Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in the first of three planned presidential debates in late September. The candidates sparred on economic policy, race relations, foreign trade, and climate change but the juiciest moments involved the vitriolic jabs at each other’s records. At one point Hillary Clinton called out Trump’s reputation as a horrible client to architects, designers, and craftsmen–a direct blow to the Donald’s insistence that he’s fit to be commander in chief because of his flawless business record.
I have met a lot of the people who were stiffed by you and your businesses Donald. I’ve met dishwashers, painters, architects, glass installers, marble installers, drapery installers like my dad was, who you refused to pay when they finished the work that you asked them to do. We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your clubhouses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid when he was charging you.
Trump hired Tesoro’s firm in 2002 to design a clubhouse for the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York. But after the structure was completed, the Trump Organization refused to pay what Tesoro billed and offered less than a third of the fee during a meeting at the club. (According to a Forbes interview with Tesoro, the disputed bill was $140,000; Trump paid $25,000.)
“I felt humiliated because here I was in the ballroom I had worked so hard to design and they basically ganged up on me,” Tesoro said in the video. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choice other than to accept their low-ball offer.”
According to Tesoro, Trump said, “I don’t really think I should pay any more because I’ve already spent too much on that building.” Then Trump’s attorney told Tesoro that while the law was likely in his favor if the case went to court, the legal fees would bury him even deeper financially.
“I decided I didn’t want to fight the fight,” Tesoro said. The architect absorbed the losses, which nearly bankrupted his small business and forced him to use savings that were intended for his son’s college tuition to keep the firm from folding.
USA Today reported that Trump has been involved in over 3,500 lawsuits in the past three decades, many of which involve small businesses that haven’t received payment for services rendered to him. One especially egregious example? Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. provided $400,000 worth of work for Harrah’s Trump Plaza in 1984, but only received payment of $83,600. For a billionaire like Trump, that difference a drop in the bucket. But for a small business, it spells financial ruin.
“[Trump’s] definition of winning is making sure the other guy loses,” Tesoro said in the Clinton video. “And that way of doing business is just not very fair for the little guy.”
So while Trump paints himself as scintillating entrepreneur and business man, his tarnished reputation makes it clear that he’s merely mottled fool’s gold.
If you are an architect or a designer who was stiffed by Trump, we want to hear your story. Send an email to CoDTips@fastcompany.com.