Trump, Inc.

By WNYC Studios

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 Oct 2, 2018
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He’s the President, yet we’re still trying to answer basic questions about how his business works: What deals are happening, who they’re happening with, and if the President and his family are keeping their promise to separate the Trump Organization from the Trump White House. “Trump, Inc.” is a joint reporting project from WNYC Studios and ProPublica that digs deep into these questions. We’ll be layout out what we know, what we don’t and how you can help us fill in the gaps. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts, including On the Media, Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Nancy and many others. ProPublica is a non-profit investigative newsroom. © WNYC Studios

Episode Date
Trump’s Inauguration Paid Trump’s Company — With Ivanka in the Middle
<p>When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.</p> <p>It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.</p> <p>The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and <em>ProPublica</em>.</p> <p><span>During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.” </span></p> <p><span>If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee’s payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump’s role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.</span></p> <p><span>“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said <a href="">Marcus Owens</a>, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.</span></p> <p><span>Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.</span></p> <p><span>The revelations about the inauguration’s finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.</span></p> <p><span>On Thursday, <em>The Wall Street Journal</em> <a href="">reported</a> that federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether the inaugural committee misspent money and whether donors gave in return for political favors, citing people familiar with the matter. In addition, The New York Time<em>s</em> reported that <a href=";nl=breaking-news&amp;nlid=13917323ing-news&amp;ref=cta">prosecutors are examining</a> whether foreigners illegally funnelled money to the inauguration.</span></p> <p><span>Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, said: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”</span></p> <p><span>Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.</span></p> <p><span>A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said it “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.” The White House and a lawyer for Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not comment.</span></p> <p><span>“That doesn't have anything to do with the president or the first lady," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday night, when asked about the story in the <em>Journal.</em></span></p> <p><span>President-elect Trump was repeatedly briefed on inaugural planning and specific events, according to one committee worker with direct knowledge. WNYC and <em>ProPublica</em> have seen presentations that were shown to the president-elect, complete with renderings and floor plans.</span></p> <p><span>Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee, which was chaired by his friend the businessman Tom Barrack, raised nearly $107 million from donors including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AT&amp;T. The January 2017 festivities cost almost twice President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, previously the most expensive. The nonprofit that planned Trump’s inauguration booked many spaces in the Trump International Hotel, located in the Old Post Office building near the White House, including a ballroom, hotel rooms and work spaces, as well as paying for meals there, according to several people who worked on the inauguration.</span></p> <p><span>How the inaugural committee managed to spend all the money it raised remains a mystery, nearly two years after the event. While groups that support political candidates or issues must publicly detail their spending, an inaugural committee is required to list only its top five contractors. That leaves about $40 million unaccounted for.</span></p> <p><span>Greg Jenkins, who led George W. Bush’s second inauguration, was perplexed by the Trump team’s mammoth fundraising haul. “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins <a href="">told</a> WNYC and <em>ProPublica</em> this year. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.” </span></p> <p><span>As planning for the inauguration was underway in December 2016, Ivanka Trump was still an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. But she was <a href="">reportedly preparing</a> to move to Washington and take on a greater public role. She now serves as an adviser to the president. </span></p> <p><span>Around the middle of the month, with Inauguration Day scarcely a month away, Ivanka Trump was asked to help resolve a dispute between inaugural planners and her family’s Washington hotel, according to emails. </span></p> <p><span>The problem: Organizers thought the hotel was charging too much money.</span></p> <p><span>Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.</span></p> <p><span>It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. </span></p> <p><span>In an email to Ivanka Trump and Gates, Wolkoff, who had previously managed the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala and fashion shows at Lincoln Center, expressed discomfort with the price.</span></p> <p><span>“I wanted to follow up on our conversation and express my concern,” Wolkoff wrote in the December email. </span></p> <p><span>“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends. Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge,” she wrote, noting that other locations would be provided to the inaugural committee for free. <span></span></span></p> <p><span>“I understand that compared to the original pricing this is great but we should look at the whole context,” Wolkoff wrote, suggesting a day rate of $85,000, less than half of the Trump hotel’s offer. </span></p> <div class="embedded-image" style="max-width: 800px;"><img class="mcePuppyImage" src="" alt=""></div> <div class="embedded-image" style="max-width: 800px;"><img class="mcePuppyImage" src="" alt=""></div> <p><span>A former Trump hotel staffer confirmed that the inaugural committee paid for inaugural week events at the hotel. It’s not clear what price the committee ultimately paid. Previous media coverage has focused on spending by outside groups at the Trump hotel but it was not known that the official inaugural committee itself spent significant sums there.</span></p> <p><span>Wolkoff also raised concerns about spending in a conversation with then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, according to the <a href=";reflink=article_email_share">story</a> in the Journal. Federal prosecutors have a recording of that conversation, according to the Journal. The Times <a href="">story</a> suggests that conversation took place well after the inauguration.</span></p> <p><span>Wolkoff, who is a friend of first lady Melania Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Wolkoff’s firm, WIS Media Partners, was the inauguration’s highest-paid contractor, according to the committee’s tax <a href="">filing</a>. Wolkoff was <a href="">scrutinized</a> in media accounts this year because the firm received nearly $26 million. Most of that of the money was passed on to subcontractors, according to a person familiar with the spending. It is possible that payments to the Trump hotel were included in that sum.</span></p> <p><span>If the Trump hotel charged the inaugural committee above-market rates, it could violate tax rules, according to Owens, the nonprofit tax expert who is now a partner at the law firm Loeb &amp; Loeb.</span></p> <p><span>If a person with “substantial influence” over a nonprofit group charges the group above-market rates in a transaction with their outside business, the IRS can impose steep fines. In this case, Donald Trump could qualify as a person with such influence. Should the tax agency find that a <a href="">violation</a> occurred, the Trump Organization would have to refund any overcharge and the inaugural committee would be hit with a 25 percent tax on the money, Owens said. </span></p> <p><span>Owens added that IRS audits of nonprofits are increasingly rare. Since the inaugural committee was incorporated in Virginia, the state attorney general there could also have standing to investigate its operations.