Trump’s legacy felt in Costa Rica town
Ex-N.J. golf club workers say lack of legal status known
SANTA TERESA DE CAJON, Costa Rica — At his home on the misty slope of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Dario Angulo keeps a set of photographs from the years he tended the rolling fairways and clipped greens of a faraway American golf resort.
Angulo learned to drive backhoes and bulldozers, carving water hazards and tee boxes out of former horse pastures in Bedminster, N.J., where a famous New Yorker was building a world-class course. Angulo earned $8 an hour, a fraction of what a state-licensed heavy equipment operator would make, with no benefits or overtime pay. But he stayed seven years on the grounds crew, saving enough for a small piece of land and some cattle back home.
Now the 34-year-old lives with his wife and daughters in a sturdy house built by “Trump money,” as he put it, with a porch to watch the sun go down.
It’s a common story in this small town.
Other former employees of President Donald Trump’s company live nearby: men who once raked the sand traps and pushed mowers through thick heat on prized golf property — the “Summer White House,” as aides have called it — where his daughter Ivanka got married and where he wants to build a family cemetery.
“Many of us helped him get what he has today,” Angulo said. “This golf course was built by illegals.”
The Washington Post spoke with 16 men and women from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries, including six in Santa Teresa de Cajon, who said they were employed at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. All of them said they worked for Trump without legal status — and that their managers knew.
The former employees who still live in New Jersey provided pay slips documenting their work at the Bedminster club. They identified friends and relatives in Costa Rica who also were employed at the course. In Costa Rica, The Post located former workers in two regions who provided detailed accounts of their time at the Bedminster property and shared memorabilia they had kept, such as Trump-branded golf tees, as well as photos of themselves at the club.
The brightly painted homes that line the road in Santa Teresa de Cajon, many paid for by wages earned more than 4,000 miles away, are the fruits of a long-running pipeline of illegal workers to the president’s course, one that carried far more than a few unauthorized employees who slipped through the cracks.
Soon after Trump broke ground at Bedminster in 2002 with a golden shovel, this village emerged as a wellspring of low-paid labor for the private club, which charges tens of thousands of dollars to join. Over the years, dozens of workers from Costa Rica filled jobs as groundskeepers, housekeepers and dishwashers at Bedminster, former employees said. The club hired others from El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala who spoke to The Post. Many ended up in the blue-collar borough of Bound Brook, N.J., piling into vans before dawn to head to the course each morning.
Their descriptions of Bedminster’s long reliance on illegal workers are bolstered by a newly obtained police report showing that the club’s head of security was told in 2011 about an employee suspected of using false identification papers — the first known documentation of a warning to the Trump Organization about the legal status of a worker.
Other supervisors received similar flags over the years, including Bedminster’s general manager, who was told by a worker from Ecuador several years ago that she entered the country illegally, the employee said.
Eric Trump, a son of the president who runs the Trump Organization along with brother Donald Trump Jr., declined to comment on the accounts by the former workers. Bedminster managers did not return requests for comment.
The company’s recent purge of unauthorized workers from at least five Trump properties contributes to mounting evidence that the president benefited for years from the work of illegal laborers he now vilifies.
It remains unclear what measures Trump or his company took to avoid hiring such workers, even after he launched a White House bid built around the threat he says they pose to Americans.
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Eric Trump has said he and other senior Trump Organization executives did not know the company hired illegal workers, noting that the employees used falsified documents.
“We have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices,” the company said in a statement in December. “If any employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately. We take this issue very seriously.”
Over the years, the network from Costa Rica to Bedminster expanded as workers recruited friends and relatives, some flying to the United States on tourist visas and others paying smugglers thousands of dollars to help them cross the U.S.-Mexico border, former employees said. New hires needed little more than a crudely printed phony green card and a fake Social Security number to land a job, they said.
Some workers described Bedminster as their launchpad to buy homes and start businesses. Others remembered it as grueling labor under bosses who were demanding, even bigoted — and who at times used the workers’ illegal status against them.
After the New York Times in December reported about two housekeepers without legal status who worked at Bedminster, the Trump Organization fired at least 18 employees at five golf courses in New York and New Jersey, part of what Eric Trump has said is “a broad effort” to identify unauthorized workers. An additional undisclosed number were fired from Bedminster, former employees said.
As president, his father has repeatedly called for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
“Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is cruel,” Trump said during his recent State of the Union address
But the lax hiring practices at Bedminster and other Trump properties described by former employees — including some who said their supervisors discussed their fake documents — stand in sharp contrast with Trump’s rhetoric.
While other top-tier golf U.S. courses adopted the federal government’s EVerify system to check the immigration status of potential hires, the Trump Organization is only now planning to implement it.
Former groundskeeper Dario Angulo farms cattle in Costa Rica and lives in a home that was built by “Trump money.”