Unanswered Questions

The Drug Trafficker Donald Trump Risked His Casino Empire to Protect

The Donald and his sister, federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, both took helicopter flights with a guy who had a lot of ways to get people high.

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

With Donald Trump calling on Hillary Clinton to take a drug test before their third debate Wednesday evening, it’s the perfect time to bring up one of the biggest campaign issues that major news organizations have avoided: His long, deep, and strange involvement with a major cocaine and marijuana trafficker.

Trump presents himself as the most ardent law-and-order politician ever. Yet throughout his adult life Trump sought out—and worked closely with—more than a score of criminals, including Mafia associates, Russian mob associates, violent felons, con artists, swindlers, and most significant of all, the embezzler and mob associate Joseph Weichselbaum, a thrice-convicted felon.

Long ago, when Trump was the big man in Atlantic City, he got his helicopters to bring his high-rollers in and out of town through a company formed by Weichselbaum, to whom he also entrusted maintenance of the Ivana, Trump’s personal helicopter. Spy, a satirical magazine that often made fun of Trump, reported that Weichselbaum—at that point a twice-convicted felon—personally piloted the Trumps in that copter.

Weichselbaum also had another business: importing drugs from Colombia and shipping them from Bradford Motors, a Miami-area car dealership he partly owned, to Cincinnati.

When Weichselbaum got caught, his case was handled in a most unusual way, with both Donald Trump and one of his siblings in starring roles.

This relationship between the Republican presidential nominee and a major drug trafficker, revealed in court filings and other public documents, has never been explained by the candidate. Trump should be asked in every venue right up to Election Day for a complete and detailed accounting of this relationship.

Trump’s loud sniffling through the first two debates prompted all sorts of speculation. His lagging performance at the end of the first debate, when he lost focus and went off on yet another attack on comedian Rosie O’Donnell, further fueled that speculation. Former Vermont governor and prominent Democrat Howard Dean suggested that Trump snorted cocaine ahead of the first debate, an especially fraught diagnosis even for a physician.

The candidate says that he does not drink or use drugs and never has. I have no evidence to the contrary.

Dean’s rank speculation, and the questions raised on social media about Trump’s sniffling in the second debate, might have been the end of the issue except that Trump decided to breathe new life into it. At campaign rallies Trump said that it seemed to him that Clinton was the one on drugs. Trump declared, against the visible evidence, that Clinton was the one exhausted by debating, suggesting this was because the effects of drugs had worn off.

Trump is well known for projecting—taking things that apply to himself and saying that they apply to others. His comments about Clinton, who was alert and stood with good posture through both debates, did not help him.

But any questions about his personal drug use are small potatoes compared to his long, deep embrace of Weichselbaum. Trump risked his lucrative casino license to demonstrate his unflagging loyalty to a convicted drug trafficker.

The unusual relationship between Trump and Weichselbaum deserves at least as much attention as the Republican nominee’s refusal to make public any of his tax returns or the questions about what was contained in the Democratic nominee’s tens of thousands of emails that she says were private and that State Department staff deleted.

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Yet, to use Trumpian language, I alone am raising the issue of his drug-distributor pal.

Law enforcement reports long ago identified Weichselbaum as a Mafia associate. At one time he was actively involved in cigarette-boat racing in Miami, a sport that attracted a number of high-level criminals ranging from fellow drug traffickers to corrupt financiers like Charles Keating, the poster boy for the savings-and-loan scandals of quarter century ago, who came in second in a race where Weichselbaum ran third.

Trump needed helicopters to fly high-rollers to Atlantic City. The selection of Damin Aviation was odd given that there were better-financed helicopter companies with longer track records. Damin was set up as a lightly financed tax-sheltered operation that benefited from lavish state of New Jersey subsidies. Despite that structure, it soon went bust and reemerged as Nimad—Damin spelled backward. It went bust again.

Through all this Trump stayed with Damin, run by Joseph’s brother and continuing to him, instead of switching to any of the other helicopter providers.

Because Weichselbaum was then a twice-convicted felon, New Jersey gambling regulators eventually insisted he not be involved with providing helicopter services to the Trump casinos.

