|By Roberto Santiago, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 9, 2006 - Donald Trump may star in his own TV show, build luxury condos and license his name on everything from cologne to wristwatches. But there is at least one thing he does not do.
"Donald Trump does not personally use e-mail. He doesn't even have a computer in his office," said Robert Reardon, his Connecticut-based attorney.
"He doesn't use e-mail, and I don't use e-mail."
Apparently, Trump's failure to save several years' worth of corporate e-mails and electronic documents could jeopardize a lawsuit he filed against the financial backers of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and Tampa in late 2004.
The records could have helped prove that a business confidante of Trump, Richard Fields, told Trump at that time that they could not close a deal with the Seminoles to build the Florida casinos.
Trump claims Fields then left Trump, secured financing from The Cordish Company, based in Baltimore, and closed the deal within months.
At the core of this 'he-said-she-said' lawsuit is whether Fields cheated or merely outsmarted the self-proclaimed master of the deal.
Trump is seeking damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars from Fields and The Cordish Company.
But Reardon stressed that even if Trump had used e-mail, it wouldn't make any difference.
Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Development Co. has a policy of storing electronic communications for no more than three years, he said.
"I doubt we will be able to find anything from 1998 to 1999," said Reardon, referring to the time frame Fields left the Trump organization -- a crucial period in proving their case.
But Reardon said that Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts already has provided several hundreds of pertinent paper documents from those years. And, he said, it will provide more.
The documents, he said, will prove that the star of TV's The Apprentice was trying to secure a deal with the Seminoles -- only to have Fields leave the company, telling him the deal couldn't be done.
"He trusted someone that was not loyal to him," said Reardon, who predicted that the case would go to trial.
"And when that happens, Donald Trump will testify," said Reardon, predicting victory.
He said former Seminole Chief James Billie, along with others, also would take the stand.
Billie, the ousted, disgruntled former leader of the Seminole Tribe, claims that Trump was cheated.
Billie said he was involved in negotiations with Trump to build the casinos until he was expelled as tribal chief in 2003.
The casinos opened to much fanfare in early 2004.
"I don't know what happened after I left, but I think Fields shafted Trump to get a better deal for himself," Billie told The Miami Herald last April, insisting that he and other Seminole leaders thought Trump was involved all along.
"We weren't being naive," Billie continued, confirming he was at the 2001 groundbreaking with Fields and The Cordish Company's Joe Weinberg, a Cordish executive also being sued by Trump.
"We thought Trump was involved, right through the end," Billie said.
Each side has demanded -- as a process of pretrial discovery -- the other turn over information pertinent to the case.
The Cordish Company's Miami attorney Larry A. Stumpf and Field's Miami attorney, Alvin Smith, both said the lawsuit is baseless and it should be dismissed.
The pair say it should be thrown out not just because Trump doesn't save old e-mails, but also because they believe Trump filed the lawsuit after the statute of limitations had run out.
Trump filed suit December 30, 2004, three years after the groundbreaking.
"They bring that up all of the time, but we filed just in time," Reardon said. "It is a hopeless cause. They should give it up."
The Seminole Hard Rock casinos became major money makers almost overnight.
The Cordish Company, which bankrolled the project with $345 million in tax- exempt bonds, saw a $120 million return a year after the 2004 grand opening.
The Seminoles, who are not part of the lawsuit, are trying to buy out The Cordish Company for an estimated $1.2 billion.
No word yet on when the next hearing will take place.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald
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