</span></p> <p><span>A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said its finances “were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. … These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors.”</span></p> <p><span>The inaugural committee spent money at the Trump International in Washington in other ways as well. Many workers came from California and New York and stayed at the hotel, eating their meals there and holding meetings. Receipts reviewed by WNYC and <em>ProPublica</em> show they typically paid about $350 a night. According to an inaugural worker, 15 to 20 inaugural workers stayed at the hotel most nights for roughly a month in the run-up to the inauguration, at a total cost of what could be more than $200,000.</span></p> <p><span>The professional resumes of top Trump hotel staffers indicate they worked closely with the presidential inaugural committee. The hotel’s director of food and beverage says on his LinkedIn profile that he was “working with PIC [Presidential Inaugural Committee] during the 2017 Inauguration” and a “related series of very special events.”</span></p> <p><span>The day before Trump’s swearing in, the inaugural committee hosted a Leadership Luncheon in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom, featuring his cabinet nominees and major donors. “This is a gorgeous room,” the president-elect <a href="">told</a> the crowd. “A total genius must have built this place.” And the night of the inauguration itself, <a href="">Trump’s</a> <a href="">family</a> and close allies such as <a href="">Sean Hannity</a> celebrated into the early morning at an exclusive after-party in the Trump hotel’s grand lobby. Thousands of red, white and blue <a href="">balloons were released</a> from the rafters. </span></p> <p><span>Some vendors for the inauguration became concerned when Gates, a top inaugural committee official, asked them to take payments outside of the normal committee invoicing process, according to two people with knowledge of what happened. He proposed that they be paid for their work directly from a would-be donor rather than by the committee. Gates told the vendors that the inaugural committee had received pledges of more money than was initially targeted, and, therefore, he wished to reduce the publicly reported sum raised.</span></p> <p><span>Gates did not respond to a request for comment. Last February, he pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of lying to the FBI and conspiracy, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry. </span></p> <p><span>Over the summer, Gates was cross examined about his work for the inauguration in the trial of his former boss, Paul Manafort. Gates conceded that he might have charged personal expenses to the committee. “It’s possible,” he said.</span></p> <p><span>In a separate episode this year, a U.S. lobbyist <a href="">pleaded guilty</a> to helping a Ukrainian businessman and member of Parliament buy tickets to the inauguration, in violation of rules barring the committee from taking foreign money. The inaugural committee was not accused of wrongdoing in that case.</span></p> <p><em>Alice Wilder provided additional research assistance for this story.</em></p> <p><em><span>Do you have information about Trump’s inaugural or the Trump Organization? Email Ilya at </span></em><span><a href=""><em></em></a><em> or via Signal at 646-662-1249 and Justin at </em><a href=""><em></em></a><em> or via Signal at 774-826-6240.</em></span></p>
Dec 14, 2018
What We Now Know About Manafort, Cohen and ‘Individual-1’
<p><span>Court filings by prosecutors last week shined a light on the business lives of two men who worked get Donald Trump elected president: former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.</span></p> <p><em><span>Trump, Inc </span></em><span>co-hosts Ilya Marritz and Andrea Bernstein talk with Franklin Foer of </span><em><span>The Atlantic</span></em><span> about what the documents show -- and the further questions they raise. </span></p> <p><span>Among those questions:<br></span>- What exactly was Manafort’s connection to a business partner who some in the intelligence committee believe to be a Russian intelligence asset?</p> <p>- Why did Russian officials approach the Trump campaign about potential “political synergy”?</p> <p>- How much did Trump know about Cohen’s coordination of hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with the now-president?</p>
Dec 12, 2018
Trump Jr. Invested in a Hydroponic Lettuce Company
<p>Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, took a stake last year in a startup whose co-chairman is a major Trump campaign fundraiser who has sought financial support from the federal government for his other business interests, according to records obtained by ProPublica.</p> <p>The fundraiser, Texas money manager Gentry Beach, and Trump Jr. attended college together, are godfather to one of each other’s sons and have collaborated on investments — and on the Trump presidential campaign. Since Trump’s election, Beach has attempted to obtain federal assistance for projects in Asia, the Caribbean and South America, and he has met or corresponded with top officials in the National Security Council, Interior Department and Overseas Private Investment Corporation.</p> <p>Beach and others at the startup, Eden Green Technology, have touted their connections to the first family to impress partners, suppliers and others, according to five current and former business associates. Richard Venn, an early backer of Eden Green, recalls the company’s founder mentioning “interest from the Trump family.” Another associate said Beach bragged about his ties to the Trumps in a business meeting.</p> <p>The investment is one of just a handful of known business ventures pursued by Trump Jr. since his father moved into the White House almost two years ago. In addition to being a top campaign surrogate and public booster, Trump Jr. serves as an executive vice president of his father’s company and one of just two trustees of the <a href="">trust holding the president’s assets</a>.</p> <p>Ethics experts have consistently criticized these arrangements, arguing that they invite those seeking to influence the government to do so by attempting to enrich the president or his family members with favorable business opportunities.</p> <p>Trump Jr. invested in the startup, a company that grows organic lettuce in a hydroponic greenhouse, last year, records show. Those records don’t state how much money — if any —  Trump paid for his 7,500 shares. But the shares would have been worth about $650,000 at the end of last year, based on a formula used by another shareholder in a recent court filing. Neither Trump Jr. nor the company have disclosed his investment publicly. Trump Jr. obtained the stake through a limited liability company called MSMDF Agriculture LLC, which was set up by a Trump Organization employee last fall.  </p> <p>The key ethical question, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics lawyer at the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is whether Beach’s involvement with Eden Green, and Trump Jr.’s investment in it, are based on the business merits — or on the possibility of cashing in on connections to power. “Why is Trump Jr. being given this opportunity?” she asked. “It definitely has the appearance of trying to gain access by any means to curry favor with the administration.”</p> <p>The willingness of Eden Green to invoke the Trump name in its business dealings raises further ethical concerns, experts said, particularly if potential customers understand that they are giving contracts to a startup whose success could enrich the president’s son.</p> <p>Neither Trump Jr. nor his spokesman responded to messages seeking comment on his relationship with Beach and investment in Eden Green. A White House spokeswoman didn’t respond to emailed questions. Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s top lawyer, said in a statement that Trump Jr.’s investment is a personal one. The entity through which it was made “is not owned or controlled by, or affiliated in any way with, The Trump Organization,” Garten said.  </p> <p>Last fall, Eden Green concluded a deal with Walmart. Today, the giant retailer sells the company’s lettuce, kale and other greens at about 100 stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. (Eden Green’s sole facility is a 44,023-square-foot greenhouse outside Fort Worth, where it grows the greens in 18-foot vertical tubes.)</p> <p>Walmart interacts with government regulators on an array of matters -- everything from labor practices and land use to securities filings -- but there is no indication that Walmart is aware of Trump Jr.’s connection to Eden Green. (Separately, Walmart contributed $150,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee. Beach was a finance vice chair of that committee, but a Beach spokesman says he has never met with Walmart executives.)</p> <p>Molly Blakeman, a Walmart spokeswoman, declined to comment on Eden Green or its investors. “We don’t talk about our relationships with our suppliers,” said Blakeman, who added that Walmart has “supported inaugural activities” in the past.   </p> <p>Andrew Kolvet, a spokesman for Beach and the other Eden Green executives, said it’s “categorically false” that the Trump name was invoked by Eden Green officials. Kolvet cited a corporate policy that forbids discussing investors “with any current or potential client.” He also said Trump Jr. isn’t involved with company operations and bought into Eden Green during “U.S. friends and family fundraising efforts.”</p> <p>A recent lawsuit asserts that Eden Green is in financial trouble. In October, the company’s largest shareholder, an entity controlled by a wealthy oil and gas family from Midland, Texas, filed suit in state court in Dallas, alleging “gross project mismanagement.” The suit accused Beach and six executives, all of them board members, of paying themselves extravagant salaries (allegedly $250,000 to $300,000 per year) and putting the company “on the precipice of failure.” A financial consultant hired to examine the company’s books asserted that Eden Green executives spent more than $19.4 million in the first nine months of 2018 — a daunting sum for a company that reported having raised a total of $22 million as of June — while generating $9,000 in revenues.</p> <p>In late November, less than a month after the suit was filed, it was settled on confidential terms. Kolvet disputed the compensation figures asserted in the litigation, saying that the company’s pay is “in accordance with industry standards.” He maintained that Eden Green’s prospects are good. As with many startups, he said, “things don’t go in a straight line.” Kolvet asserted that the company has plenty of operating cash. </p> <p>Trump Jr., now 40, and Beach, now 43, met at the University of Pennsylvania two decades ago. Both are the sons of wealthy businessmen, one in real estate, one in oil and gas. Beach’s father has since been laid low: Last month he was sentenced to four months in federal detention, plus two years of supervised release, for bankruptcy fraud.</p> <p>Beach was a groomsman at Trump Jr.’s wedding (Trump Jr. and his wife recently separated). Beach and Trump Jr. like to hunt and once considered buying a hunting preserve in Mexico together. According to a 2010 deposition testimony by Trump Jr., they talked business during lunches at Rothmann’s steakhouse in New York.</p> <p>Both have struggled in business at times. In 2009, Trump Jr. and others (including one person who pleaded guilty to an unrelated criminal fraud charge in 2010) formed a company that would sell concrete panels for home constructions out of a warehouse in North Charleston, South Carolina. The business quickly became mired in lawsuits seeking payment for unpaid bills. Trump Jr. made the situation more precarious by personally guaranteeing a $3.7 million loan for the project. Days before the note was due, the Trump Organization purchased the debt, eventually taking over the warehouse and selling it all back to Trump Jr.’s original business partner, according to press accounts.</p> <p>For his part, Beach’s career path has also included some travails. He spent a year or so at Enron and then moved into finance. Beach worked for a hedge fund and remains locked in litigation with it more than a decade later. (He claims he wasn’t paid his full compensation; the fund claims he was “responsible for the destruction of millions of dollars of investor capital.”) Beach now runs a “family office focused on private equity investments” out of a Dallas office that Eden Green uses as its corporate address.</p> <p>Trump Jr. has at least twice before invested with Beach in deals that didn’t pan out. Trump Jr. put  $200,000 in a dry Texas oil well managed by Beach’s father, according to testimony by Trump Jr. He also lost an unknown sum in a failed African mining company affiliated with Beach’s uncle.</p> <p>But Trump Jr. stuck with his friend. The Associated Press reported this year that the two formed a company last October to pursue technology investments.</p> <p>Then there was Eden Green. By the time Trump invested last fall, the company had already run into problems. It first launched in 2013 in South Africa with an ambitious mission: to feed the world through a highly efficient indoor farming system deploying patented technology intended to yield 10 to 12 harvests a year, compared with two or three for conventional agriculture.</p> <p>There’s a market for vegetables grown in controlled greenhouse environments as big retailers increasingly push for cleaner, more reliable and locally grown alternatives. But the challenges are significant. Energy costs run high, and there are myriad difficulties associated with scaling up to an industrial-size system.   </p> <p>That’s what happened in Eden Green’s first iteration, according to a half dozen early backers and associates. The produce may have been sustainable — but the business model wasn’t. The CEO of its European unit wrote in an October 2017 email obtained by ProPublica that the company had “been bleeding money and resources for almost 2 years now.” In the fall of 2017, Eden Green’s founders cemented a deal to hand over majority control to a group of U.S. investors led by Beach, current and former business associates said.</p> <p>This was the company Trump Jr. bought into. He used an innocuous-sounding limited liability company, called MSMDF Agriculture LLC, to make the investment. ProPublica discovered MSMDF after the Trump Organization listed it in New York City filings among dozens of other entities it controlled. (Because the Trump Organization has contracts with the city to run the Wollman skating rink in Central Park and a golf course in the Bronx, the city requires the company to file disclosures.) The Trump Organization told ProPublica that MSMDF is not in fact owned by the Trump Organization but was included in the disclosure form because it’s controlled by Trump Jr., who was described in the form as MSMDF’s president, secretary and treasurer.</p> <p>MSMDF was formed by a Trump Organization employee in September 2017 in Delaware, according to incorporation papers. Eden Green Holdings UK, Ltd., an affiliate of the Texas-based company, then listed MSMDF among its roughly two dozen shareholders in a 2018 report filed with British regulators.</p> <p>The Trump Jr-Beach connection has been most visible in the political arena. Last year, for example, Trump Jr. publicly thanked Beach and their mutual friend Tommy Hicks Jr., another wealthy investor from Dallas, for their fundraising during the 2016 campaign. “We couldn’t have done it without you guys,” Trump Jr. said of his buddies to a crowd of Republican donors in March 2017. “It was just absolutely incredible.”</p> <p>In the foreword to a recent book, Trump Jr. reiterated the message, writing that a “rag tag army” — Trump Jr., Beach, Hicks and Charlie Kirk, the firebrand chief of the pro-Trump organization, Turning Point USA  — barnstormed the country in 2016, raising “over 150 million dollars in ninety days.”</p> <p>Since Trump’s election, Beach has met with top administration figures on multiple occasions. For example, according to the AP, he lobbied National Security Council officials to relax sanctions against Venezuela to create opportunities for U.S. companies. He attended a private lunch with Republican donors and Interior secretary Ryan Zinke.