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Businessman Phil Ruffin waves has he walks on stage during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP) Businessman Phil Ruffin waves has he walks on stage during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP)

Businessman Phil Ruffin waves has he walks on stage during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 21, 2016

Businessman friend of Donald Trump says he 'always pays his bills promptly'

Phil Ruffin, a Las Vegas casino magnate, took to the podium at the Republican National Convention on July 20 on behalf of his friend and business associate Donald Trump.

At one point in his address, Ruffin said of Trump, "He always pays his bills promptly. You won't hear that. Promptly, no discounts."

However, that assertion clashes with an extensive investigation by USA Today, which ran a story in June headlined, "Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills."

Here’s the crux of that USA Today story:

"(We) found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans … who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

"At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA Today Network, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. ...

"The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether."

One example alleged by USA Today was that of Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr., who had a $400,000 contract with Trump to build several types of furniture for his casinos in Atlantic City in the 1980s.

"The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder," USA Today reported. "Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. ‘That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company … which has been around since my grandfather,’ he said."

Trump and his daughter Ivanka spoke to USA Today for the story, saying that if someone wasn’t paid fully, it was because Trump or his executives were dissatisfied with the work.

"Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late. I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely," Trump told USA Today. "That’s what the country should be doing."

Trump also acknowledged to Reuters that he sometimes "renegotiates" with vendors. "I'll do that with probably 10 or 15 percent of contractors," he told Reuters.

USA Today noted that "Trump and his companies have prevailed in many legal disputes over missing payments, or reached settlements that cloud the terms reached by the parties."

However, the newspaper added that some cases are of recent vintage.

"Just last month, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 servers at his Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a special event," the newspaper wrote. "The settlements averaged about $800 for each worker and as high as $3,000 for one, according to court records."

Neither the Trump campaign nor a public relations firm for one of Ruffin’s properties, the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas, replied to a request for comment for this article.

We should note that Ruffin’s prepared remarks differ in a small but important way. According to prepared remarks distributed by the Trump campaign shortly before his speech, Ruffin was supposed to say, "I believed in him, and for three tough years we worked together to keep (their joint project) afloat. Through it all, Donald always paid his bills promptly, with no discounts."

The italicized sentence from the prepared remarks refers specifically to Ruffin’s personal dealings with Trump on their project in Las Vegas -- a much narrower universe of business dealings than the sweeping statement Ruffin actually offered from the podium in Cleveland.

In a case like this, PolitiFact considers the spoken words to be more important, since they are heard by millions of people on live television. And they are contradicted by the USA Today report.

Our ruling

Ruffin said that Donald Trump "always pays his bills promptly."

But the USA Today investigation found a large number of lawsuits -- at least 60, plus hundreds of liens, judgments and other filings -- because people have accused Trump of failing to pay for services rendered or products delivered. The complaints even come from law firms that had formerly represented Trump in these types of lawsuits.

"Always" is a strong word, so if even just a tiny fraction of the cases uncovered by USA Today are accurate, that would be enough to make Ruffin’s statement incorrect. We rate the statement False.

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Businessman friend of Donald Trump says he 'always pays his bills promptly'

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