Trump, in court by video, claims rescue of Jupiter country club

UPDATE: Read the latest on Eric Trump in court on Tuesday

In classic Donald Trump fashion, the GOP presidential nominee testified Monday that improvements he made to an ailing Jupiter country club were “beautiful,” the members were “very happy” and those who weren’t were just “angry people” he didn’t want in his club anyway.

Never mind that the reason those people are angry is they believe he stole as much as $6 million from them.

Trump’s appearance at the breach of contract trial in U.S. District Court was limited to a roughly 25-minute video deposition. It was taken at his New York City offices in April 2015, long before anyone imagined the real-estate-mogul-turned-TV-celebrity would secure the Republican presidential nomination.

As expected, Trump denied allegations by members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter that he improperly changed the rules of their membership contracts when he in December 2012 bought the financially troubled club from Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa for $5 million. He was equally dismissive of suggestions that he got the club at a bargain price by agreeing to assume an estimated $41 million in liabilities that hung over it because Ritz-Carlton promised to refund initiation fees, ranging from $35,000 to $210,000, to members who quit.

“It could have been the club would have closed and gone into bankruptcy and everyone would have lost money,” Trump testified. His purchase, he said, saved the club — and its members — from what he called “the ‘B’ word.”

But, three members who filed the class-action suit on behalf of roughly 60 others when he refused to refund their membership fees, said Trump used their money to put the club on firm financial footing.

Shortly after buying the club in a gated community on Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A, he wrote members a letter, alerting anyone who had announced their intention of resigning: “you’re out.”

Membership manager Deborah Shulman testified that initially members who were on the resignation list were told they could no longer use the club but wouldn’t have to pay dues. Under Ritz-Carlton’s ownership, members on the list could continue to pay dues to use the facilities until their memberships were sold to new members which was when they got their deposits back.

Later, the rules changed, she said. Not only were members barred from the club, but they were required to continue to pay dues of about $6,000 a year and to pay a roughly $1,800 minimum for food and beverages at a club they couldn’t use.

According to evidence presented by Trump lawyer Herman Joseph Russomanno III, some members now owe more than will get back when their initiation fees are refunded. Because of the system used to assign old memberships to new members, the process takes years.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Richard Slawson, who paid a $45,000 refundable deposit when he joined the club in 2005, testified that after three years on the resignation list there were still roughly 50 people in front of him. Russomanno said as of July, Slawson owed $45,000 in unpaid dues and other charges.

“He refused me access to the club but he wanted me to pay for the usage of the club,” Slawson testified. Once members were denied access, Trump breached their membership contracts and was obligated to refund their deposits within 30 days, said attorney Bradley Edwards, who is representing the members.

Eric Trump, who operates the club for his father, is expected to take the witness stand Tuesday. But, on Monday, a brief portion of his video deposition was played to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, who will decide the case.

In it, he vehemently denied that members who announced their intention to resign were blocked from the club. He said the club never implemented the new policy his father outlined in the letter. “In reality, we maintained the status quo and did not deny access,” he said.

Shulman and club general manager Tony Servideo testified that once Trump took over members on the resignation list were barred entry but were required to continue to pay dues — a change from Ritz-Carlton’s policy. Servideo testified that Trump attorneys told him there was nothing in documents members signed that absolved them of their responsibility to pay dues while waiting for new members to join.

For his part, Donald Trump testified that membership terms were negotiable. Those willing to forgo their deposits, were offered lower annual dues and the ability to use his other clubs, including Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. “They could call and make their own deal,” the author of “The Art of the Deal” insisted.

But, Slawson said, he repeatedly tried to persuade club officials that it was “ridiculous” for him to pay dues to a club he couldn’t use. “They said their hands were tied,” he testified.

The case was to have been decided by a jury until both sides agreed they would rather have Marra review the various membership documents that are key to the case. The trial is expected to wrap up Tuesday.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Trump touts ‘America first,’ until he needs cheap labor at Mar-a-Lago
Trump touts ‘America first,’ until he needs cheap labor at Mar-a-Lago

In case you haven’t noticed, our governor, Rick Scott, is obsessed with jobs. He loves talking about his devotion to putting people to work in Florida. “I travel the state every day and I can say the most important thing we can do is give people a job,” Scott said earlier this year in South Florida while on one of his “job tours&rdquo...
NEW: 3 children, 2 adults displaced after fire in Belle Glade
NEW: 3 children, 2 adults displaced after fire in Belle Glade

Three children and two adults were displaced after a fire in Belle Glade Friday evening, according the American Red Cross of Greater Palm Beach and Martin counties. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue crews were called to an apartment fire on the 500 block of 8th Street, just west of South Main Street and south of Doctor M.L.K Boulevard. When they arrived...
16-year sentence follows emotional, grueling Dalia Dippolito hearing
16-year sentence follows emotional, grueling Dalia Dippolito hearing

Unless a second round of appeals in her case proves as fruitful as the first, Dalia Dippolito’s infant son could be well into his teens by the time his mother gets out of prison for the 2009 plot to kill her now ex-husband, Michael. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sentenced the 34-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed to 16 years...
NEW: West Palm detective featured on ‘Cold Justice’ TV show Saturday
NEW: West Palm detective featured on ‘Cold Justice’ TV show Saturday

Over his nearly two decades with the West Palm Beach Police Department, Detective Aaron Sam has investigated more than 200 deaths and homicides, with his share of unsolved ones. He remembers one he and others feared wouldn’t be solved: It took nearly four years, local, state and federal agencies and patience for an arrest. Two fatal shootings...
BREAKING: West Palm man gets life in prison for sex trafficking
BREAKING: West Palm man gets life in prison for sex trafficking

A former government contractor with ties to West Palm Beach was sentenced to life in prison Friday on a convictions for sex trafficking and child exploitation while he worked at a U.S. military base in Honduras. Christopher Rennie Glenn was sentenced during an appearance before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. He was convicted in March following...
More Stories