</p> <p>Beach has denied leveraging his ties to the first family. Last month, Beach told a TV interviewer in Croatia, where he said he was exploring a “truly spectacular” $100 million real estate development, “I don’t need anything from the government, thankfully, except normal police protection in my hometown.”</p> <p>But newly obtained emails show that Beach wanted government backing for his private business interests at the same time he was running Eden Green. In October 2017, Beach pitched Ray Washburne, who heads the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government agency that offers loans and guarantees to American companies looking to expand into emerging markets, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. (Before joining OPIC, Washburne was a Dallas investor and a top fundraiser for Trump. He and Beach move in the same circles and have friends in common.)</p> <p>“The Dominican Republic could really use some US investment and support,” Beach wrote in one email to Washburne, describing his various projects there, which included “a power plant upgrade to an existing tin mine” as well as liquid natural gas infrastructure. He invited OPIC officials to travel with him to the Dominican Republic “If permitted, we would be happy to handle all transportation from DC to DR and back,” he wrote in a follow-up note. (Such a trip never occurred, according to an OPIC spokesperson.)  </p> <p>A month later, the emails show, Beach also lobbied on another project, arranging a call with his business partner and one of Washburne’s top deputies regarding an “India Oppty,” which appeared to involve an energy fund. Separately, Beach also introduced Washburne to the head of oil giant Exxon Mobil’s Africa operations, with whom Beach said he had gone shooting at Blenheim Palace in England, where the Churchill family resided for three centuries. And Beach connected another Washburne aide with a South African mining executive who Beach described as “one of my partners.”</p> <p>OPIC spokeswoman Amanda Burke said Beach has not submitted any formal applications for agency funding. “OPIC routinely meets with a variety of businesses and stakeholders,” she said, adding that formal applications trigger background and credit checks and “go through several levels of agency vetting and approval.”</p> <p>Asked whether having a Trump connection would disqualify a person from receiving OPIC support, Burke emailed that “in general, an individual’s personal or legal business interests would not disqualify them from applying. However, certain relationships may cause board members or other decision makers of OPIC to be conflicted out of the decision-making process on potential projects.”</p>
Dec 04, 2018
The Emolument Suit Against Trump That Is Moving Ahead
<p>There’s lots of talk about congressional investigations of the Trump administration that may be coming. Meanwhile, there is already a push to pull back the veil on the president’s conflicts. And it’s making progress.</p> <p>This month, <a href="">a federal judge ruled</a> that Maryland and Washington, D.C., can move ahead with a lawsuit claiming the president has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which <a href="">bars presidents</a> from accepting payments from foreign and state governments without congressional approval. That means the president may soon have to turn over all sorts of documents related to his businesses.  </p> <p>We spoke about the case with one of the lawyers behind it, District of Columbia Attorney General <a href="">Karl Racine</a>.</p> <p>Racine explains that the Emoluments Clause is the “country's first anticorruption law.” The framers created it to “ensure that a president the United States as well as other federal officers would be loyal to the interest of the United States, not to their purses or to their pocketbooks.”  </p> <p>The Department of Justice has fought the case, disputing that the president is violating the Emoluments Clause. “This case, which should have been dismissed, presents important questions that warrant immediate appellate review,” a department spokesman <a href="">said</a> after the judge’s order.</p> <p><span>Racine also talked with us about what exact documents they’re hoping to get, and the time a Republican Congress investigated whether <em>another</em> president was receiving emoluments. (<a href="">He wasn’t</a>.) </span></p>
Nov 14, 2018
So What Trump Investigations Could Be Coming?
<p>For two years, journalists have operated in an environment where Congress has declined to inquire into key issues surrounding President Trump’s family business: Is he profiting from his presidency? Are his friends, family, and appointees? Is Trump violating the Constitution when members of foreign governments make payments to his company by staying at his properties?  </p> <p>Now, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives after this week’s midterm elections, that will change. Already, several high-ranking members are vowing to look into aspects of the relationship between Trump’s business and his administration.</p> <p>Among them:</p> <p>• Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), currently the ranking member of Ways and Means Committee, says he’ll request <a href="">Trump’s tax returns</a> from the Treasury Department.</p> <p>• Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee,  <a href="">says </a>in a statement he’ll “shine a light on...President Trump’s decisions to act in his own financial self-interest rather than the best interests of the American people.”</p> <p>• Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), current ranking member of the Judiciary Committee is vowing to <a href="">investigate policies</a> “that enable pervasive corruption to influence decision-making at the highest levels of government.”</p> <p>• Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee <a href="">says </a>in a statement  the committee will look at “areas inquiry the majority ignored or prevented us from investigating.” Democratic committee staff issued a <a href="">report</a> last spring detailing some of those areas. Among them: the Trump Organization’s business practices.</p> <p>What will this all mean? What do we hope to learn? And how might this change our understanding of the presidency and his business?  WNYC’s<a href=""> <strong>Andrea Bernstein</strong></a> convened an all-star panel to discuss it all:<a href=""> <strong>Adam Davidson</strong> </a>of the <em>The New Yorker</em>, McClatchy’s White House Correspondent <a href=""><strong>Anita Kumar</strong></a>, <em>The Washington Post’s</em> <a href=""><strong>David Fahrenthold</strong>,</a> and<a href=""> <strong>Eric Umansky</strong></a> of ProPublica<strong>.</strong></p> <p>They also helped us to create a <strong>must-read list of stories, articles, documents and court filings</strong> that take on new interest after the midterms for anyone following the administration.</p> <p><strong>From Adam:</strong> The House Intelligence Committee’s <a href="">Minority Views report</a>, which lays out how a Democrat-led committee might continue to investigate possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, and <a href="">the deposition</a> of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg in State of New York v. The Donald J. Trump Foundation<em>.</em></p> <p><strong>From Andrea: </strong>U.S. District Judge’s Peter J. Messitte’s Nov. 2, 2018, <a href="">Memorandum Opinion</a> in The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland v. Donald J. Trump, otherwise known as the “emoluments lawsuit.”  </p> <p><strong>From Anita</strong>: Sarah Chayes’ <a href="">amicus</a> brief in CREW v. Donald J. Trump.</p> <p><strong>From David:</strong> Trump’s <a href="">2007 deposition</a> in the case Donald J. Trump v. Timothy O’Brien<em>.</em></p> <p><strong>From Eric:</strong> Axios’ <a href="">story</a> about a GOP spreadsheet of expected Democratic-led investigations. It’s a long list that spans everything from well-known issues like Trump’s tax returns to things many of us have long forgotten, such as whether classified information has been inappropriately shared at Mar-a-Lago.</p>
Nov 08, 2018
Rudy, Inc.
