That Deal with Iran: $400 Million, Hostages, Grumman and My Golf Partner

Dan Rattiner and golf partner John Darden
Dan Rattiner and golf partner John Darden

Last week, Donald Trump told crowds in Florida that he had seen a video of an American aircraft that was carrying all this cash to Iran.

“It was interesting because the tape was made. Right? You saw that? With the airplane coming in—nice plane—and the airplane coming in, and the money coming off, I guess. Right? That was
given to us, had to be, by the Iranians,” he said. “Why? To embarrass our president because we have a president who’s incompetent.”

The amount on board was $400 million, according to Trump. It was being paid to the Iranians in exchange for three American prisoners who were being released. This money, today, he continued, was already in the hands of terrorists to be used against us.

At first Democrats were baffled by this claim.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” said Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia, who is Hillary Clinton’s running mate. “The video doesn’t exist. He might be thinking about Iran Contra from like 35 years ago or something.”

A few days earlier, Trump had confused Tim Kaine with Tom Kean, who had been a Governor of New Jersey when Trump was developing his casinos in New Jersey in the 1980s. Trump, criticizing the Vice Presidential candidate, had said that Governor Kaine “did a terrible job” in New Jersey.

Soon it was found that a video did exist—of an American plane landing in Geneva. The three former hostages had gotten off. But no money had been put on or off. As a result, Trump did a rare reversal. “The plane I saw on television,” Trump tweeted the next day, “was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!”

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort clarified the situation. “The point that he was making is the cash-transfer took place and it was taking place consistent with the transfer of hostages.”

America famously does not ever pay hostage ransom. Turns out there are many aspects to the Iranian nuclear disarmament deal. One is returning property and cash seized by America in 1979 when the Iranians held American diplomats hostage for 444 days. The Wall Street Journal explained it best. Property and bank accounts were seized, and money the Shah had paid for military weapons never delivered was kept. Now, as part of the nuclear deal, we had to make things square. And that’s what this money was all about.

And at that moment, I realized that there was a connection with the Hamptons and that money. It involved my former golf partner, John Darden.

In the 1990s, John worked for me in Bridgehampton as the credit manager of Dan’s Papers. He did a good job. And we became friends and golf partners, going out on weekends from time to time to play on some of the few public courses in the area—Indian Island, Poxabogue, Montauk. Neither of us belonged to a private club. We really weren’t eligible. He is an African-American. I am Jewish. In the 1990s, that left us both out. At one point, I asked him where he learned to play, and he told me that before he worked for me, he worked at Grumman Aviation in Calverton, and he and the other executives there played golf together all the time. He’d also played overseas.

“I was posted to Iran when the Shah was in power,” he told me. “Remember when the American military sold eight F-14 fighter jets to the Shah? I got sent to Iran with the Grumman crew to teach the Iranians how to fly them. We had lots of golf courses there. All in the desert.”

In other words, Darden was part of the military package we sold to Iran. When the Ayatollah overthrew the Shah, the Grumman employees, gathering up all the instruction books, tools and replacement parts, raced for the airport and home. The F-14s were left behind but, without the accessory material, were unusable. They’d paid us. We’d just kept the money.

I’ve always been a proud Long Islander. The F-14 was built by Grumman on Long Island and was, for 20 years, the best fighter plane in the world. It was the plane in Top Gun. In the 1970s and ’80s, we’d often proudly see them thundering by overhead when they came off the assembly line in Calverton and were undergoing pre-delivery testing. Many thought it was a crime for President Carter to sell them to the Shah. We wouldn’t even sell them to Israel. In any case, they’d scream by and we’d stand in awe for a few moments as the ground shook.

One day, lamenting the fact that there were so many beautiful private golf courses out here we couldn’t play at, John and I put an ad in the paper to see if we could get a member at one of these clubs to invite us to play a round as their guest.

OUR GOAL IS TO PLAY EVERY GOLF COURSE IN THE HAMPTONS, the ad headlined. “We are both WASPs listed in the Social Register. Handicap approximately 15 each.”

A photo accompanied the ad, he and I with our clubs over our shoulders, smiling out at the club members. Clearly we were not WASPs.

We ran the ad all summer.

As a result of this, during that summer of 1997 we got to play some really wonderful clubs. The Bridgehampton Club (to which I had applied and been rejected) was a beautiful affair with one hole—a par three—that from tee box to green was a fabulous English garden with flowers in bloom over which you had to hit. Do it and you stroll down the garden path through the buzzing bees and butterflies on the fairway. Our host was Winnie Hatch, the women’s champ.

We played the Gardiner’s Bay Club on Shelter Island, a hilly, wooded affair with wonderful water views from almost everywhere but inside the sand traps. We played as guests of Georgiana Ketcham and her husband.

And we played the Maidstone Golf Club as guests of a member who was looking to have me write something nice about a charity he was supporting and for John to actually consider becoming one of the first African-American members. (John politely declined.) The 9th hole, running along the back of a dune along the ocean, is one of the greatest single golf holes in America.

A few members of other clubs told us they had seen the ad and thought it hilarious and would send us an invitation—but then never did.

John told me that few Iranians were willing to learn how to fly an F-14.

“There’s a rule in the Iranian military: if you break something, you have to pay for it. And if you can’t there is punishment. So—I didn’t see this but I heard about it—one of the Iranians sitting in the cockpit of an F-14 on a runway, pushed the ejection button by mistake. The cowl flew off, the seat flew up, a parachute opened, and he floated back down to the ground. They shot him. That’s what we were told, anyway.”

* * *

My memoir In the Hamptons 4Ever is available at bookstores and online everywhere. One chapter is an account of John Darden and me, the two WASPs looking for a round.

Dan Rattiner and golf partner John Darden ad

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