Trump testifies at Chicago trial on condo deals
CHICAGO – A sometimes prickly, sometimes boastful Donald Trump testified Tuesday at a civil trial where the developer-turned-TV personality is accused of using false promises to entice an 87-year-old investor into buying condos at his namesake Chicago skyscraper.
The real estate magnate – who gained famed for scrutinizing contestants and firing ones he deemed incompetent on his "Apprentice" TV show – was the one on the hot seat as a plaintiff's attorney grilled him over allegations he had engaged in a bait-and-switch.
Trump, who is scheduled to resume his testimony Wednesday, took the stand Tuesday afternoon for an hour's worth of often-blistering questions about the development of his glitzy Trump International Hotel & Tower.
Pacing the floor, attorney Shelly Kulwin balked aloud as Trump several times described himself as an accomplished executive who valued quality above all else.
Trump, 66, said he didn't like to boast – then went on to boast again and again.
"I don't want to be braggadocios: I build great buildings," he said.
Trump also bragged about raising financing to finish the Chicago building in 2009 despite a real estate market collapse because, he said, "I have a good reputation."
As the hour went by, questioning became increasingly aggressive and Trump more visibly annoyed, frowning as Kulwin raised his voice, stopped Trump mid-sentence and accused him of working "infomercials" into his testimony.
"He's not answering the questions, your honor. He's giving a speech," Kulwin said.
The crux of the case is whether, as the plaintiff alleges, Trump remained hands on in the development of the Chicago tower and planned all along to offer a profit-sharing plan to woo buyers and then to renege on it after they bought in.
Defense attorneys have tried to portray Trump as a big-picture executive who delegated the decision about pulling the profit-sharing plan to others.
But in his questioning Tuesday, Kulwin suggested Trump was so detail-oriented he even insisted that every advertisement for the hotel-condo development had to have a picture of him displayed prominently.
"No, that's not true at all," Trump shot back.
The trial stems from a lawsuit filed by the investor, Jacqueline Goldberg. She agreed in 2006 to buy two condos for around $1 million apiece at the 92-story luxury building. It boasts more than 300 hotel rooms and nearly 500 condominiums in a prime location — along the Chicago River and just two blocks from Michigan Avenue.
The lawsuit alleges breach of contract and deceptive practices. It seeks the return of a $500,000 deposit Goldberg made for the properties and other unspecified damages.
Goldberg's legal team has portrayed the sale of the condos as a bait-and-switch, where Trump and his executives sought to make the properties more attractive investments by telling would-be buyers they would reap a percentage of profits from banquet hall rentals, food sales, laundry, parking and other services.
"'Who better to go into the hotel business with than Donald Trump?' she thought," Kulwin said about his client during opening statements on Monday.
One reason Trump summarily canceled the profit-sharing plan, Kulwin said, was because he had failed to attract a major corporate tenant to rent several floors of the building — cutting into the tower's potential profit. As a result, he decided the profit he'd offered to share was something he now needed to keep for himself, Kulwin said.
By the time Goldberg went ahead with her purchase, Kulwin alleged, Trump and other executives already knew the profit-sharing offer would be withdrawn. It was only formally withdrawn in 2009, a few months before the tower's grand opening, he said.
"They made a deal and then they said, 'Surprise! No deal,'" Kulwin said.
Trump attorney Stephen Novack said in his Monday opening that Goldberg was a sophisticated, longtime investor who signed documents explicitly giving Trump executives the power to revoke the profit-sharing offer if they saw fit.
Trump, of New York, didn't comment to reporters who waited for him in the courthouse lobby Tuesday evening after his testimony. But as he climbed into a black SUV, he told bystanders who snapped photographs of him with their cellphones, "I love Chicago."
Follow Michael Tarm at http://www.twitter.com/mtarm