<p>Rudy Giuliani has had many identities in his time on the public stage. A crusading federal prosecutor who struck terror in mobsters and Wall Street titans alike. A sometimes cantankerous New York City mayor who became a national hero for his stirring leadership after the 9/11 attacks. And, currently, President Donald Trump’s unpaid attorney in the Russia collusion investigation being led by Robert Mueller. In this week’s episode of Trump, Inc., we’re digging into a part of Giuliani's work that has occurred largely outside of the spotlight: He has often traveled to Russia or other former Soviet states as guests of powerful players there. And since Trump was elected, he appears to have stepped up the frequency of those trips.</p> <p>Just last week, for example, Giuliani appeared in the former Soviet republic of Armenia, which has close trade ties with Russia. He was invited, according to local press accounts, by Ara Abramyan, an Armenian businessman who lives in Russia. Abramyan once helped reconstruct the Kremlin and also received a medal for “merit to the fatherland” from President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Giuliani said he was in Armenia as a private citizen, but on a local TV news show, Abramyan implied that he expected Giuliani to carry a message for him to Trump. (The conversation was in Armenian, so it’s not clear whether Giuliani understood what Abramyan was saying.)</p> <p>While in Armenia, Giuliani also attended a technology conference (one of his businesses advises on cybersecurity). The conference program listed him as appearing on a panel that also included a Russian currently on the U.S. sanctions list imposed after Russia's invasion of Crimea.</p> <p>There are many things we don't know about Giuliani's trips. We don't know whether he's being paid, and if so by whom. Giuliani declined to answer our questions.</p> <p>One thing we do know is that a company called TriGlobal Strategic Ventures claims credit for organizing the trips. Abramyan is on TriGlobal’s board, as is a former Russian government minister. TriGlobal and Abramyan also did not respond to our questions.</p> <p>Giuliani's work abroad does not appear to break any laws or rules. But it also appears to be unprecedented. Said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and a law professor at the University of Michigan: “I don't recall seeing anything like this before.”</p>
Oct 31, 2018
Trump and Taxes: The Art of the Dodge
<p>From the moment during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump broke decades of precedent and declined to release his personal tax returns, the issue of Trump and the taxes he has paid (or not paid) has been the subject of widespread fascination, scrutiny and not a little controversy. That scrutiny ratcheted up significantly in recent weeks with two substantial media investigations of the tax-paying practices of Trump’s family and those of Trump in-law and White House official Jared Kushner.</p> <p>This week’s episode of Trump, Inc. brings clarity to a complex subject. It identifies three patterns in the president’s approach to taxes. First, it describes a history of ignoring norms (which, for presidential candidates, include releasing tax returns). Second, it delves into <a href="">a recent New York Times investigation</a> — which concluded that the president’s family committed “outright fraud” — to show a history of breaking tax rules. Finally, it examines Trump’s ability to change tax rules to benefit himself and his wealthy peers.</p> <p>The episode includes an interview with The New York Times’ Susanne Craig, the co-author of the expose that reported that Fred Trump passed $413 million in today’s dollars to his son Donald, who describes how she reported her article and the mysteries she and her colleagues unraveled. It also examines <a href="">a second New York Times article</a> that explored how Kushner exploited a seemingly prosaic tax technique — depreciation — to wipe out his taxable income. (Representatives of the Trumps and Kushners have denied any tax improprieties.) Finally, the episode looks at many of the ways in which Trump’s signature tax cut will redound to the benefit of the real estate industry.</p> <p><span>The bigger picture? As tax expert Jenny Johnson Ware puts it in the podcast, for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”</span></p> <p> </p> <p>Correction: <span> This story originally misattributed and misquoted a statement. Jenny Johnson Ware did not say, “It’s a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax money.” ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger asked, “Is it a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax planning?” Ware responded that for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”</span></p>
Oct 24, 2018
Trump’s Tangled Relationship With Saudi Arabia
<p>The disappearance of <a href="">Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi</a> at a Saudi Consulate has brought renewed attention to what’s been true for years: The United States — and its president — has an important, and extremely complicated, relationship with Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>Trump has been doing business with Saudis for years, even bragging <a href="">during his presidential campaign</a> about the large amount of money Saudi buyers paid for his apartments.</p> <p>"Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million," he said at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, in August 2015. "Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much."</p> <p>In this Trump, Inc. podcast extra, WNYC’s <a href="">Charlie Herman</a> talks with The Washington Post’s <a href="">David Fahrenthold</a> and <a href="">Joe Nocera</a> from Bloomberg Opinion about all the ways Saudi Arabia is intertwined with U.S. business interests, including those of the president himself.</p> <p> </p>
Oct 19, 2018
Pump and Trump
<p><em>(With <a href="" target="_blank">Andrea Bernstein</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Meg Cramer</a>, WNYC, and <a href="" target="_blank">Peter Elkind</a>, ProPublica)</em></p> <p>Since Donald Trump’s fortunes came surging back with the success of “The Apprentice” 14 years ago, his deals have often been scrutinized for the large number of his partners who have ventured to the very edges of the law, and sometimes beyond. Those associates have included accused money launderers, alleged funders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a felon who slashed someone in the face with a broken margarita glass.</p> <p>Trump and his company have typically countered by saying they were merely licensing his name on these real estate projects in exchange for a fee. They weren’t the developers or in any way responsible.</p> <p>But an eight-month investigation by ProPublica and WNYC reveals that the post-millennium Trump business model is different from what has been previously reported. The Trumps were typically way more than mere licensors or bystanders in their often-troubled deals. They were deeply involved in these projects. They helped mislead investors and buyers — and they profited handsomely from it. </p> <p>Patterns of deceptive practices occurred in a dozen deals across the globe, as the business expanded into international projects, and the Trumps often participated. One common pattern, visible in more than half of those transactions, was a tendency to misstate key sales numbers.</p> <p>In interviews and press conferences, Ivanka Trump gave false sales figures for projects in Mexico’s Baja California ; Panama City, Panama ; Toronto  and New York’s SoHo neighborhood . These statements weren’t just the legendary Trump hype; they misled potential buyers about the viability of the developments.</p> <p>Another pattern: Donald Trump repeatedly misled buyers about the amount (or existence) of his ownership in projects in Tampa, Florida; Panama; Baja and elsewhere. For a tower planned in Tampa, for example, Trump told a local paper in 2005 that his ownership would be less than 50 percent: “But it’s a substantial stake. I recently said I’d like to increase my stake but when they’re selling that well they don’t let you do that.” In reality, Trump had no ownership stake in the project.</p> <p>The Trumps often made money even when projects failed. And when they tanked, the Trumps simply ignored their prior claims of close involvement, denied any responsibility and walked away.