How dare you! Trump sues writer for $5bn for saying he's only worth $250m

David Usborne
Wednesday 25 January 2006 01:00 GMT

Donald Trump, the property developer, reality show host and now crusader for truth in reporting, has filed a $5bn (£2.8bn) lawsuit against a writer for The New York Times who dared suggest in a book that the man with the bouffant hair and the serial trophy wives is not nearly as rich as he claims.

The suit, filed in a New Jersey court, seems as oversized as Mr Trump's public persona. But it claims that a reporter, Timothy O'Brien, egregiously mis-stated details of the tycoon's personal and business lives and went far beyond the line by suggesting that he "was not close to being a billionaire".

In two decades of hogging New York City's headlines, Mr Trump's business dealings have taken him on a roller-coaster of financial fortunes, with some of his business brushing with bankruptcy. Indeed, his entire empire almost went under in the early 1990s, when banks balked at its ballooning debt. But his status as America's brashest property baron has been fed by his relentless braggadocio.

Most recently, Mr Trump has achieved even greater attention on the national stage in his role as master of ceremonies in the highly successful programme The Apprentice, in which he set money-making tasks for young and aspiring business managers, only to fire them one by one at the end of each episode until he gave the winning contestant a job within his empire.

It is his ability to self-inflate his image that Mr O'Brien seeks to deconstruct in his book Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald. Since its publication in October it has been serialised in The New York Times and has receivedfavourable reviews.

The contention of Mr O'Brien is that assessments of Mr Trump's personal wealth, mostly as stated in the annual Forbes magazine list of America's richest people, have been far removed from the truth.

He described the Trump empire, which over the years has spanned huge apartment towers, casinos and, briefly, an airline, as a "kitten's skein of holdings Donald had woven together".

Quoting anonymous sources that he states are close to the developer, he says in his book that he was "not remotely close to being a billionaire" but that his "net worth was somewhere between $150m-$250m".

You can apparently say what you like about Mr Trump, whose third wife, the former Slovenian model Melania Knauss is pregnant with his fifth child, so long as you never, ever impugn his billionaire status. The suit is demanding an extraordinary $2.5bn in compensation for the alleged slight as well as another $2.5bn in punitive damages. The defendants are Mr O'Brien and his publisher, Warner Books.

Mr O'Brien spent 15 years researching his book, often rubbing shoulders with his subject and his phalanx of celebrity friends. Mr Trump apparently co-operated willingly, even though he once labelled the writer a "whack job". As for the book, he has condemned it as a "terribly written".

But a review of the book in USA Today said: "Trump Nation is chock full of examples of Trump's tendency to exaggerate, particularly when it comes to his net worth."

The paper also shared some of the book's Trumpisms on how to behave like a billionaire. They include the thought that "once you've hit the big time as a billionaire, you should convince business travellers on a one-hour flight from New York to Washington that it's worth paying more to have a golden toilet".

In a statement, Mr Trump said: "Rather than sitting back and letting false statements be published without challenge, it is important to expose irresponsible, malicious and false reporting. It is about time that somebody stepped forward to expose certain members of the press for what they are."

Mr Trump, 59, married 35-year-old Melania in a dazzling ceremony attended by Elton John and Clint Eastwood in West Palm Beach last year. He was married to Ivana Trump for 16 years and before that had a six-year marriage to Marla Maples. He had four children with his first two wives.

Only last year, his casino business, heavily centred on Atlantic City in New Jersey, emerged from bankruptcy and he was forced to cede overall control. He said, however, that casinos only accounted for 1 per cent of his net worth.

Neither Warner Books nor Mr O'Brien made any comment yesterday. The New York Times also kept its counsel.

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