The Slatest

Donald Trump Did Some Very Classy Favors in the ’80s for a Three-Time Felon and Cocaine Trafficker

Donald Trump in Radford, Virginia, on Tuesday.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Ted Cruz suggested that Donald Trump isn’t releasing his tax returns because they might include information about “business dealings with the mob.” Said the Texas senator on Meet the Press:

There have been multiple media reports about Donald’s business dealings with the mob, with the Mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported. … ABC, CNN, multiple news reports have reported about his some dealings with, for example, S&A Construction, which was owned by “Fat Tony” Salerno, who is a mobster who is in jail. It is owned by two of the major New York crime families. And that has been reported in multiple media outlets.


Cruz is right in a very technical sense about this specific issue—we don’t know what’s on Trump’s tax returns, and news outlets have reported on a Trump connection to S&A and Salerno. But, short of Trump having itemized something like “MONEY THAT I GAVE TO FAT TONY FOR MAFIA STUFF,” it’s unlikely that anything revealed about that connection in his tax returns would hurt Trump’s campaign. As has been well-documented, Trump hired the mob-owned S&A company to help build Trump Plaza and Trump Tower. He also bought some land in Atlantic City from a known mobster. But it’s never been suggested that anything about those transactions was itself illegal—and, as other articles about the subject have noted, mob involvement in the New York and New Jersey construction industries in the 1980s was so extensive that contact with shady businesses was probably inevitable.


However, there is another figure from that era whose connections to Trump have been covered less, but might be more troubling: Joseph Weichselbaum. A 1991 piece in Spy, a 1992 book by reporter Wayne Barrett, and a recent investigation by the Smoking Gun detailed the Weichselbaum-Trump relationship; here’s a summary. (I don’t have Barrett’s book—I’m working off this 1992 piece about it.)

  • In the mid-’80s, Spy/Barrett/the Smoking Gun say, Weichselbaum worked for a helicopter company that shuttled clients to and from Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. Spy and TSG say Weichselbaum had previously been convicted of grand theft auto and embezzlement. Spy says Weichselbaum was the general manager of the Trump-connected helicopter company from 1983 until 1986 and that his brother Frank Weichselbaum was one of the men who owned it.
  • In October 1985, Weichselbaum was charged with trafficking cocaine and marijuana through Florida to Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. He was indicted in Ohio and ultimately pleaded guilty to two felonies in the case. Spy and TSG say he cooperated with authorities in the case.
  • After Weichselbaum was indicted but before he went to prison, per Spy and TSG, he began renting an apartment in the Trump Plaza building in Manhattan. The Smoking Gun says that Trump owned the individual unit and rented it directly to Weichselbaum as a landlord. 
  • Both Spy and the Smoking Gun say that while Weichselbaum’s trafficking case was pending the Trump Plaza unit was partly paid for in “barter”—i.e. in-kind services provided by Weichselbaum’s helicopter company.
  • During this time, Weichselbaum applied for a change of venue in his cocaine case. The case was transferred from Ohio to Newark, New Jersey, where the new judge in his case was …
  • Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister! She then handed the case off to a different judge, to whom Trump wrote a letter asking for leniency for Weichselbaum before his November 1987 sentencing. (SpyTSG, and Barrett’s book all report on the letter.) 
  • Weichselbaum was convicted of two felony charges and ultimately received a three-year sentence. He spent about 18 months in prison beginning in January 1988. After he was released, he moved into a different Trump property—Trump Tower—in an apartment that TSG and Spy say his girlfriend had purchased. Spy says Weichselbaum told his parole board he planned to work for Trump after his release.
  • Spy, Barrett, and TSG say Trump continued to pay Weichselbaum’s erstwhile company—which per Spy went bankrupt and re-formed itself under a new name twice during the time Trump was paying it—for helicopter services after his indictment. Spy specifically says the payments continued until 1990.
  • Trump launched his own New York–Atlantic City helicopter service in 1988.


Per the Smoking Gun, Weichselbaum is now 74 and living in Los Angeles and does not appear to have had further troubles with the law. (His son, however, at one point spent 46 months in prison and now, according to the Smoking Gun, runs a X-rated webcam business.)

In summary, multiple outlets have reported that Donald Trump vouched for and rented an apartment to Joseph Weichselbaum—a known felon and soon-to-be-convicted drug trafficker. For some still-unknown reason, Weichselbaum’s drug prosecution passed briefly through Trump’s sister’s courtroom in a state that had no apparent connection to the case. And Trump continued to pay Weichselbaum’s helicopter company after Weichselbaum was convicted and (according to Spy) after Trump had founded his own helicopter business.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s relationship with Weichselbaum.