NEW YORK - Just when it appears Donald Trump might be embarrassed, he's back in with another amazing display of nerve.
After confessing he was the financial backer of a series of anti-Mohawk newspaper ads and at least one plaintiff in a lawsuit designed to block the St. Regis Tribal Council's plans for a Catskills casino, he is offering to build an Indian casino - in Manhattan.
In an interview with New York Post, Trump said he would counter any approval of the proposed St. Regis casino by developing his own Indian-run project on Manhattan's West Side. Although the paper indicated doubt he would get approval from New York Gov. George Pataki, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he would support a casino if it gave the city a cut and kept out organized crime.
It was unclear if Trump was announcing a serious new move in his campaign against a Catskills casino or putting on a bold face after being identified as the instigator of ads the St. Regis Tribal Council called "racist." Gaming analysts have long said Trump fears his Atlantic City holdings would suffer severely from competition of a new casino in the famous but fading resort region a day's drive north of New York City.
Observers say Trump may wish to divert attention from his admission he funneled at least $118,000 to an anti-Mohawk ad campaign run by the New York Institute for Law and Society in Rome, N.Y. Institute President Tom Hunter admitted in June he was supported by gaming interests, but he refused to "name names."
In effect the ads accused the Akwesasne Mohawk people of widespread violence and illegality, including smuggling and money laundering. They also attacked Gov. Pataki for signing a casino compact with the tribe. They ran while the state Legislature was considering a bill to limit the power of making compacts, and the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying decided to investigate them. The bill ultimately was withdrawn after heavy counter-lobbying by the St. Regis Mohawk partner Arthur Goldberg of the Park Place Entertainment. Goldberg is being investigated for breaking lobbying laws.
As the commission closed in on Trump, lawyers for his Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts decided to reveal Trump payments to the institute. In hearings in late August, they turned over the full text of documents previously delivered with Trump's name whited out.
During the hearings, the committee ruled that the Rome-based Institute for Law and Society was engaged in lobbying and had to reveal names of its backers.
During these revelations, institute officials said it was financing plaintiffs in a lawsuit that tried to do what the Legislature didn't. The suit against Gov. Pataki argues that in signing Indian gaming compacts, he unconstitutionally exercised powers that properly belonged to the Legislature.
Plaintiffs include three anti-gaming coalitions - Western New York Coalition Against Casino Gambling, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom and Coalition Against Casino Gambling - and several state legislators. Jay Goldberg, the lawyer for the legislators identified himself as Trump's spokesman and stepped in to represent him at recent Lobbying Commission proceedings.
If Trump is found in violation of lobbying laws, he could be fined up to $50,000 for filing a false report and $25,000 for failing to file. Trump's previous lawyer before the commission, Edward Wallace, said Trump shouldn't be fined because he submitted a corrected report.
If Trump is serious about a New York City Indian casino, he has several possibilities other than the Mohawks. The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans voted in a referendum Sept. 3 to instruct its tribal council to "make the best deal possible in New York" for a casino. Now quartered on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band originated along the Hudson River and western Berkshire Mountains and still have land claims in the Hudson Valley.
The Mohicans are one of several tribes who have been approached for a Catskill project, and their current negotiations have been with Trading Cove Associates, backers of the successful Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.
Stockbridge-Munsee members warn against confusion over names, however. They say the Connecticut Mohegans are actually a band of Pequots.
The original business partners of the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk, fired by the new tribal council, are reported to be looking for another Iroquois tribe to go ahead with a casino at Monticello Raceway, which received the initial federal approval.
The new partner with the St. Regis council, Park Place Entertainment, in the meantime announced more complete plans for its anticipated $1 billion investment.
Chief Counsel Clive Cummis said Park Place would build a 2,000-room hotel, a 300,000 foot convention hall, a 20,000 seat sorts arena and other facilities on the 1,450 acre size of the former Kutsher's Resort in Monticello. The company announced plans to open a temporary casino three months after receiving final approvals and finish a permanent hall 15 months later.
Cummis said the Park Place deal would give the Akwesasne 70 percent of the proceeds.