I am no Nick Denton, and Donald Trump is no Hulk Hogan, but I do have some candid fun pictures of a pair of breasts and The Donald, or as his rude, foul mouthed thug of an advisor Michael Cohen asked me to call him, “Mr. Trump.” I believe Cohen claims he is an attorney, but like the birther question, no one has seen his degree. I first found the pictures in 2012 while unpacking hundreds of boxes I acquired in what would turn out to be the best trade of my career. I had purchased the Guccione Collection, the private works of the late media magnate and artist Bob Guccione, who had once ranked as one of the wealthiest men in America.
The Guccione Collection
In 2012, literally all that was left to tell Guccione's story was tucked away in my warehouse, an old converted perfume factory, in Englewood New Jersey. Of all the amazing sketches, photos and negatives I found in The Guccione Collection, Donald Trump's photos were probably the least interesting, but he wasn’t running for president back then. It would be nearly four years later, as I watched this buffoon of a man - along with the rest of the stunned nation - defeat every Republican hopeful. I vaguely remembered that somewhere in the vast files of the collection were some seemingly innocuous photos of the soon to be Republican candidate for the highest office in the country. Perhaps, I thought, I should have a look at them again.
I had been on the hunt for this collection since I had discovered a handful of Bob Guccione’s work in a storage locker auction in the spring of 2012. A fan of the show Storage Wars, I had been to a handful of auctions with a business partner of mine while we were developing technology for a content management platform. After promising my then ten year old daughter, also a fan of the TV show, that we would go to an auction together, I found myself deep in a bidding war with Yuri, a home builder from Long Island of Russian descent.
At the end of the day, we had each bowed to the other on two of the prized lockers. Once I had a chance to search through the 10x14 foot tomb for which I had paid a few thousand dollars, my mind raced as I began to realize whose personal locker it was. Knowing that the other locker had belonged to the same owner, I raced to the front of the cavernous lot of storage locker buildings to see if my Russian opponent was still there. He was gone, and with him, half of Bob Guccione's belongings. The question was which half? I knew I had found something important with boxes of pristine advanced copies of OMNI and Penthouse magazines as well as hundreds of original negatives, slides and photographs taken in the 1960s and 1970s. Beyond that there were a dozen or so sketch pads and lithographs. In addition to being a master photographer, Bob Guccione was a serious artist whose work had been shown in galleries and museums including the famed Butler Institute of American Art. Neither Yuri nor I actually had the Trump Pictures; they would not be discovered for a few months.
The Trump Pictures
In the spring of 2015, the curator of the Guccione Collection brought me the pictures. Apparently they had been tucked away in a file cabinet in the back of the warehouse, marked "old celebrity photos." My marketing group contacted our outside media consultant to weigh in on what to do with the photos, who suggested we call Trump’s office to ask them about the origin of the photos. One of my marketing associates, Courtney, was put through to Donald Trump’s senior handler Michel Cohen.
His foul mouthed rampage began immediately. He said he would sue me if we published the pictures, and mumbled about numerous other threats for several minutes before I was put on the phone with him. He continued to rage but eventually said the pictures were already "out there" and they weren't a big deal. After explaining to him that I didn’t want to cause problems for him and “Mr. Trump”, we agreed that I would discuss The Trump Pictures with a professional and ask his opinion of the pictures. I told the rabid Michael Cohen that perhaps he was overreacting as he was known to do. Much of this took place before I believed that there was really a chance in hell that Trump could get elected. I was sure he would get crushed immediately, but my confidence would soon waver.
Yuri The Russian
Looking back on it all, it seems like a scripted story, but at that storage locker auction in 2012, Trump was not even a thought in my head. It started to rain as my wife drove up to the large rolling gates at the front of the storage auction lot. I kissed my daughter goodbye and told my wife I might be home a little late. The manager at the Total Storage Center was a sharp 23 year old named Mary. She suggested she give the other buyer a call and tell him that I might want to buy some of what he pulled from his locker and offered him my cell phone number. The rules say she cannot give his contact information to me directly. He called shortly thereafter, seemingly amused, as if he had been expecting the call. Thirty minutes later, I was crossing the Triboro Bridge on my way to Long Island.
When I arrived at his modest home, I realized my competitor misunderstood the value of what we had uncovered. He had rapidly curated his bounty and decided that there was a great deal of junk. Boxes piled up at the base of his driveway were beginning to wilt from the moisture in the air. Yuri the Russian greeted me at the door with a beer in one hand and a smile on his face. He had neatly laid out the contents he had deemed worthy for me to review. From coffee mugs to books, I bought it all from him with a decent markup from what he had paid. Anything to make him happy.
