She once called Donald Trump "a maggot, a cockroach and a crumb." This week, he remembered her as "an impossible person."
The woman who became a folk hero for resisting decades-long efforts by big-name developers like Trump to displace her Atlantic City boardinghouse is now 91 and, at last, ready to sell. But it remains to be seen if anybody still wants to buy.
Vera Coking has moved to California to be near her family. And the 29-room property she and her husband bought for $20,000 in 1961 and fought to hold onto is on the auction block Thursday for a $199,000 starting bid. The now-vacant property had been listed for $995,000 since September.
The long-running saga has paralleled the rise and fall of Atlantic City's real estate fortunes, which in recent months imploded. The decision to auction the property was made by Coking's family after they could not find a buyer in recent years, said Oren Klein of AuctionAdvisors, which is handling the sale.
The road to the auction block has been circuitous. Coking first took on Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione in the 1970s, who was reportedly so angered by her refusal to sell that he started building his casino above and around her property.
Trump, who bought Guccione's unfinished project, also tried to buy Coking's building to tear it down and use the land for his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Coking battled with Trump and prevailed in a 1998 state Supreme Court case that blocked attempts by the state to use eminent domain to condemn the property.
Coking's one-woman battle was closely followed in the press and by the people of Atlantic City, where she and her property, sitting defiantly in the shadow of Trump's casino, have been a familiar sight for decades.
The modest, three-story clapboard structure is a block from the famous Atlantic City boardwalk and adjacent to the casinos, that like Trump's, have sought to expand their parking facilities or outdoor footprint.
AuctionAdvisors has been stressing the boardinghouse's location just steps from a planned Bass Pro shop and adjacent to an outlet mall that the city advertises as a main attraction. Klein and his associates say that they are confident that Atlantic City will bounce back and that the Coking property is a great buy in one of the last affordable beachfront towns in New Jersey.
Since then, Atlantic City's real estate market and casino businesses have faltered. Trump Plaza may close in September, although Trump himself is largely divested.
The portrait of Coking as a principled holdout is wrong, Trump said, asserting that she had been willing to sell but that they could never agree on a price.
"She could have lived happily ever after in Palm Beach, Florida; instead, she was an impossible person to deal with," Trump told The Associated Press this week. In addition to millions of dollars, he said, he had offered Coking housing for the rest of her life in one of his properties.
The famously stubborn Trump laughed off a question as to whether he would bid on Coking's home — just to have the last word.
Coking's grandson, Ed Casey, previously told the Press of Atlantic City that it wasn't true his grandmother had once been offered millions. He said she wasn't opposed to selling but was proud to live in and fight for her longtime home.
Messages left at a California listing for Casey were not returned, and Klein said the family had told him they no longer wished to speak publicly about the matter. Information about Coking's health wasn't available.
But back in the day, Coking wasn't afraid to throw a zinger. At the height of their battle in 1998, the 70-year-old Coking said of Trump to the New York Daily News: "A maggot, a cockroach and a crumb, that's what he is."
"If Trump's thinking I'm gonna die tomorrow, he's having himself a pipe dream," she said then. "I'm gonna be here for a long, long time. I'll stay just to see he's not getting my house. We'll be going to his funeral, you can count on that."
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.
The travel advisory applies to non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak in those West Africa countries has killed more than 700 people this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of the deadly disease coming to the United States remains small. The last time the federal agency issued such a travel warning was in 2003 because of a SARS outbreak in Asia.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into Medevac options to bring two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola back to the U.S. While the U.S. government would facilitate the response, private companies would be used.
Earnest said that type of response would be consistent with how the U.S. handled other situations, including outbreaks of SARS and drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the goal would be to ensure Americans can benefit from modern medical treatment available in the U.S.
Although the CDC has concluded it's unlikely Ebola would spread if detected in the U.S, Earnest said the CDC is alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and deal with cases of Ebola.
The CDC has about two dozen staffers in West Africa to help try to control the outbreak. Officials announced Thursday they will send 50 more in the next month.
White House reporter Josh Lederman contributed from Washington.
NEW YORK (AP) — The collapse of talks with U.S. creditors sent Argentina into its second debt default in 13 years and raised questions about what comes next for financial markets and the South American nation's staggering economy.
A midnight Wednesday deadline to reach a deal with holdout bondholders came and went with Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof holding firm to his government's position that it could not accept a deal with U.S. hedge fund creditors it dismisses as "vultures." Kicillof said the funds refused a compromise offer in talks that ended several hours earlier, although he gave no details of that proposal.
"We're not going to sign an agreement that jeopardizes the future of all Argentines," Kicillof said after he emerged from the meeting with creditors and a mediator in New York City. "Argentines can remain calm because tomorrow will just be another day and the world will keep on spinning."
