Donald Trump may have a fourth season of The Apprentice and a new baby on the way, but sources close to the real-estate baron say he’s still dogged by at least one relic of his wheeler-dealer past–his ties to the American Academy of Restaurant and Hospitality Sciences, a shadowy organization that for years has lavished awards on his properties.
Presided over by Trump’s friend Joseph “Joey No Socks” Cinque, the Academy has bestowed its Five Star Diamond Award on three of The Donald’s crown jewels: the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, and the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.
Trump has even used these awards to bolster his brand, boasting in a letter to Mar-a-Lago members that the “very prestigious, coveted” award was “another feather in our cap,” even going so far as to hang a ten-foot version of the award in the lobby of the International.
But according to sources, the hotelier has left little to chance in securing the plaques. In addition to three of Trump’s own staffers, his close pal Cinque, Cinque’s girlfriend, Susan Bender, and Trump’s old crony, labor leader Ed Malloy, all sit on the board of trustees–exactly the number needed to bestow an award.
“You see these big plaques in his places, but very few people know that the whole board is controlled by Trump,” says a source. “He’s basically giving himself those awards.” Cinque, who was forced in 1989 to take a felony plea for possession of stolen artworks, and reportedly had at least a passing acquaintance with the late John Gotti Sr., runs the operation out of his west side apartment building with Bender, getting by on free meals and the fees he charges hotels and restaurants to mention the “prestigious” award in their promotional packages. “I wouldn’t touch anything Cinque is involved in,” says one New York restauranteur that has known Cinque for more than 30 years. “He’s always been a scamster.”
According to a former Trump employee, “Everyone knows Joey’s reputation. If you believe that the Five Star Diamond is based on any real or honest appraisal of a restaurant, you’re crazy.”
Asked whether he felt there was any conflict of interest in having Trump’s employees sitting on his board, Cinque said, “No. If they work for Trump they are not necessarily going to select his properties.”
A spokeswoman for The Donald said that one of his staffers on the board had recently died, bringing the number of trustees in his employ to two (thereby limiting his control over the organization). Perhaps his next Apprentice can fill the empty slot.