Allegations of jobs smoothed with cash payments at Trump Tower

Published 9:24 am Thursday, October 6, 2016

NEW YORK — Six years after George Gjieli left federal prison, where he’d been sent for trying to break out a triple murderer, Donald Trump gave him a job running Trump Tower, where the billionaire businessman lived and worked.

For a decade, the Albanian immigrant, whom federal prosecutors had described as having “utter disdain for the laws of our country,” was the live-in residential superintendent of Trump’s most prized Manhattan high-rise. Meanwhile, he was accused in court papers of coordinating a cash-for-jobs racket inside the building, an Associated Press review has found.

Trump’s decision to entrust responsibility of his namesake Fifth Avenue skyscraper to Gjieli adds to a growing public accounting of men with questionable backgrounds whom Trump has hired or partnered with. The AP and others have reported they include a Mafia-linked government informant whom Trump named as a senior adviser and a convicted cocaine dealer whom Trump supported in a letter to a federal judge.

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Gjieli, who said Trump wrote him a recommendation letter when he left Trump Tower in 2001, denied taking kickbacks including cash in envelopes delivered to his 29th floor office. In an interview, he called the allegations “bulls–t,” likely made by Romanian building workers harboring generations-old European ethnic rivalries.

The AP uncovered no evidence that Trump knew of money being paid for jobs. His presidential campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, declined to address whether Trump ever conducted a background check before hiring Gjieli. She said Trump wasn’t familiar with the kickback allegations.

“Mr. Trump’s management style has led to the creation of one of the great private companies anywhere in the world,” she said.

Trump himself has said he cares more about his supervisors’ ability to get things done than their tactics or pasts, writing approvingly in his best-selling “Art of the Deal” about a “con man” project manager who likely stole $50,000 annually from the company, including from his secretaries’ funeral fund used to buy flowers.

“Even so, I was probably getting a bargain,” Trump wrote, saying the con man — it was not Gjieli — was a good manager.

When Trump hired Gjieli after a face-to-face interview in 1991, the man didn’t mention his criminal past and Trump didn’t ask him about it, Gjieli said. Records of his conviction were publicly available at the time, and recently reviewed in detail by the AP.

They show that government wiretaps from the 1980s captured Gjieli’s efforts to bribe a U.S. Treasury agent with $100,000 to get a fellow Albanian immigrant serving life terms for triple murder out of a Michigan state prison.

Gjieli told the agent that the imprisoned man “shot the f — k out of them. Boom,” using a racial epithet to describe the three black men killed during a 1976 robbery attempt, according to a transcript. Gjieli and two associates were later convicted in the jailbreak plan.