As I was getting ready to leave and counting out the cash, I asked if he minded me picking through the garbage outside. Cash in hand he gave me a hard stare, a glimmer of suspicion in his wrinkled forehead. “No problem my friend,” he finally said. After meticulously packing my car with the irrelevant items and bric-a-brac, I noticed him watching from the open garage door. I waved and rapidly tossed every garbage box he had put outside into my car, never giving him a second look. It started to rain hard as I pulled away from the curb.
After putting a few miles of distance between me and Yuri, I pulled into a local Starbucks, grabbed a black coffee and started rummaging through the wet boxes in the trunk. Thankfully, the treasures of sketch pads filled with Guccione's visions and dreams were intact and dry. The slides and negatives of Guccione's master photoshoots were dry and organized in plastic boxes. The mint condition Penthouse Magazines from the 1970s were stored in vintage magazine holders. I threw all the empty wet boxes in the Starbucks dumpster and raced back to my office.
My partners and I had purchased a 14,000 square foot warehouse next door to Balthazar bakery in Englewood NJ. Too hyped to wait until the following day, I loaded up on coffee and chocolate filled croissants. I remember spending nearly three hours in a trance, sorting through the contents of the Russian's boxes. It was a small fraction of what I eventually discovered from Guccione's bankruptcy proceedings and creditor paperwork I found in the collection. It would take nearly three months of research and one particularly aggressive tactic to uncover the bulk of Guccione’s personal collection of works, which had been hidden for nearly a decade.
A few days after my confrontational call with Michael Cohen in the spring of 2015, where he threatened to “bury me,” I reached out to an old business relationship, David Pecker, the CEO of American Media. Owner of The National Enquirer among other titles, we had met years earlier when the Enquirer ran an article on the discovery of the Guccione Collection. I wanted to get his take on the pictures. After catching up a bit, and knowing how busy David was, I took out the pictures to show him and explained how maniacal Michael Cohen had behaved with me. David has probably seen more compromising pictures than any man on earth. He looked me in the eye and said “Jeremy, the pictures really aren’t a big deal, why don’t we think about working together on something more interesting." He knew I had a big stake in the digital tech space and was interested in hearing what I was up to. Nothing concrete came of our various meetings and I once again lost touch with Pecker.
Trump went on to win the Republican Party nomination, and I didn't think too much about the pictures. After assuring me that the pictures really weren't a "big deal," Pecker and I discussed me interviewing Trump for one of my digital sites. After weeks of discussion, Cohen was so full of subterfuge that conversations became too difficult, calls were not returned and the hypocrisy of Trump's organization became all too apparent. I dropped the whole thing and moved on. Or so I thought. But looking back on the long journey of The Guccione Collection and the numerous twists and turns of its narrative, I was pretty naive to think that was the end of the Trump story. Donald Trump and Bob Guccione had some battles over casinos back in the day. Some in Bob Guccione’s camp say the hypocritical Trump is to blame for Guccione's eventual demise, that began with a financial disaster in Atlantic City. There was clearly bad energy between these two individuals from years ago and it would eventually manifest itself once again in the present day, even with one of the combatants dead and buried.
We hired a number of professionals to determine the importance and market value of The Guccione Collection. As a stand-alone collection it was surely an interesting find, but it was small. It was the idea that where there was smoke there was fire that kept me tuned in. Many of my partners could not understand my obsession, but I began to focus on finishing what I believed Bob Guccione had begun. There were thousands of pages of his personal notes, perceptions of media and business plans for the future. His art was impeccable. He was a master draftsman, cartoonist and photographer; he literally created his own genres of erotic art, health and wellness, sci-fi, fashion, science and contemporary art.
He had gone from a penniless artist living on the streets of Rome to one of the wealthiest men in the world, appearing on the Forbes list and living in the most expensive private townhouse in New York City. I studied everything about the man, but I could not find the mysterious treasure so many in his circles described to me. I was well aware that his art collection, one the most comprehensive in existence at the time, was auctioned off, but many who knew the artist told me that Bob’s real treasure was nearly a half century of his own works and photographs. I was told very few people had access to the collection even when it was perfectly intact at his mansion which doubled as his personal office and photography studio. He never actually worked out of the corporate offices. preferring to live and work inside his castle. Like a fortress, it was guarded 24/7 by New York City’s moonlighting finest. He rarely slept and was known to work on the creatives for the magazines until dawn, when he would sleep for a few hours before his morning business briefings.
