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June 12, 2016

Report: Trump once drove Philly cabinetry company out of business

USA Today analysis discovers repeated pattern of nonpayment to contractors in recent decades

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's vociferous legal battle over the fallout of Trump University is one of more than 3,500 lawsuits the real estate mogul has faced over the past three decades, many of them involving cases of alleged nonpayment, according to a recent USA Today analysis.

Paul Friehl, formerly an accountant at Philadelphia cabinet maker Edward J. Friehl Company, says his family's business was ravished by Trump's perplexing failure to pay nearly a quarter of a $400,000 contract for work completed at Harrah's at Trump Plaza in 1984.

The Friehl family business, founded in the 1940s, had been given the job to complete registration desks, bars and the bases of slot machines at Harrah's, one of four Atlantic City casinos shuttered in 2014. When the company completed its work, it submitted a bill to a general contractor for the Trump Organization in the amount of $83,600.

Trump never paid up, Friehl claims, and the GOP disruptor later arranged a meeting with his father. The cabinets at Harrah's were inferior, Trump allegedly said, even though the general contractor had approved them. Friehl would not receive the full amount, but the company was still invited, bizarrely, to accept future contracts on other Trump properties.

A combination of legal records, New Jersey Casino Control Commission documents and newspaper clippings from the period in question confirm that hundreds of other contractors experienced Trump's nonpayments, late payments or tough renegotiations, according to USA Today's review of Atlantic City Casinos.

In one set of casino commission records from 1990, an audit reflects $69.5 million owed to 253 subcontractors on the Trump Taj Mahal. Many of those companies had already sued Trump, while others were attempting to recover what they could for work on everything from plumbing and lighting to ornaments including the casino's iconic minarets.

The volume of lawsuits and the nature of the complaints exposes an evident contradiction between Trump's actions and his message about serving the American worker. In February, for example, Trump weighed in on the decision of a Northeast Philadelphia auto-parts remanufacturer, Cardone Industries, to lay off 1,300 workers and move the division to Mexico.

"I am the ONLY one who can fix this!" Trump wrote on Facebook. "We need to keep jobs here in AMERICA!"

Yet among the findings of USA Today's analysis — which covered lawsuits, liens, judgments, and government filings — Trump's companies have been cited 24 times since 2005 for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including 21 at the Trump Plaza.

Current cases against Trump include labor disputes in California, New York and Florida, where hourly workers claim they were denied tips, barred from taking breaks and left unpaid for thousands of dollars in paint work.

Edward Friehl, who once hired an attorney to sue Trump, was ultimately advised that the case would result in exorbitant legal fees far outweighing anything the family might recoup. Devastated by the nonpayment, the company's finances fell apart, Friehl struggled to find work in Atlantic City and the business went bust within five years of working for Donald Trump.