Donald Trump and the Sweepstakes Scammers

Donald Trump and the Sweepstakes Scammers

It was nighttime in Atlantic Metropolis. A person with a decent Afro and a damaged ankle hobbled on crutches towards the Trump Plaza Lodge and On line casino. On the coated driveway, bathed in neon mild, sat a Cadillac Allanté convertible—the grand prize in Trump’s 1987 Drive-In Dreamstakes. The competition had been designed by Charles (Chuck) Seidman, a gregarious, boundlessly enthusiastic pitchman who known as his enterprise C.B.S.—brief for C. B. Seidman Advertising and marketing Group—within the hope that the tv station would sue him, giving him free publicity.

By the late eighties, America was within the grip of a sweepstakes mania. The trade had grown to an estimated worth of a billion {dollars}, and each firm, from Toys R Us to Marvel Bread, appeared to be operating giveaways and promotions. Even Harvard College’s alumni journal was providing ten thousand {dollars} in Sony electronics. C.B.S. had a singular enterprise proposition: it could give you the promotion, print the entry varieties, and even ship the prizes. Manufacturers hoping to capitalize on America’s obsession would pay C.B.S. one price for a turnkey operation.

A type of manufacturers was Donald Trump. To entice bigger crowds to his flagship on line casino, he had constructed a thirty-million-dollar parking storage. However not sufficient folks had been utilizing it. Seidman prompt printing half one million promotional parking tickets. If guests collected sufficient validation stickers, in the fitting mixture, they may win prizes, together with Walkmans, money, an “Eternity of Holidays,” or perhaps a Cadillac.

The Allanté value fifty-five thousand {dollars}, about as a lot as a household residence in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, the place James Parker, the person on crutches, lived. Parker was a hypnotist and a magician, and he spoke with a stutter. He greeted the parking attendant and handed over his ticket. “Look, why don’t you play?” the attendant mentioned. “You solely want another sticker. Who is aware of. You would possibly win!”

The attendant utilized the ultimate sticker, scratched off the gold coating, and supplied his commiserations. Then he did a double take—Parker had gained. He was ushered right into a promotional sales space, and, over the subsequent twenty-four hours, Trump’s P.R. machine started to whir. The attendant reappeared sporting a tuxedo. A photographer from the Trump Right now newspaper popped a flashbulb. Parker held up the important thing and tried to not overdo his pleasure. These had been his orders.

Parker was no fortunate winner. He was a part of a staggering rip-off that concerned among the greatest manufacturers of the eighties: Ford, Vacation Inn, Nabisco, Royal Desserts. If you happen to entered a sweepstakes competitors in these years, it was doubtless run by C.B.S. You had no likelihood of successful—Seidman had constructed a sprawling community of “paper winners,” together with a kung-fu grasp and a pet psychic, who helped him steal tens of millions of {dollars} in money and prizes, pulling off the largest sweepstakes fraud the nation had ever seen.

Chuck Seidman received into sweepstakes as a result of they had been the household enterprise. In the course of the sixties, as a teen-ager, he went to work at his father’s promotions firm, in Philadelphia. Jack Seidman had been a communications professional with the Military’s Sign Corps throughout the Second World Battle, and had pioneered the rub-off recreation card, utilizing gold leaf to hide a prize message. His firm, Spot-O-Gold, created early lottery video games for 7-Eleven and Kellogg’s, and swiftly dominated the sweepstakes market. He hoped at hand down his enterprise to his son.

Chuck Seidman, who had been pressured to depart 4 separate excessive colleges for exhibiting as much as class on medication, was not a perfect successor. He turned hooked on heroin and as soon as was arrested throughout a methamphetamine sale; Jack needed to persuade a decide to let him off. “I used to be in seven detoxes and none of them labored,” Seidman later instructed a court docket. In desperation, Jack employed Steven Gross, a good friend of Seidman’s within the grade above him, to return work at Spot-O-Gold. “Jack knew that I didn’t drink or do medication,” Gross instructed me. “So he requested me if I needed to return to work with him, to maintain his son on the straight and slim.” However that was unimaginable. “Chuck was the type of narcissistic character—you couldn’t inform him what to do,” Gross mentioned. He added, “Chuck was enjoyable to hold round.”

