Billionaire investor Carl Icahn says it is “ridiculous,” for state Senate President Stephen Sweeney to hold him accountable for the closing of Trump Plaza, saying Sweeney never called him and they never held rescue talks.

“I’m telling you, I stand by my comments,” Sweeney said Wednesday evening in reaction to Icahn’s comments about a story in The Press of Atlantic City. “He should talk to his workers more.”

Sweeney said he met with Trump Entertainment Resorts Director and CEO Bob Griffin in Sweeney’s West Deptford office. “It happened,” Sweeney said. “I’m not making it up.”

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, previously described the talks as “conceptual conversations,” adding “there were a lot of moving parts in the attempt to rescue the Trump properties, and we never could get them lined up.”

Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, laid the blame for the Sept. 16 Trump Plaza closing squarely at Icahn’s feet, saying the investor’s spurning of a proposed $40 million state package that required a 25 percent buy-in doomed the property, even with the prospect of using a public-private partnership.

Sweeney told The Press last week that Icahn was “personally the reason Trump Plaza closed.”

“For Sweeney to blame me is at least irresponsible,” Icahn said Wednesday. Icahn essentially holds the mortgage on Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal, owning about $286 million in senior debt on the property, but on Wednesday he insisted he had no role in daily operations. He also outright owns Tropicana Casino and Resort.

Icahn said he had no objection to selling Trump Plaza when Trump Entertainment approached him about a possible sale. “I said, ‘Great, just pay off my loans.’”

Icahn vetoed the only Plaza proposal made public, a $20 million bid by the Meruelo Group, of Downey, Calif., for what was the city’s lowest performing casino. At the time, Icahn told The Press he believed the property was worth more than that and said he had also told that to Trump Entertainment, months before they went public.

Icahn said Trump Entertainment asked him about additional investment in Trump Taj Mahal if there were concessions made. Icahn said he was willing to invest $100 million in the property, but said the casino was losing $7 million a month and “the choice is really up to the unions and the employees and whether they will keep it open or not.”

City officials rejected a Trump Entertainment proposal last month to lower their taxes by giving them a five-year freeze and cutting the assessments of Trump Plaza from $248 million to $40 million and the Taj Mahal from $1 billion to $300 million.

Local 54 of UNITE HERE also rejected a proposal to drop health insurance coverage to around 1,100 Local 54 workers and move from pensions to 401(k) plans.

Both city and union officials rejected the proposals. Sweeney criticized Icahn, saying “he doesn’t have to take advantage of the workers right now.”

“Right now they’re just running out of money,” Icahn said of the casino. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

In a Wednesday interview with The Press, Icahn also repeatedly touted the performance of Tropicana Casino and Resort after his firm bought it in a 2010 bankruptcy auction. Icahn said he invested between $75 million and $100 million, adding “I do believe I’m personally responsible for saving the Tropicana.”

Contacted by Icahn, Tropicana CEO Tony Rodio said Icahn invested millions in the property, which opened restaurants and added employment. In a follow-up email, Rodio said when Icahn bought Tropicana, it “was on the verge of closing.”

Since then, Rodio wrote that Icahn has invested $80 million, creating 250 jobs at the casino and hundreds of construction jobs. “This all took place while the Atlantic City casino market was in a vicious decline and while many respected investment advisers advised strongly against investing in Atlantic City.”

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046

@dnharper on Twitter

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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