According to insiders who knew him well, when his fortune evaporated in the early 2000s and the authorities came to forcibly remove him from his mansion, his personal collection was packed up and taken away to a hiding place the night before they arrived. He would eventually leverage the collection as collateral in exchange for a lifeline of credit that sustained him until he passed away.
Finding The Artist
Late at night I would scan through the pages of eBay tracking any movement in the slides, photographs and Penthouse magazines. Penthouse magazines trade daily on eBay, but I had never seen an actual slide until one night when I saw a nondescript listing that did not even contain an actual image of what was on the slides. Instead there was a basic picture of the exact same plastic box I had in my collection. Someone was selling a box of Bob Guccione slides that they must have acquired directly from the source. I immediately sent a message to the proprietor of the eBay store and waited for a response that never came. Days went by and I repeated the exercise.
“To Whom It May Concern,
I am interested in purchasing all the items in your store, but would like to talk to you about the source of the products.”
There seemed to be a few hundred Penthouse Magazines in the store. All mint condition, many with advanced copy stickers that matched the ones I had. Again, radio silence from the owners. Now eBay is not like the liquid markets I was used to from my days as a Wall Street trader, but illiquid markets are very susceptible to classic strategies like cornering the market. That tends to get a response. One night, tired of the silence, I bought every individual item in their store. Again this is rarely done on eBay, but is always a real attention grabber. That afternoon I received a vicious letter from the proprietors, accusing me of sabotaging their store, but I assured them I had every intention of paying for my purchase. I asked them if they could please point me in the direction of the source of these perfect items. After a few more days of phone calls I uncovered the whereabouts of Bob Guccione’s entire collection. Everything was sitting in a forensic accounting firm’s warehouse in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona.
A Treasure Trove of Boxes
I didn’t want to waste time discussing the collection over the phone, and from the brief video conference we attempted, I could not get a proper read on the magnitude of the collection. Literally every photo Guccione ever took was sorted and kept in mint condition. There were thousands of boxes filled with art, magazine submissions, legal documents, slides, pictures, drafts for magazine ideas and paintings.
There was no point in allowing negotiations to drag on. I called the creditor company’s CEO and told him I was coming to Phoenix the next day and that I wasn’t leaving until we had a deal. I took one of my most capable associates with me and arranged for an 18 wheeler to meet us at the location within 4 days. I knew it would take no longer for me to close the deal.
Two weeks later the rig pulled up to my warehouse back in Englewood and The Guccione Collection was intact. Among the thousands of works of art, there were a few boxes of celebrity items - from original nudes of a young Madonna, actress/model Lauren Hutton, Governor Schwarzenegger, and these very candid photos of Donald Trump signing breasts at a Guccione hosted event.
The collection was as vast as any that the curators who helped assemble the collection had ever seen. Other highlights from the celebrity boxes included candid photos of George Burns, Muhammad Ali and Vanessa Williams at numerous social events, to legal documents outlining secrets of the Tanya Harding incident, inappropriate behavior at a Trump property and a scandalous behind the scenes interview with Playboy Mansion employees. There were tens of thousands of images from over nine different publications. There was no other collection like it in the world. No other media magnate had been both artist and mogul like Bob Guccione and no one kept their works from over 50 years as intact and meticulously organized.
Toronto Film Festival
After collaborating with filmmaker Barry Avrich in 2013 on the production of Filthy Gorgeous, The Bob Guccione Story and premiering it at the Toronto Film Festival, my partners and I set about contemporizing the media mogul’s vision of transmedia from the 1950s through the 1980s. In so doing, we picked themes that dovetailed with Guccione’s interests. From life extension sciences to space exploration and understanding human sexuality, we built our first few websites with his vibe, style and ideology in mind. His main interests would be the first digital sites we built on Vocal, our proprietary technology and content management platform. It had been in development for years and these media assets represented a great opportunity to test the versatility of our technology. We hired Bob Guccione’s former assistant Jane Homlish - who had been with him for over 30 years - to come spend months with us sorting through the collection and teaching us the philosophy and history of Bob Guccione.
