Long ago and not so far away two Queens boys met at the top of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and spotted a kindred spirit. They were both super-charged New Yorkers on the make and would strive mightily to become something few would ever imagine they could be.
One would become an even bigger millionaire than he was that day, a reality TV star, and the face of a "university." Most surprisingly, Donald Trump would eventually launch a run for president, surging into the Republican National Convention in an electoral tsunami that would leave many Americans dumbfounded.
The other would reach the very pinnacle of a global soccer empire, becoming a multi-millionaire on the way before crashing and burning as a tax-dodging snitch. Chuck Blazer would help bring down some of the biggest crooks in sports history at FIFA -- the Fédération Internationale de Football Association -- under the tutelage of his FBI handlers and investigators working for US Attorney Loretta Lynch.
Trump's highrise represented the pinnacle of the American Dream and Trump was the king of the hill to Chuck Blazer, Teri Thompson and I discovered researching our book on the soccer snitch, American Huckster. Blazer had doggedly climbed the demographic ladder of his home borough to Westchester to finally land in what he considered an icon of success. Chuck boasted to friends that his Russian grandfather made his living washing windows in Midtown highrises; now his grandson lived in what he considered very best of them.
Donald Trump enjoyed an easy familiarity with Blazer, though they didn't shake hands when they met; Trump's germaphobia was in full-bloom and he made it his job to avoid touching people in the early 90s when Blazer moved into his Trump Tower apartment. Chuck took over a home at the top formerly occupied by Michael Jackson, who, bizarrely, left countless yellow post-it notes all over the walls. Trump was also at the top of his tower in his penthouse made to look like Versailles -- if Versailles existed in Las Vegas.
In 2005 Trump asked Blazer for some help with his latest enterprise. He wanted to use his neighbor's new apartment in Trump Tower, this one on the 49th floor, to film an infomercial for Trump University and offered to pay $5,000 for the day's rent. The business wasn't truly a university; it offered no degrees and never obtained a state license to function as an educational institution. Instead it involved a pricey $1,500 three-day seminar and a $35,000 "Gold Elite" package pitching "success."
Once Blazer agreed to let Trump use his place, the film crew set about transforming a room in Chuck's apartment into an ersatz library, hauling in dark wooden bookshelves, desk chairs and a huge green globe for the commercial which was supposed to look like a kind of Masterpiece Theater interview. One problem with filming that day: there were no books. Blazer wasn't a reader. The crew scrambled to find reading material and law books materialized from somewhere.
Trump avoided shaking hands with anyone, and when Blazer's girlfriend, Mary Lynn Blanks, ordered deli food for the crew, he insisted that it be removed because he "didn't like the smell," she recalled.
"At Trump University we teach success," Trump would declare in the commercial that calls him "without question the world's most famous" businessman. "That's what it's all about: success. It's going to happen to you." He vows that the "best of the best" professors "hand picked by me" will "teach you better than the business schools."
(The Donald's main contribution to Blazer's education, incidentally, was to introduce him to Trump's beauty pageants, where the 450-pound lothario became a regular. One of his pageant companions was Italo Zanzi, a director of marketing for the Gold Cup tournaments that were a source of millions of dollars in bribes for Blazer. Zanzi, who now heads Italy's Roma football club, once boasted that he focused after the pageants on the "losers" -- ironically, a word that would become a kind of attack mantra in the Trump campaign -- because they were more "grateful" for attention.)
By 2010 Trump University changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative to dodge the educational license requirement. It would cease to function shortly after and would become the target of two class action lawsuits. In 2013, then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also filed a $40 million lawsuit against Trump and Trump University, alleging that the enterprise had defrauded more than 5,000 people. The teachers weren't picked by Trump, and few had experience in real estate, which was the core of the curriculum, noted the suit.
Trump has denied all accusations, and he and his attorneys have struggled to keep the cases out of court until after the general election. But federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel agreed last week with the Washington Post argument that Trump's run for president makes his business dealings a matter of public interest, and ordered Trump University documents in the cases unsealed. Trump branded the judge a "hater" trying to "railroad" him because of the candidate's vehement positions against Mexican immigrants.
Chuck Blazer is no longer at the top of his game in Trump Tower. He is gravely ill and in hospice care, reportedly unable to speak, has paid millions of dollars in penalties and is awaiting sentencing as part of a plea deal with the feds concerning tax dodging, money-laundering and taking bribes in the FIFA scandal.
Donald Trump is roaring to the Republican National Convention. The press is now poring over the released Trump University documents, including depositions from clients and managers who blast the operation as a scam. One document, an internal business "playbook" for instructing employees, encourages workers to urge customers to max out their credit cards to pay for classes. "We teach the technique of using OPM ... Other People's Money," note the guidelines.
That's something Chuck Blazer would understand.