire who my father told them to hire.”

Michael says his father stayed in the apartment directly below Trump—Verina’s apartment: “I believe he slept there now and again,” and Michael, for one, does not believe that Verina and his father “were just very good friends.”

As Verina settled into her new Trump Tower home, in any case, she fought one battle after another with the builder of that eponymous edifice and Cody became her protector.

Trump would tell Cody, “Anything for you, John.” Michael says he was with his father one time when Trump called, desperate to have the job reopened. Michael says Trump ended by telling him, “Whatever you say, John.”

According to Barrett, when Verina was $3 million short on financing, Cody got Trump to arrange the money and Verina was not even required to file a financial statement.

Verina has told friends that Trump never made any moves on her, very possibly because he was afraid. But her relationship with Cody seems to have driven Trump crazy, and Trump would make crass remarks: “Foulmouth and dirty fantasy,” as she told Barrett.

At one point, Verina wanted the wiring in her apartment to go to the central switchboard. Trump wanted otherwise. So Cody put a guy on Verina’s door to keep Trump’s people out. She has claimed, as well, that Cody used his clout to shut down the building for up to three days even when it was completed.

In 1983, according to Barrett’s reporting, Verina was running short on money for renovations and Cody channeled $500,000 to her, drawn on a Swiss bank account that was then routed through a contact he had in London.

At the time, Cody was in prison—he'd been convicted of racketeering and tax evasion in 1982—but he was still president of Local 282, and Verina would visit Cody in jail, but she also started a relationship with a handsome young banker and investor who came from an influential family in the Caribbean.

Then, in 1984, Cody was forced out of his position as president of Local 282. And Trump, it seems, started looking for ways to take revenge. He sued Verina Hixon for back payments on maintenance. She counter-sued for $20 million.

Her plan had always been to keep one apartment—the one with the famous pool—and sell the other for a hefty profit. But, she complained, Trump had so many workmen in and out of his own apartment above her, and made so much noise, it was impossible to get the price she was asking.

As Verina’s litigation dragged on, Cody made his own bad situation worse. He was caught plotting to murder the man who’d replaced him as head of Local 282. He was no longer in a position to protect Verina. Her Arab friend no longer backed her. And her Caribbean banker boyfriend did not have the kind of money she needed, now, on increasingly short notice.

At this point, as Verina has told the story, Trump made his move. According to her, he got word to the most promising potential buyer that she was in trouble with the banks and behind on her mortgage. She found a friend who was willing to front her $6 million, but now the banks wouldn’t take it. And then there was the matter of the money she had continued to get over the years from her ex-husband in Texas. Verina says that Trump had his secretary call her ex and tell him she was “living with a black man.”

***

By the end of the decade, Verina Hixon had lost her Trump apartments and much of the money she’d put into them. But Verina still managed to keep up a certain lifestyle. She bought a co-op on East 64th Street just two doors down from Ivana Trump’s post-divorce digs, and the two of them became friends. After 13 years, Verina once again ran out of ready cash, started litigating, fell behind in her maintenance, and was evicted. But by then she’d bought the respectably palatial apartment in Switzerland where she now lives, and she still makes the gossip columns occasionally.

“Page Six” reported in late 2013 that Ivana Trump and Ivana’s then boyfriend, Marc Antonio Rota, had stayed at Verina’s place in St. Moritz the previous winter. But they’d had a lovers’ quarrel, at which point Ivana locked herself in her room and Rota’s dachshunds were allowed to run riot. When Verina asked Ivana to pay for damage left behind by their chewing, clawing, piddling, and defecating all over the place, Ivana refused. “They weren’t her dogs,” Trump’s publicist, Catherine Saxton, explained to “Page Six.”

Verina takes long walks around Lake St. Moritz, and, it is said, she looks forward to skiing this winter, happily far from the presidential craziness in America and the candidate she’s called “that awful man.”

Cody, for his part, went back to jail on charges of attempted murder. Eventually afflicted with Alzheimer’s, he was released from prison in 1993 and died in 2001.

His son Michael, looking back on his father’s experiences with Verina Hixon—defending her from Trump, and sometimes making that notorious bully cry—can only shake his head and smile. “Whoever knew this guy would run for president?” he says.

Michael says of his father, “I’m sure he’s rolling in his grave, laughing.”