Many auction houses including Chrisite's took long looks at the collection, showering it with praise but admittedly unable to get behind the artist because of his association with his flagship property Penthouse Magazine. Their hypocrisy was indisputable, even by their own admission. Pornographic images by artists such as Jeff Koons hung prominently on their walls, yet the beautiful topless photographs in our collection were deemed too racy for auction. Throughout my life, I have always abhorred hypocrisy; it was clear that if I wanted to validate the collection I would have to do it myself. From late 2012 through early 2016 we auctioned off thousands of slides in private auctions, encountering tons of obstacles and a privileged auction class that is so accustomed to controlling the market that they could not come to terms with the fact that my company owned the entire collection. We eventually developed a loyal base of private collectors. Some in the press recognized the genius behind the very private and mysterious artist, Bob Guccione, but others hypocritically refused to even view his works. Eventually, the consistently growing market began to show up on the radar. Auction houses and galleries began to take notice in early 2016 when individual slides of Bob’s work - which had previously sold for between $3-$5 - began to trade near the $100 level, often with above 70% sell- thru rates. Sketches were selling for anywhere from $300 – $1000. One particular auction on the Live Auctioneers site set a record for visitors to a single auction on their platform.
The Plot Thickens
Ironically, in early 2016, just around the time I started thinking about auctioning off the original Trump photos on eBay, I was contacted by a prominent journalist. The award-winning reporter was working on an important piece on Donald Trump, and had heard there were "rumored photos of Trump" he had traced back to me. After a few conversations about my experience with Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, he told me he was going to write a story that connected Trump and the National Enquirer's boss, David Pecker. There was an alleged string of unusual arms length deals between the two men, and this nefarious activity was to be the focus of his piece. I told him I had no knowledge of any shady deals but was more than willing to talk to him truthfully about my personal experiences with David Pecker and Trump’s organization.
For months, the reporter interviewed countless sources and meticulously worked on his piece; finally, he let me know that it was finished and ready for publication. I watched the reporter deal with some of the biggest news organizations in the world. He would inform me of his progress and mention commitments that at the last minute collapsed for questionable reasons. While there may be no concrete evidence to support this, there certainly seemed to be a pattern of suppression of his article, which had grown into a large discourse on the relationship between David Pecker and Donald Trump. A similar story to his eventually ran on some news sites, including Vanity Fair, but the articles were light on the facts and nowhere near as specific as what I thought the article was meant to be.
Here is a theory, completely my own. The journalist's article got too close to something more sleazy than has been reported, something more directly unethical and not hidden in ambiguity. Maybe powerful men got ahead of it. They offered up the actual information to another reporter. That reporter took the bait, even though there really wasn’t enough to get much rolling. Just enough for a one or two day hit. These guys know the media market as well as anyone. After that article ran with little response, the real article was finally killed, irrespective of its importance. The writer told me he had specific individuals on record discussing the manipulative pattern of behavior between Trump and the National Enquirer. Of course all of this could just be a conspiracy theory; ironically, conspiracies form the foundation of Donald Trump’s ideology.
When a celebrity like Trump runs for the highest office in the state, he has to be careful to cover decades of secrets known to a tight community. It seems like if there is anything Trump is good at, it’s the art of the deal. Only a naive fool like Trump threatens Hillary Clinton with revealing information regarding her husband's affair with Gennifer Flowers when the skeletons in his own closet rattle loudly and are barely contained. It would be foolish to release that information publicly when you had a shot of having enormous leverage over the President of the United States. If someone really wanted power over the person, best wait until after the election to exert it.
My Decision Was Made
The Borghi Art family, well respected members of the art community, had been involved early on in The Guccione Collection's evolution; as it moved to a new and growing audience, they decided to personally hold the auctions, attracting EBTH, one of the biggest online auction houses to put together a multi year deal to manage the disposition of the collection. Over the summer of 2016 the collection was packed up over a two week period and transferred to EBTH's 200,000 square foot facility in central Ohio. The only pieces of the collection I kept in my office were the Donald Trump photos.
I have not spoken to the journalist in months. He is a writer of the highest integrity, who spent months developing a story that one way or another was suppressed. I know this to be true because I spoke directly to the news organizations, who would always act very excited, but drop the ball after communication with the Trump group and its pit bull Michael Cohen.
After watching the first debate and realizing just how close we are to the abyss if this man becomes President, I thought it was time for me to tell my small piece of the story and release the pictures - Trump, Michael Cohen and their very real threats be damned. It is not for me to decide if they are a big deal or not; the way Trump's luck works they will probably be perceived as a positive reflection on his perspective on women's breasts. But if there is the slightest possibility that there was real truth to the reporter's actual story, and it was suppressed, then the public should know.
Some things are worth risking.