Homeowner Drops Trump Suit Vera Coking Accepted A $90,000 Settlement From The Casino Mogul's Contractor, For Damages To Her Home. She's Still Fighting To Keep The House.

Posted: February 19, 1997

ATLANTIC CITY — Vera Coking agreed to drop her lawsuit against Donald Trump yesterday and accepted a settlement of $90,000 from Trump's demolition contractor for damage to the rooming house she has long refused to sell.

The settlement does not affect the longstanding battle over ownership of Coking's house on South Columbia Place, a block from Trump Plaza. Coking is still fighting a court battle to keep her home in the face of a state eminent domain action to assist Trump with the expansion of his casino.

Glenn Zeitz, Coking's attorney, said Coking settled so she could pay some $25,000 in back taxes - a debt that could cost her the house if not paid by December. He said Coking also needs to repair the house to prevent the city's demolition department from leveling it. ``It will enable us to fight the bigger fight over the house itself,'' Zeitz said.

Scott Lazar, an attorney representing Trump and Iaconelli Contracting Inc., said yesterday the $90,000 settlement was first offered to Coking in July, and rejected. He said Coking's attorneys approached him yesterday morning before Coking was scheduled to testify in the damage case. She never took the stand.

``Trump was dismissed as part of the settlement,'' Lazar said. ``And the settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the Iaconellis.''

Coking's house on South Columbia Place has been a city landmark since the 1980s, when Penthouse tycoon Bob Guccione, exasperated at her refusal to sell to make way for his own development, erected a massive steel superstructure right around the house.

Coking says Trump damaged her house when he had Guccione's efforts torn down.

``He did it,'' she said in an interview Thursday after Trump testified in court. ``Noboby else is doing it but him. How could it be a blight? How could it? How could it do all that damage? I did it? I went upstairs and broke everything down? He did it but he doesn't want to admit it.''

Coking is now challenging, in New Jersey Supreme Court, the state's use of eminent domain to benefit a private developer - a case that has drawn national attention and the assistance of the Institute for Justice, a Washington public-interest law firm.

Zeitz had hoped to show that Trump and his contractor did not properly safeguard her house during the demolition of the adjacent structure because they assumed they would be acquiring her property and tearing it down.

But Superior Court Judge John G. Himmelberger refused to admit any reference to Trump's desire to acquire the house or to the other ongoing court battle. As a result, the testimony focused on whether Trump and Iaconelli Contracting Inc. were responsible for an estimated $126,000 in damages to the house during the 1993 demolition.

Trump testified that he was satisfied that Iaconelli did a safe job and said he had offered to relocate Coking during the demolition if she had any concerns about her safety. She refused.

In comments after his testimony, he blamed Coking for letting her house deteriorate into a ``slumlike condition'' to force the state to pay more to remove it. Coking wants more than $1 million for the house; Trump has offered $250,000. ``She's really played her cards too long,'' he said.

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