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Elderly Widow Wins Fight With Trump

July 21, 1998

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ For more than 15 years, Vera Coking has bucked the odds. Now her gamble has paid off.

Coking, a 70-ish widow who has refused to sell her home to casino developers, won a four-year legal battle Monday to stop the state and Donald Trump from seizing the former boardinghouse near the beach.

She may still sell. For now, she’s celebrating a court ruling dismissing the condemnation case that would have taken her property.

``I believe in justice. I didn’t believe before, but I do now,″ she said.

Superior Court Judge Richard Williams said the state’s plan to seize the land, using the government’s power of eminent domain, was flawed because it set no limits on what Trump could do once he got the property.

Trump had said the land would be used at his Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino for a park, a parking lot and a limousine waiting area that would add green space, provide jobs and relieve traffic congestion.

As the case ground on, Trump expanded without the three disputed parcels, adding green space around them.

Lawyers for Coking, restaurateurs Clare and Vincent Sabatini and jewelry store owner Josef Banin said the plan was a ruse to allow Trump to avoid paying market value for the land. They had predicted Trump would get control of the property and use it for more casino space.

``David beat two Goliaths,″ said Coking’s attorney, Glenn Zeitz. ``We were up against a strongly funded government agency and one of the most wealthy, powerful individuals in the country.″

At Trump’s behest, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority began condemnation actions in 1994 against the three.

State and city officials backed the move, saying the demolition of Coking’s dilapidated home and the construction of 361 hotel rooms on another part of the block would further the city’s goals of adding rooms to support its new convention center.

The property owners said the move was a land grab that improperly used the government’s power.

The head of Trump’s hotel and casino operation, Nicholas Ribis, said Williams has ruled against Trump before.

``It’s no surprise,″ he said.