This a story about Donald Trump, integrity, and fanny packs.
Back in 1989, Reno Rollé was a small business owner living in southern New Jersey. He was making beach blankets. He heard from a friend that the soon-to-open Trump Taj Mahal casino was looking for door prizes to hand out to people who came on opening day. His pitch: Fanny packs, which may seem surprising given that Trump positioned the Taj as going after Atlantic City’s high-end crowd. Then again, Rollé says, fanny packs were “popular at the time.”
The pitch worked. Trump ordered 100,000 fanny packs with the Trump Taj Mahal logo from Rollé to be handed out on opening day. Rollé, who was 28 at the time, says it was the biggest deal of his career up to that point. There is a picture of one of the neon fanny packs on eBay. It was on sale in December 2015 for $6.50. They are sold out.
During Donald Trump’s run for the presidency, many have questioned just how successful a business person he has been, in Atlantic City and elsewhere. Trump’s constant refrain has been that he has made money, a lot of money. But Rollé and others who worked on the opening of Trump’s grandest casino offer a view into how the people who did business with Trump have fared, and whether they were treated fairly.
For Rollé, the trouble started shortly after the casino opened in April 1990. His fanny packs had been doled out, but he hadn’t been paid. Rollé said “rumors started circling immediately” that Taj was having financial trouble and could end up in bankruptcy. He and others who had supplied products to the Taj Mahal began to worry they wouldn’t get paid. A bankruptcy could drag on for years, and he might only get a small fraction of what he was owed. Rollé says he had borrowed a good deal of the money to produce those fanny packs. If Rolle didn’t get paid on time, he says he would have been wiped out.
Rollé says he spent much of the next month or so trying to get paid. He called everyone he knew who could help him. And he tried to get his plea of being a small businessman with a young family up the chain of command to The Donald himself. He has no idea if it did. But a check finally arrived on the exact day Rollé had to pay back his creditors, he says. He ended up making a lot of money on the deal.
Rollé says the fact that Trump paid him in full when the real estate developer was clearly facing tough times shows integrity. “He came through for me,” he says.
Rollé posted his fanny pack tale on YouTube just a few days ago. Rollé said he didn’t mean for the timing to be political. He says he periodically does videos about business lessons he has learned and puts them on YouTube. Rollé says he probably would have voted for Trump anyway. But his experience doing business with the real estate developer sealed the deal. Below the video, a description reads, “A lot of people are talking about Donald Trump these days. As they say, when you do business with someone you learn a whole lot about them. Well I would like to tell you just an honest story about three things I learned doing business with Donald Trump.”
Fortune contacted the Trump campaign to verify the story, but it didn’t hear back. Fortune could not find any other account that says the Taj Mahal gave out fanny packs on opening day. But Pat Sandland, a former assistant to the comptroller at Taj Mahal, says she remembers that Rollé had made souvenirs for the casino, and that he was eventually paid. Sandland says she knew Rollé when she was growing up, and he had reached out to her when he was trying to get paid.
It’s widely reported that Trump ended up renegotiating with many of the contractors who worked on the Taj Mahal when the casino started to face financial difficulties. Many only got 30% of what they were originally owed. The Taj Mahal went bankrupt in late 1991, a little more than a year after Trump opened it with great fanfare, and, at least according to Rollé, fanny packs.
Rollé, who now sells his own line of “nutritional powders” with “healing power,” says he heard that many of the other suppliers who did business with Trump’s Taj Mahal never got paid. In fact, he says he thinks he was one of the few vendors who was paid in full. No matter. Rollé’s still a fan. “I don’t agree with 100% of what Trump says,” says Rollé. “What I like is the fact that he is a successful businessman.”