The government remained defiant Thursday, with Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich dismissing what he called a "supposed technical default" as an "absurd farce" aimed at forcing Argentina into an unacceptable debt-restructuring plan.
Court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack said a default could hurt bondholders who were not part of the dispute as well as the Argentine economy, which is suffering through a recession, a shortage of dollars and one of the world's highest inflation rates.
"The full consequences of default are not predictable, but they are certainly not positive," Pollack said.
An earlier U.S. court ruling had blocked Argentina from making $539 million in interest payments due by midnight Wednesday to other bondholders who separately agreed to restructuring plans with the country in 2005 and 2010.
The holdouts, led by NML Capital Ltd., blamed Argentina for the failure to reach an agreement. In a statement, the hedge fund run by New York billionaire Paul Singer said the mediator had proposed "numerous creative solutions," to resolve the standoff.
"Argentina refused to seriously consider any of them, and instead chose to default," it said.
The hedge funds refused to participate in the debt restructurings and won a U.S. court judgment that they be paid the full value of their bonds plus interest — now estimated at roughly $1.5 billion.
Kicillof dismissed a decision by ratings agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade Argentina's foreign currency credit rating to "selective default" because of the missed interest payments.
"Who believes in the ratings agencies? Who thinks they are impartial referees of the financial system?" he said.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez long had refused to negotiate with the hedge fund creditors, often calling them "vultures" for picking on the carcass of the country's record $100 billion default in 2001.
The holdouts spent more than a decade litigating for payment in full rather than agreeing to provide Argentina with debt relief. They also sent lawyers around the globe trying to force Argentina to pay its defaulted debts and were able to get a court in Ghana to temporarily seize an Argentine naval training ship. The threat of seizures forced Fernandez to stop using her presidential plane and instead fly on private jets.
Restoring Argentina's sense of pride and sovereignty after the 2001-2002 economic collapse has been a central goal of Fernandez and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
Argentina has made efforts to return to global credit markets that have shunned it since the default. The government paid its debt to the International Monetary Fund and agreed in May with the Paris Club of creditor nations on a plan to begin repaying $9.7 billion in debts unpaid since 2001. It also agreed to a $5 billion settlement with Grupo Repsol after seizing the Spanish company's controlling stake in Argentina's YPF oil company.
Analysts say a new default undermines all of these efforts.
"This is unexpected; an agreement seemed imminent," said Ramiro Castineira of Buenos Aires-based consultancy Econometrica.
"Argentina would have benefited more from complying with the court order in order to get financing for Vaca Muerta," he added, referring to a massive Argentine deposit of shale oil and gas in the country's south.
Only a few international companies have made commitments to help develop the fields as many fear the government's interventionist energy policies. The government also has struggled to get investors because it can't borrow on the global credit market.
Prices for Argentine bonds had surged to their highest level in more than three years on the possibility that Argentina would reach a deal with the holdout creditors. Argentina's Merval stock index also climbed more than 6.5 percent in midday trade on a likely deal.
Optimism had been buoyed by reports Wednesday that representatives of Argentina's private banks association, ADEBA, were set to offer to buy out the debt owed to the hedge funds. In return, the reports said, the U.S. court would let Argentina make the interest payments due before midnight Wednesday and avoid default.
The deal failed to materialize.
"It is an unfortunate situation which is pushing the country into another default. As defaults go, we all know when we get into one but it is very unclear when and how to get out of it," said Alberto Ramos, Latin America analyst at Goldman Sachs.
"We just added another layer of risk and uncertainty to a macro economy that was already struggling," Ramos said.
Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava, Ben Fox and Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Management failures by the Obama administration set the stage for computer woes that paralyzed the president's new health care program last fall, nonpartisan investigators said in a report released Wednesday.
While the administration was publicly assuring consumers that they would soon have seamless online access to health insurance, a chaotic procurement process was about to deliver a stumbling start.
After a months-long investigation, the Government Accountability Office found that the administration lacked "effective planning or oversight practices" for the development of HealthCare.gov, the portal for millions of uninsured Americans.
As a result the government incurred "significant cost increases, schedule slips and delayed system functionality," William Woods, a GAO contracting expert, said in testimony prepared for a hearing Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The GAO is the nonpartisan investigative agency of Congress.
Spokesman Aaron Albright said the administration takes its responsibility for contract oversight seriously and has already started carrying out improvements that go beyond GAO's recommendations. The congressional investigators recommended a cost-control plan and other changes to establish clear procedures and improve oversight.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the lawmakers who requested the investigation, said, "Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted to build a website that didn't work, all because of bureaucratic incompetence."
Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors' marching orders for the HealthCare.gov website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.
The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service for ineffective oversight. Known as CMS, the agency is part of the Health and Human Services Department and was designated to administer Obama's health care law.
