Acquaintances of Roger Stone on Friday reminisced about his days as a lobbyist for Donald Trump’s Atlantic City casino empire, and his relentless campaign to recruit someone to run against then-state Sen. Bill Gormley, a former client of his consulting work, at the supposed behest of Trump.

The FBI arrested Stone, a political operative and adviser to Trump with deep roots in Atlantic County politics, Friday morning at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home.

Stone was charged with seven counts in connection to his communications with WikiLeaks during Trump’s 2016 campaign, part of the almost two-year special counsel probe into possible coordination between Russian officials and the campaign.

Locals’ descriptions of his tactics parallel much of what made Stone — known for “dirty tricks” dating to his time with President Richard Nixon — a tabloid mainstay.

“He was an assassin,” said former Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough. “When he went after you, he went after you.”

McCullough said he had a business to worry about in 1991 when Stone suggested he run against Gormley, an offer McCullough declined.

Stone became furious, McCullough said, and never spoke to him again.

Stone’s boss, Trump, was upset with Gormley’s alleged support for a tunnel project in the resort that he saw as a boon for another developer, Steve Wynn, and a threat to his business.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson called Stone a “very shadowy figure” and referred to the recruitment campaign as a “clandestine operation.”

“I wanted no part of it,” he said, adding he was closely allied with Gormley at the time.

A jitney driver named Domenic Capella eventually ran against the state senator and lost the primary.

“I remember the battle with Gormley and with the jitney driver, absolutely,” said Ed Kline, former Brigantine mayor and state assemblyman. “I was on Bill Gormley’s side.”

Stone worked on Kline’s campaign for Assembly in the mid 1980s as an adviser.

And when Kline, as the mayor of Brigantine in 1986, did “friendly battle” with Trump over road improvements in front of Trump Castle, Stone called to lean on him to ease up on Trump.

Kline called Stone “a great spin doctor,” with no apparent distaste.

“He’d put a spin on things … and I’m sure that’s why he’s in trouble as we speak,” Kline said. “He would spin things and say, ‘I’ll go make a phone call. … I’ll take care of this. … I can fix this.’”

Kline was impressed with Stone’s political instincts. When Kline ran for Assembly, Stone said they should send a mailer to every resident in Brigantine requesting campaign donations. Kline was unsure. Stone won out. They ended up raising about $30,000 from the effort, Kline said.

Stone’s regional connections include media types, too, such as Harry Hurley, who has hosted “Hurley in the Morning” on WFPG-AM 1450 since 1991. Stone has been a regular guest since the beginning, and the two have been friends for more than 30 years, Hurley said, having known each other originally through “political circles.”

He was last on the program a few weeks ago and has said countless times, on air, that he expected to be indicted in the special counsel probe, Hurley said.

Stone’s colorful persona is no recent development. He once owned a vacation condo in Margate, and Levinson remembers hanging with him on the beach, and seeing the tattoo across his back of Richard Nixon’s face, which Levinson described as “life-sized.”

“I could see possibly putting George Washington or Abraham Lincoln on permanent display, but you have to scratch your head with Nixon,” Levinson said.

None of those interviewed seemed delighted by Friday’s news.

Hurley was sad for his friend.

“I think it’s a very sad day, and I think that this is another example that this special counsel probe has just gone off the rails,” Hurley said, arguing most of the charges lodged against Stone were “process crimes.”

Stone, free on bail, said he is innocent and won’t testify against the president.

McCullough called the raid “ridiculous.”

“You’d think he was an international terrorist,” he said.

And Levinson saw the arrest as a stunt for cable news.

“I think (the raid) was a bit of an overkill,” Levinson said. “Extremely dramatic. I mean, you’re not arresting an international criminal. It’s not like you’re arresting El Chapo. … I think he may have come in with a phone call.”

Contact: 609-272-7260 cshaw@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressColtShaw

Staff Writer

I cover breaking news on the digital desk. I graduated from Temple University in Dec. 2017 and joined the Press in the fall of 2018. Previously, I freelanced, covering Pennsylvania state politics and criminal justice reform.

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