Gross, who was sixteen years previous, found that he had a knack for promotions. When he wasn’t taking care of Seidman, he labored within the improvement division, and pitched a “Cone-O-Gold” for Baskin-Robbins, amongst different campaigns. Spot-O-Gold delivered tamper-proof rub-off playing cards to supermarkets, in armored Brink’s vans, however light-fingered Seidman stole piles of two-dollar winners. He spent the money on the Atlantic Metropolis boardwalk, hitting on ladies. Gross was his designated driver.

Gross finally left for faculty, then offered lingerie, and later vehicles. Again residence, Seidman’s addictions consumed him. By twenty-five, he was spending 300 {dollars} a day on cocaine. Sellers at a neighborhood Lebanese restaurant blackmailed him to steal prizes. “I stole a thousand-dollar recreation ticket from my father’s firm to pay that cocaine debt,” he later confessed. “That was the primary time.” In 1984, Jack paid off sixty thousand {dollars} in drug debt for his son.

The next yr, Jack found that Seidman, now thirty-four, was usually stealing successful tickets, and a fistfight broke out. “He went to hit me. I blocked it,” Seidman later recalled. In the course of the spat, Jack crumpled to the bottom, cracking his ten-thousand-dollar Rolex. Seidman penned a toxic letter to his father: “I’ll struggle you with every thing and something I’ve with a promise to God that no matter occurs, you’ll not stroll away from this a really comfortable man.”

His first act of revenge was to buy a number of VCRs and televisions on his father’s cost account, and promote them for money. “He had no autonomy in any way,” Gross instructed me. “He felt like he was actually beneath his father’s thumb.” Not lengthy afterward, Seidman known as Gross to pitch an thought. They might begin their very own sweepstakes firm and beat his father at his personal recreation.

One after the other, Seidman lured away his father’s purchasers with ingenious pitches for brand spanking new sweepstakes. (He had discovered to cover his drug use, and to harness psychedelics for out-of-the-box considering.) Having grown up coveting his father’s gaudy shows of wealth, he specialised in conceiving elaborate prizes. For Alpo, a dog-food model, he prompt making a gift of a luxurious vacation to 1 fortunate winner—and forty-nine of their closest family and friends members. He leased a cramped workplace within the basement of an house constructing, and employed an assistant.

“That’s after we ended up getting firm American Specific playing cards,” Gross instructed me. “I began to see why his father couldn’t take care of him.” Seidman spent 1000’s of {dollars} on designer fits and bought sixteen season tickets for Philadelphia Eagles video games. He additionally opened a distribution arm of the corporate to deal with mail-in promotions for manufacturers. To run it, he employed two teen-agers he had met within the parking zone of a Wawa sandwich store, Timothy Dagit and Louis Mazzio, and inspired them to work for little cash, calling it “sweat capital.” (Neither Dagit nor Mazzio agreed to an interview.)

Out from beneath Jack’s watchful eye, Seidman and Gross realized that they may pilfer among the prizes. Gross conspired to rig a Royal Desserts competitors to win ten supermarket-sweep journeys to Toys R Us. On the time, there was little regulatory oversight for sweepstakes. No single set of legal guidelines ruled contests, and the Federal Commerce Fee and Federal Communications Fee couldn’t make up their minds, or work collectively on enforcement. “To be sincere, I checked out it as a victimless crime,” Gross instructed me. The manufacturers nonetheless received their publicity.

Seidman inspired Gross to purchase a limousine in order that the pair would “look profitable” once they attended conferences. Quickly, Seidman co-owned an organization, known as Experience in Model, that had three. (The limos seemed new, however, beneath the hood, they had been falling aside—somebody had disconnected the odometers.) Seidman wore cowboy boots and received a Rolex, which he had “gained” in a contest, to match his father’s. He had horrible credit score; when he needed a BMW with a transportable cellphone inside, and a luxurious Cadillac, Gross signed the leases. Seidman began carrying a .357 Magnum across the workplace in a holster.