The GAO concluded:
— Contractors were not given a coherent plan, and instead jumped around from issue to issue.
— The cost of a glitchy computerized sign-up system for consumers ballooned from $56 million to more than $209 million from September 2011 to February 2014. The cost of the electronic backroom for verifying applicants' information jumped from $30 million to almost $85 million.
— CMS, representing the administration, failed to follow up on how well the contractors performed.
— A third contract, for fixes to the website, grew from $91 million in January to $175 million as of last month.
Two contractors initially took the lead building the system:
Virginia-based CGI Federal built HealthCare.gov, the consumer-facing portal to subsidized private coverage for the uninsured. The site serves 36 states, while the remaining states built their own systems, with mixed results.
QSSI, based in Maryland, was responsible for an electronic back office that helps verify personal and financial information to determine whether consumers are eligible for tax credits to help pay their premiums.
The consumer end of the system locked up the day it was launched, Oct. 1, and was down most of that initial month. The electronic back office had fewer problems.
A few months before the launch, the CMS agency notified CGI it was so dissatisfied that it would start withholding payments. Then it rescinded that decision.
CMS ultimately paid nearly all of CGI's $12.5 million in fees, withholding only $267,000, the report said. The agency later ended its contract with CGI. Another contractor, Accenture, was brought in to make website fixes.
Confronted with a public relations disaster, the White House sent in a troubleshooter, management consultant Jeff Zients. He removed CMS as project leader, relegating it to a supporting role.
CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner later personally apologized to Congress, saying, "The website has not worked as well as it should."
Zients' rescue operation got the site working by early December. Eventually, some 8 million people managed to sign up, far exceeding expectations.
Nonetheless, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stepped down amid complaints by White House officials that the president was blindsided by the problems.
The original contractors testified to Congress that they did not have nearly enough time to test the system before it went live.
Indeed, Tavenner took the unusual step of signing the operational security certificate for HealthCare.gov herself, after CMS security professionals balked. The site has since passed full security testing.
The GAO's findings added to earlier conclusions in a report by Zients after his team got the website to work.
Beyond a maze of technical problems, Zients said he found "inadequate management oversight and coordination" that "prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses."
Obama has already weathered the worst storms from the bungled health care launch, so the report is unlikely to create major political problems for the White House and Democrats generally.
But it does shine a light on what was going on behind the scenes even as administration officials fostered the impression that signing up for health care would be simple, like shopping online.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard.
There are 375,000 cases before the immigration courts and many immigrants wait months or years for a hearing. Instead of bumping children to the back of that long line, the courts are now giving each child an initial court hearing within three weeks, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokeswoman for the courts didn't answer questions about how many children's hearings had been set under the new plan, or which courts had scheduled additional hearings.
Immigration lawyers have long sought a speedier process to prevent immigrants from having to wait years for an answer on their asylum or green card applications. Now, the concern is the opposite: that the courts are moving so quickly that the children might not have enough time to make a case that they should be allowed to remain in the country legally.
The biggest worry is that children might not receive proper notice of hearings, and could wind up getting a deportation order if they fail to show up, immigration lawyers said. Advocates also say there aren't enough pro-bono immigration lawyers to go around and that it takes longer to prepare children's cases because it takes time to earn their trust.
"When the hearing date is three months out, it's no big deal — it's plenty of time to get yourself a lawyer. When it's three weeks, that's nowhere near enough time," said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia.
The rollout of the new system started in Los Angeles this week and is also being implemented in other immigration courts.
On Wednesday, Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor scanned through the list of 22 children assigned to appear in her courtroom on a special youth docket. Nearly half were there, some wearing ponytails and shorts, sitting alongside parents and other relatives. She told them to come back in September with a lawyer. Others had moved elsewhere in the country, and their cases were transferred.
Four didn't show up, but Tabaddor didn't give them deportation orders because they were only sent a notice of the hearing five days earlier.
Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, who heads the association of immigration judges, said the key is to ensure enough time is allotted to give the cases proper attention.
"It's just not efficient to go so fast that challenges can be made to the due process," she said. "It ends up making the cases take longer overall and results in longer appeals, so no one is happy."
The shift came after more than 57,000 children began arriving on the border last year fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. After they are released from custody, the children are put into deportation proceedings and given a hearing before an immigration judge.
At immigration court in Los Angeles, 16-year-old Elmer Sandoval said he's worried about what might happen in the proceedings but not more than he was about staying in El Salvador, where gang members threatened to kill him if he didn't join their ranks. His older brother, who left the country for similar reasons 14 years ago, sent $7,000 for him to come north and the boy arrived in May.
Jorge Sandoval, 34, said the boy would heed the court's instructions, whether that means he gets a lot, or little time, to present his case.
"Whatever he has to do, he has to do," the elder Sandoval said.