</p> <p><em>(<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Projects</em> Where A Trump Family Member Overstated Numbers</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Projects Where the Trumps Suggested They Were Developers, Partners or Equity Owners - They Weren't</a>)</em></p> <p>The cycle is exemplified in Panama City, where the Trumps were involved in a project to build a massive tower and complex known as the Trump Ocean Club<span> </span>. The project’s unfortunate turns included bankruptcy, then, years later, the forcible ejection of the Trump Organization from managing the hotel.</p> <p>There, as elsewhere, the Trump Organization disclaimed responsibility. It emphasized that it had merely licensed the Trump name to developers who handled everything from construction to marketing. “The Trump Organization was not the owner, developer or seller of the Trump Ocean Club Panama project,” it said in a statement last year. “Because of its limited role, the company was not responsible for the financing of the project and had no involvement in the sale of units.”</p> <p>That was false. For starters, Trump arranged financing — his promised commission: <span><a href="">$2.2 million or more </a></span>— by bringing in investment bank Bear Stearns<span> </span>, which issued the bonds that paid for the Panama project’s construction.</p> <p>Trump touted himself as a “partner” of the developer. His daughter Ivanka<span> </span> briefly boasted that she had personally sold 40 units. (A broker on the project said he couldn’t remember her selling even one.) Meanwhile, Ivanka told a journalist at the time that “over 90 percent” of the Panama units had sold — and at prices five times as high as comparable buildings. Both statements were untrue.</p> <p>Not only were the Panama sales figures inflated, but many “purchases” turned out to be an illusion. That was no coincidence. The building’s financing depended on obtaining advance commitments from buyers, often before concrete had started pouring. But in between the sale of the bonds in 2007 and 2013, the year the building went bankrupt, buyers of 458 units in the 1,000-unit building abandoned their purchase contracts. Those buyers forfeited more than $50 million in deposits, and they never took possession of finished units. Given that the “buyers” were often shadowy shell companies or other paper entities, it was nearly impossible to discern who the actual purchasers were, let alone why they backed out.</p> <p>Trump licensed his name for an initial fee of $1 million. But that was just the beginning of the revenue streams, a lengthy and varied assortment that granted him a piece of everything from sales of apartment units to a cut of minibar sales, and was notable for the myriad ways in which both success and failure triggered payments to him.</p> <p>Consider the final accounting: In the wake of the project’s bankruptcy, a 50 percent default rate and his company’s expulsion from managing the hotel, Donald Trump walked away with between $30 million and $55 million.</p> <p>The Trump Organization did not respond to a long list of questions about its transactions. The White House didn’t have a comment.</p> <p>Trump’s licensing strategy originated with his early-2000s comeback, as “The Apprentice” propelled him to international TV stardom and restored luster to a reputation tarnished by multiple bankruptcies. As Trump put it in one promotional video<span> </span> during that period, “When the first season of ‘The Apprentice’ finally finished shooting, I was able to get back to my core business, real estate, and I’ve made some really incredible deals.” That strategy is still playing out today. The Trump Organization, which pledged not to launch new projects during the Trump presidency, is aggressively pursuing existing ones, including in the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and India.</p> <p>Some long-assumed beliefs about Trump are being re-investigated, with surprising results. This month, The New York Times published a<span> <a href=";module=Top%20Stories&amp;pgtype=Homepage">13,000-word examination</a></span> of how Donald’s father, the late Fred Trump, and his estate, funneled millions of dollars to his children, in possible violation of tax rules and criminal laws. With copious documentation showing that Fred directed $413 million in today’s dollars to Donald — not the single loan for $1 million, with interest, that Donald has always claimed — it exploded Trump’s long-propagated claim that he is a self-made man.</p> <p>This article examines another Trump claim: that his post-millennium comeback and global expansion rested on the brilliant purity of a licensing strategy that paid him millions simply for the use of his name. That, it turns out, is no truer than the notion that Donald Trump is self-made.</p> <p><strong>“Development Wasn’t Our Big Forte”</strong></p> <p>A Lebanese importer-exporter with expertise in the apparel industry seemed an unlikely choice as a partner for one of Donald Trump’s first international forays. Yet that’s precisely who Trump would team with to embark on a wildly ambitious construction project in a distant Central American location.</p> <p>Roger Khafif<span> </span> divided his time between Panama, where he had become a citizen, and South Florida. He was a slick dresser who made big promises and exuded an intensity that could be viewed either as determination or stubbornness, according to people who did business with him. He had worked in the Panama Canal free-trade zone as an importer-exporter of clothing and had recently begun dabbling in real estate, documents show, via ownership interests in two Panamanian beach resorts. “Development wasn’t our big forte,” Khafif acknowledged in an interview with ProPublica.</p> <p>If Khafif seemed an implausible partner, Panama seemed an odd location for a project that would become a template of sorts for Trump’s international licensing deals. The country was better known as a cog in the Latin American drug trade than as a tourist destination. It was a place to turn illegal profits into useable cash. Money laundering helped fuel the proliferation of high-rises that gave Panama City its sleek, ultramodern skyline<span> </span>.</p> <p>The deal came together fast, according to Khafif. To get to Trump, he said, an associate put him in touch with a business partner of Marvin Traub, the Trump friend and former Bloomingdale’s CEO who had also brokered Trump Vodka. Traub’s consultancy got Khafif on Trump’s schedule. (Traub’s firm later sought almost $1.3 million for matchmaking, court documents show.)</p> <p>“We had a quick meeting,” Khafif recalled of his first encounter with Trump in New York in 2005. “Then I left. I went down to Miami, got a call the next day from Donald Trump saying they were interested in the project.” Khafif<span> <a href=",8599,1973869,00.html">was so surprised</a></span> he didn’t at first believe he was talking to Trump.</p> <p>Trump signed on to Khafif’s plan and decided to bestow the leading role in the project, at least as far as the Trump Organization went, on his daughter Ivanka,<span> <a href="">Khafif told Reuters</a></span>. Just entering her mid-20s, she was leading a major deal for the first time. Ivanka traveled to Panama shortly after, and the agreement coalesced quickly.</p> <p>Khafif’s dream was audacious and grandiose. The planned complex, Ivanka claimed in a<span> <a href="">promotional video</a></span>, would amass the largest square footage of any construction in all of the Americas. Fully Trumpian in its luxury and excess, the plan would call for a 69-story sail-shaped building with 1,000 condos and hotel-condo units, offices, a casino, spa, private beach, pool deck and yacht club. (When viewed from Panama Bay, the resulting edifice would look less like a sail and more like a giant lemon wedge perched on a square base.)</p> <p>One Monday in April 2006 in the marble atrium at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Khafif stood in a well-cut dark suit and pale pink tie<span> </span> beside Trump, Ivanka and Donald Jr. to announce plans for the Trump Ocean Club’s birth. “I really think the time for Panama has come,” Trump proclaimed.</p> <p>Trump left multiple observers with the impression that he had an equity stake in the deal. “He said the Trump <span> </span> does have a financial interest in the project but he would not disclose the amount,” reported a newsletter circulated to clients and associates, alerting them to news and investment opportunities, by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which would later become publicly known for sheltering wealth in offshore accounts.