Yet Weichselbaum continued collecting a $100,000 salary (more than $220,000 in today’s money) and a company car and driver from Nimad. And Trump kept using the company that paid Weichselbaum even though he was supposedly no longer involved, which technically met the requirements imposed by casino regulators.

According to his indictment, Weichselbaum’s more lucrative business was having drugs delivered to Bradford Motors, the Miami-area car dealership he had an ownership stake in. At one point, he helped load up to 1,500 pounds of drugs at the time into cars that mules drove to the Cincinnati area for distribution in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, testimony and his confession established.

Trump learned of the indictment shortly after it was filed in October 1985, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records show. At that point Trump should have cut off all connections to Weichselbaum because failing to do so could cost him his casino license.

The New Jersey Casino Control Act requires owners to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they do not consort with criminals. The United States Supreme Court upheld this law because a casino license is a privilege, not a right.

Instead of abandoning Weichselbaum, Trump did him the first of several favors.

Two months after the indictment, Trump rented apartment 32C in the Trump Plaza Apartments on E. 61st St. in Manhattan to the Weichselbaum brothers, according to New Jersey Casino Control Commission records. Trump personally owned the unit.

It was an odd arrangement. The brothers were to pay about half the rent in cash and the rest in unspecified helicopter services, which would be hard to establish without a thorough audit, according to those casino regulatory files.

Meanwhile, Weichselbaum agreed to plead guilty in Federal District Court in Cincinnati. His Ohio lawyer, Arnold Morelli, asked that sentencing be done either in Miami, where Bradford Motors is located, or Manhattan where the confessed drug trafficker lived.

Instead the case somehow ended up in New Jersey—and in not just any courtroom, either. It came before Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s older sister.

After three weeks Judge Barry recused herself, explaining to the chief judge that her husband, Trump casino lawyer John Barry, and she had flown in the helicopters of a confessed drug trafficker. At the time, there was only a signed order reassigning the case, but not explaining the reasons for doing so. Six years passed before Barry’s reason for recusal—potentially damaging to the federal judiciary—emerged in a book by investigative reporter Wayne Barrett.

Then Trump wrote a letter on Trump Organization stationery pleading for mercy for Weichselbaum. He called him “a credit to the community.” Trump also described the drug trafficker as “conscientious, forthright and diligent,” not the sort of language a law-and-order presidential candidate would be expected to apply to a drug trafficker who moved more than 11 pounds of cocaine in one shipment alone and more than three quarters of a ton of marijuana in another.

When New Jersey gaming regulators first asked Trump about this letter he denied writing it. When they came back with a copy of the letter, Trump said under oath that his signature was on the page. What else he may have been asked is unknown because the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Gaming Enforcement’s report did not indicate that Trump was asked the obvious questions:

What prompted you to write the letter knowing you could lose your casino license over it?

What were your business dealings with Weichselbaum beyond helicopter services?

Did you invest in the drug deals?

Trump has never answered questions about this, including when he called me at my home on April 27 to tell me that unless he liked what I wrote about him he would sue me, something no other candidate for office has ever done in my half century of reporting.

Trump’s letter worked. Weichselbaum served just 18 months, while the mules who merely drove the drugs got sentences of up to 20 years.

When time came for parole, Weichselbaum said he had the required job and a place to live. He told authorities he would be Trump’s helicopter guy. Then he moved into Trump Tower.

It’s more than reasonable, indeed critical, that Trump be pinned down on just what motivated his unusual actions in the Weichselbaum case. He needs to be asked why, as he is now doing with Vladimir Putin, he went out of his way to make sure Weichselbaum knew that in Donald Trump he had a totally loyal ally who would never turn on him.

Having a tax cheat in the White House four decades ago and another a heartbeat away was bad enough. Why in the world would we want the ally of a drug trafficker anywhere near the Oval Office?

Wednesday evening, debate moderator Chris Wallace will have the opportunity to ask Trump why he stood by this convicted felon, risking his casino empire in the process.

Until Trump offers real answers, we have no way of knowing whether he simply displayed the kind of bad judgement he attributes to Clinton or was knowingly involved in Weichselbaum’s drug business.