By the mid-eighties, Jack and Spot-O-Gold had been in hassle. Opponents had rendered Jack’s patent on the rub-off out of date. “Someone labored round it and did the scratch-off,” Fred Sorokin, who labored for Spot-O-Gold, and later for C.B.S., instructed me. “It’s a unique course of. I’m certain Jack was livid about it.” This unlucky flip compounded the ache of shedding his relationship along with his son. “I feel Jack in all probability had a damaged coronary heart,” Sorokin mentioned. In Could, 1986, throughout a stroll in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Sq., Jack collapsed and died of a coronary heart assault. With out its charismatic proprietor, Spot-O-Gold shuttered and Seidman stole its remaining purchasers.

C.B.S. was taking off. It rented an workplace in the identical luxurious tower the place Charles Barkley lived. Gross, who took smoke breaks by the pool, would see him mendacity within the solar. “I received type of tight with Charles,” Gross instructed me. Dr. J and the remainder of the 76ers usually frolicked within the foyer. In the meantime, Seidman’s substance abuse accelerated. “I used to be on ten Valium drugs or Xanax drugs a day, and several other tranquillizers,” he later recalled. In desperation, his spouse, Susan, dialled a random hypnotherapist from the Yellow Pages. It was James Parker. “I get this cellphone name from this frantic girl,” Parker instructed me. “ ‘I would like you right here—it’s an emergency. My husband is on medication or consuming. He’s so tousled. We’re about to lose every thing.’ ” Parker had began finding out hypnosis after watching a carnival stage present when he was seven years previous. (He purchased a hypnosis guide, hoping to regulate his mother and father.) By his early twenties, he dreamed of turning into a well-known stage hypnotist. In Could, 1987, he arrived at Seidman’s residence. Parker put Seidman in a trance; when Seidman awakened, he introduced that he was cured. (Susan declined my requests for an interview.)

Seidman promised to make Parker probably the most well-known hypnotist in America. He mentioned that he’d guide him on Oprah and Johnny Carson, and even get his picture on the entrance of a Wheaties field. However, earlier than all that, Seidman had a favor to ask. He wanted Parker to pose because the fortunate winner for the Trump Plaza sweepstakes. In line with Parker, Seidman assured him that the scheme, although “not probably the most moral,” was utterly authorized.

Parker had no drawback taking from Trump. Within the seventies, Trump and his father, who owned an unlimited portfolio of rental buildings in New York Metropolis, had been accused of refusing to lease residences to Black folks. Parker’s mom was a part of an investigative group assembled by town’s human-rights division to reveal the observe. “They might ship a Black couple right into a Trump property to lease one thing,” he instructed me. When the couple had been instructed that there have been no vacancies, a white worker would quickly comply with, and can be welcomed with open arms. Gross additionally discovered a strategy to justify the sweepstakes scheme. He knew that Trump “was screwing over all these individuals who labored on the casinos, and put a lot of small companies out of enterprise,” he instructed me. “He was a con man.” (Trump didn’t reply to quite a few requests for remark.)

Seidman despatched his mistress, a authorized assistant he’d met at a TGI Fridays, to the on line casino to get the required stickers. “We needed to receive them at totally different instances in order that it didn’t seem like someone went in there 4 days in a row,” Gross defined. They gave the fastened ticket to Parker, however there was a snag—he had crashed his bike whereas performing a skid, and his leg was in plaster. Driving to Trump Plaza can be tough. Seidman and Gross additionally apprehensive that his stutter would possibly make him appear nervous. “We instructed him to behave excited, however to not go loopy like folks on recreation exhibits do, you understand, leaping and screaming,” Gross mentioned.

Three days after Parker’s win, a catastrophic stock-market crash despatched tremors via the American economic system. Gross had instructed Parker to promote the Cadillac and open a brand new checking account to deposit the proceeds, however, after Black Monday, there have been no patrons for a fifty-five-thousand-dollar luxurious automotive, particularly one featured in United Press Worldwide’s annual listing of “ins and outs.” (Donald Trump was in; the Allanté was out.) Finally, they offered it to a supplier for half off. Parker stored 4 thousand {dollars}, however, unbeknownst to him, he was on the hook for taxes on your complete prize worth. He booked a flight to Paris, the place he had a date with a touring opera singer.

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