</p> <p>Marketing materials for the Panama project also implied that Trump was functioning as a developer. “I am honored to develop this extraordinary high rise with my partner Roger Khafif of the K Group,” Trump was quoted as saying in one promotional statement. Buyers believed the Trumps and their company were functioning as the project’s developers, in partnership with Khafif, according to a lawsuit later filed by dozens of buyers.</p> <p>But Trump did not have a penny of equity in the development, according to records of the bond sale and bankruptcy. Nor was he the actual developer, as the Trump Organization’s own statement confirmed.</p> <p>In Panama and elsewhere, Trump’s projects depended on outsiders’ willingness to invest. Trump claimed at the time that banks were “fighting to put up money” for the building. But there’s no evidence that was the case. His five casino and hotel bankruptcies meant financial institutions tended to shy away, and Khafif’s lack of building experience made him a risky financing prospect. (Khafif ultimately brought on the principals of a Colombian construction and design firm to deliver the necessary know-how.)</p> <p>Still, Trump had a card to play without which the tower would likely never have been built: his two-decade relationship with Bear Stearns. The investment bank agreed to underwrite a $220 million bond issue. Bear Stearns and Trump had worked together on a variety of endeavors. For example, two years earlier he and a Bear Stearns executive, Trump’s investment banking adviser, had launched Trump University<span> </span>, a non-accredited business education program that purported to teach his real estate strategies. (It later collapsed among accusations of fraud. Trump paid $25 million to settle a suit but denied wrongdoing.) And as far back as 1988,<span> <a href="">Trump paid a $750,000 civil judgment to the U.S. Department of Justice</a></span> for having Bear Stearns make purchases of casino stocks in the bank’s name rather than in his. (Trump was looking to buy casinos at the time, and the Justice Department asserted that the concealed purchases<span> <a href="">violated antitrust laws</a></span>.)</p> <p>As the bond underwriter in the Panama project, Bear Stearns played a dual role: It raised money for construction and also vouched for the soundness of the bonds it would sell. The bank was supposed to be checking that information disclosed to investors was accurate and provided a complete picture of the investment’s strengths and weaknesses.</p> <p>In reality, however, “the bank had significant lapses in exercising due diligence over their bond offerings” during that period, according to Gary Aguirre, an attorney and former SEC senior counsel who advocated for more accountability of Bear Stearns and other Wall Street banks involved in the financial crisis and said he researched Bear Stearns as part of that process. The bank, including a member of its Latin America group (which was involved in the Panama deal), faced multiple investigations by regulators into whether its employees in Miami and New York had improperly valued financial instruments, though they did not lead to charges, SEC records and media reports show.</p> <p>The bond sale barely squeaked through in November 2007. Tremors of what would become a global financial earthquake were already destabilizing markets. At the last minute, Bear Stearns postponed the offering only to reverse course a few days later. “I remember walking up Fifth Avenue and I put my arm around Roger [Khafif],” said Jack Studnicky, a lead real estate agent for the project, “and I said, ‘You are the luckiest SOB I ever met.’” This project, branded with the name of a longtime Bear Stearns client, was the only bond issue among eight at Bear Stearns at that moment that moved forward.</p> <p>Many investors turned up their noses at the bonds, even though Bear Stearns representatives had traveled to New York City, Miami and London to talk up the deal. Part of what drove some blue-chip corporate investors away was obvious: The bonds for the Panama project were rated “speculative” — “junk” in Wall Street parlance — reflecting what rating agencies viewed as an elevated chance of default. More risk-tolerant, and more anonymous, hedge funds and money managers proliferated among the bond buyers, making up 80 percent of initial investors.</p> <p>Within months of the offering, it became clear that the Trump Ocean Club would outlive its financial backer. Bear Stearns crumpled suddenly in<span> <a href="">March 2008</a></span> as creditors pounced on the heavily indebted institution. Less than six months after it delivered the money to construct the tower, <span><a href="">Bear Stearns disappeared into the belly of J.P. Morgan</a></span>.</p> <p><strong>“We Needed Those Extra Sales”</strong></p> <p>Trump’s connections landed financing for the Panama project, but they could take the deal only so far. The $220 million in bond proceeds wouldn’t have started flowing if Khafif’s team hadn’t satisfied a key prerequisite: Racking up “presales,” the term for purchase contracts signed while the building was under construction (and in many cases, before construction had even begun).</p> <p>Buyers promised to make a down payment of 30 percent, spread over four installments, and to eventually pay in full. These binding pledges served as collateral for the bond, a crucial source of value that bondholders could seize if the developers failed to pay back what they owed.</p> <p>Khafif and a cadre of brokers set out to move units, with what appeared to be dramatic success at first. The year Trump joined the project, 2006, the developers reported signing a whopping 585 presales contracts with prospective buyers (nearly 60 percent of the units in the building). The Moody’s credit-rating service cited the project’s rapid sales as a<span> <a href="">“positive credit characteristic.”</a></span></p> <p>But the project scrambled to nail enough contracts to fulfill the bank’s requirements, according to Studnicky, who worked for the project’s master brokers, International Sales Group (ISG). Over a meal in a Spanish restaurant in New York City, Khafif told Studnicky he needed “another 100 sales to make it valid” — scribbling numbers on the paper tablecloth, according to Studnicky. “It wasn’t fully collateralized, and we needed those extra sales,” he said.</p> <p>ISG leaned on its agents. “We knew there was a presale requirement in order to trigger the bond issue,” said Jeff Barton, another broker who worked at ISG at the time. “So there was definitely pressure.”</p> <p>In dealing with potential buyers, the ISG brokers communicated urgency of a much different sort: They acted as if the building were running out of units. The prices were in constant flux, keeping potential buyers off-balance. “You could never really get a straight answer in terms of what was actually available, what had actually sold and what the real price was,” said Kent Davis, who began looking to sell Ocean Club inventory soon after opening his own real estate company in Panama City in 2007. (One buyer echoed Davis’ comments. “When I invested it was ‘Oh wow, it’s almost sold out!’” said Al Monstavicius, a retired doctor who bought into the Panama tower. “I was told the units were selling real well. Well, they weren’t selling real well.”) ISG did not return messages seeking comment. </p> <p>Davis said he sold a few units, splitting the commission with ISG. “I think some of their projections were exaggerated. I think the way they described how the project would ultimately be built did not come to fruition,” he said. “I think they were overpromising and, to be honest, at times I was complacent.”</p> <p>Just as Trump took millions upfront, financial incentives in the project were stacked to reward brokers for quick presales — rather than slow and steady contracts perhaps more likely to close once construction finished.</p> <p>Commissions were front-loaded to an unusual degree, Davis said. Agents making the earliest sales would receive 90 percent of their expected commissions by the time construction started, according to Barton. Only the final 10 percent was held back until closing, when the buyer had paid in full and the unit was ready to be occupied. (Davis said that brokers typically get commissions in increments in line with the percentage their clients have put in.)</p> <p>Even as brokers were taking cash out quickly, buyers were given time to put their money in. They anted up just 10 percent upon signing a purchase contract, according to the bond prospectus. They paid the remaining 20 percent in increments over the year after that.