Trump and the Faces of the Bilked

By now it is well known (although not as well known as it should be) that Donald Trump is a dishonest businessman who takes advantage of contractors as part of his standard operating procedure. Of course, each and every one of those contractors has a unique story, even if they mostly wind up sounding the same. Here’s one from J. Michael Diehl, the retired owner of Freehold Music Center in Freehold, N.J., a store that is still open and operated by his sons.

My relationship with Trump began in 1989, when he asked me to supply several grand and upright pianos to his then-new Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. I’d been running a music store for more than 30 years at that point, selling instruments to local schools and residents. My business was very much a family affair (my grandsons still run the store). And I had a great relationship with my customers — no one had ever failed to pay.

I was thrilled to get a $100,000 contract from Trump. It was one of the biggest sales I’d ever made. I was supposed to deliver and tune the pianos; the Trump corporation would pay me within 90 days. I asked my lawyer if I should ask for payment upfront, and he laughed. “It’s Donald Trump!” he told me. “He’s got lots of money.”

[Black voters won’t ever like Trump. The debate showed why.]

But when I requested payment, the Trump corporation hemmed and hawed. Its executives avoided my calls and crafted excuses. After a couple of months, I got a letter telling me that the casino was short on funds. They would pay 70 percent of what they owed me. There was no negotiating. I didn’t know what to do — I couldn’t afford to sue the Trump corporation, and I needed money to pay my piano suppliers. So I took the $70,000.

Losing $30,000 was a big hit to me and my family. The profit from Trump was meant to be a big part of my salary for the year. So I made much less. There was no money to help grow my business. I had less pianos in the showroom and a smaller advertising budget. Because of Trump, my store stagnated for a couple of years. It made me feel really bad, like I’d been taken advantage of. I was embarrassed.

Freehold is just down the road on the way to the shore from where I grew up. One of my wife’s closest friends lives there. It’s where New Jersey’s patron saint Bruce Springsteen grew up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a frequent customer at the Freehold Music Center. Maybe that’s where his mom rented him his first guitar.

It’s hard not to take Trump’s behavior a little personally.

Stomping on little people is what he does, and then he tells you how smart he is to treat people this way.

Here’s a message for Trump from the Boss.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.