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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Panda Express Growls at Shuttered Trump Casino

When the Trump Taj Mahal closed suddenly, less than a month before Election Day, the hotel and casino’s Panda Express went down with it. Now a battle over the new president’s failed property is in court.

(CN) — Less than a month before the presidential election, the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino closed, and its Panda Express went down with it. Now the president’s companies and his political ally face allegations of union busting as the real estate debacle heads to court.

Telling all in a Feb. 2 complaint, the New Jersey franchise of the Chinese fast-food chain says it had five years left on the lease when Trump Taj Mahal Associates, Trump Entertainment Resorts and Icahn Enterprises left it high and dry.

What’s more, PX NJ Concessions tells the Atlantic County Superior Court, Trump and Icahn’s companies closed up shop “for the improper purpose of breaking the local union.”

“The closure of the hotel and casino not only forced hundreds of union employees out of work, but prevented plaintiff from operating the restaurant as anticipated and intended under the lease, and resulted in the layoff of twelve Panda Express employees who worked for the hotel and casino,” the 24-page complaint states.

When the Taj Mahal’s parent company went bankrupt in 2014, Trump’s friend and fellow billionaire Carl Icahn bought the casino out to keep it open. The Panda Express franchise claims that Icahn broke his promise to invest up to $100 million to keep the hotel and casino capitalized and operational.

The Taj Mahal had been slated to shutter for Labor Day 2016 but stayed afloat through Oct. 10.

Panda Express notes that many are still fighting to give the casino new ownership.

In January, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian urged Icahn to save or sell the property.

“Taj Mahal was the crown jewel before the Borgata in Atlantic City,” the mayor said, as quoted in the complaint. “It’s a great facility, but it didn’t get that $100 million face lift that the other properties got in Atlantic City and so you knew it when you walked in there. But it’s a great property; I really hope that Mr. Icahn, if he doesn’t want to build, sells it … and lets someone else come in and do it.”

In last year’s third financial quarter, Icahn’s company reported $192 million in cash and equivalents, more than enough to keep the Taj Mahal running.

But PX NJ Concessions says Icahn instead used the threat of closure to demand concessions from a union strike that lasted from July 1, 2016, to the casino’s final day.

The paltry “final offer” that Icahn gave the union in August, according to the complaint, consisted of health insurance at lower levels than Atlantic City’s other seven casinos.

“It is one thing to fund losses when a path to profitability exists,” Icahn allegedly wrote to the union. “But to burn tens of millions of dollars when there is no hope is foolish. The strike has been the latest and final nail.”

The Taj’s closure came as something of an October surprise to Trump. “It’s hard to believe that they weren’t able to make a deal,” Trump told the Associated Press.

Panda Express franchise alleges six counts of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and constructive eviction.

In another count to pierce the corporate veil, the Panda Express franchise calls the Trump Taj Mahal a “sham, dummy and alter ego, to perpetuate the unfairness in closing the hotel and casino, eliminating hundreds of local jobs, breaking the union, and breaching the lease in order to prevent further losses.”

The franchise is represented by Louis Cappelli Jr., of the Cherry Hill firm Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader.

Icahn Enterprises did not immediately respond to a telephone request for comment.

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