</p> <p>Khafif complained of soaring construction costs and raised prices even as brokers hustled for contracts, Studnicky said. “I kept saying I understand the problem, but if you keep pushing the prices up, people are never going to be able to close on these things,” he said.</p> <p>The higher prices climbed, the more the Trumps stood to pocket. Their licensing agreement gave them a base fee of 4 percent of gross sales when units closed. (This was on top of the $1 million Trump was given in advance for the use of his name.) They also received an “incentive fee”: the higher the price rose above benchmarks, the greater a proportion the Trumps earned,<span> <a href="">records show</a></span>. A hotel-condominium unit that sold for $385,000, for example, would produce a payment of $20,650 — just over 5 percent — to Trump’s company.</p> <p>That was just the beginning. Along with the cut of sales, Trump’s 2006 licensing agreement provided the family other cash streams from the Panama project. The Trumps could take a 20 percent commission on construction costs if money was saved through Trump dealmaking, for instance. Once the hotel opened<span> </span>, they would pocket 17.5 percent of what hotel guests paid for their rooms, including what they spent on<span> <a href="">minibar items</a></span>, internet service and even bathrobes; 4 percent for parking unit sales; and 12 percent of commercial space rentals. The Trump Organization would also receive 4 percent of the hotel’s gross revenue for managing it, plus an incentive fee equal to a fifth of the hotel’s net operating income.</p> <p>If everything went smoothly, according to the bond prospectus, Trump’s take would be $74 million by 2010. That sum was equivalent to about a third of the entire financing for the project.</p> <p>Of course, things would go less than perfectly. But Trump was protected if that happened, too. His contract created a safety net for him if prices rose so high that buyers failed to close. One<span> <a href="">provision</a></span> required that two years after the first closing, developers would pay the Trumps fees for unsold units — basing the amount on the average sales prices of the units that had closed. In theory, avoiding such payments provided an incentive to sell more units; in reality, it meant that Trump would get paid whether or not units actually sold.</p> <p>The contract required that monthly sales and marketing reports be provided to the Trumps. It was a stipulation the Trump Organization appeared to value: In an email related to another project, Trump’s son Eric chastised business partners in the Dominican Republic<span> </span> for delays in making such reports. “I am getting weekly emails from my team who requests this info on all projects for basic monitoring purposes,” Eric wrote.</p> <p>His sister, meanwhile, asserted her engagement with the company’s endeavors. “I’m involved in every aspect of our new construction projects,” Ivanka said in a 2008<span> <a href="">interview</a></span>. “[A] lot of what I do is get involved in the acquisition process, from sourcing the potential opportunities and then the initial due-diligence process, but then, of course, I follow the deals through to predevelopment planning, design, interior design, architectural design, sales and marketing, and, ultimately, through operations.”</p> <p><strong>“Our biggest problem is not having enough inventory”</strong></p> <p>Construction on the Trump Ocean Club had begun in May 2007, with customer deposits, investor money and a bridge loan tiding the developers over until the sale of bonds in November 2007. To hear the Trumps tell it, the project was a raging and immediate success, even in the face of a historic global financial and real estate crisis that erupted in 2008 and continued into 2009 and beyond.</p> <p>At times, the hyperbole crossed over into misrepresentation. In a November 2008 interview, Ivanka Trump bragged that she had “sold 40 units in Panama last month.” She added that “it’s a 1,000-unit building, we’ve sold over 90 percent of it.” The units, she said, had been going at a “500 percent premium to anything the luxury market has ever experienced prior to our entry.”</p> <p>All of that was exaggerated or outright false. When pressed by her interviewer about what she meant by “I sold 40 units,” Ivanka backed off, saying, “We did, our project,” a transcript of the interview shows. Studnicky, who was deeply involved with Ocean Club sales at the time and generally praised the Trumps, said Ivanka didn’t sell any units that he knew of.</p> <p>Three months after Ivanka’s comments were published, Moody’s reported that 79 percent of the building’s units were under purchase contracts. The Trump name did carry a premium, according to data filed with Panamanian securities officials. But even at its high point, it amounted to about 130 percent of what similar luxury properties fetched, not the 500 percent Ivanka claimed.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Trumps used some of their glamour to encourage sales. Donald Trump himself hosted a gala for the Panama project at Mar-a-Lago where celebrity Regis Philbin dropped in.</p> <p>But difficulties were mounting and cash was tight. By 2009, some buyers were offered hefty discounts if they agreed to pay the full purchase price up front. (Monstavicius says he accepted such an offer, shaving $100,000 off his nearly half-million-dollar penthouse suite.)</p> <p>Ratings for the Ocean Club’s bonds were lowered in February 2009, but you wouldn’t have known that by listening to the Trumps. A few weeks after the downgrade, Ivanka gushed about Panama in an interview with a publication called the Latin Business Chronicle. “Given the global downturn, the fact that sales remain so robust is a testament to the product, the brand and Panama,” she said. “Our biggest problem is not having enough inventory. We only have a small percent of the building left.”</p> <p>The following year brought more trouble. There was another bond downgrade. One of the services that reduced its rating, Fitch, expressed concerns about the market and buyers’ “willingness and ability to close on units upon delivery.”</p> <p>The developers faced a $27 million construction shortfall and delays by subcontractors performing services such as millwork. Khafif and his team trimmed back some of their plans, which only irked buyers who had already committed their money. For example, buyers said square footage for some units was reduced. The location for a planned beach club was moved to a more distant spot with less cachet. And plans to have Trump manage the casino were abandoned.</p> <p>The issuing of the bonds hadn’t relieved pressure on the Ocean Club to move units. The developers needed to keep sales commitments and cash high or they risked defaulting on the bonds. By 2010, 25 contracts appeared in jeopardy as buyers missed payments toward their deposits.</p> <p>Facing pressure from multiple sides, the developers sought bondholders’ permission to make key changes to their agreement. They proposed relaxing the requirements for collateral and reducing the amount of cash they had to keep in a deposit account. In a company statement quoted in the press at the time, Newland International Properties (the entity formed by Khafif and the outside developers he partnered with) was blunt about its need: “The company believes that the proposed amendments are necessary to allow the company to continue construction.”</p> <p><strong>“Nobody Ever Asked Where These Sales Were Coming From”</strong></p> <p>From the beginning, the plan at the Trump Ocean Club was to draw a luxury-seeking international clientele with disposable income. With some 1,000 units to sell, brokers tapped networks of upper-crust buyers across the globe. In doing so, they netted purchasers with problematic pasts, including some with ties to organized crime and money laundering operations.</p> <p>ISG representatives and independent brokers fanned out to Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Dubai, China and South Africa, as well as other Latin American countries. As of mid-2007, roughly 60 percent of buyers came from outside the United States, bond documents show. (<span><a href="">Much has been made</a></span> of Trump’s buyers of Russian nationality or extraction, but the Panama sales were not tracked by nationality. Still, some were found in Moscow and, Khafif said, in Trump developments in <span> </span>)</p> <p><span> </span>Several aspects of the Panama sales raised red flags, according to experts. For example, some buyers bought blocks of units. Purchases were typically made anonymously through shell corporations registered in Panama. That allowed some buyers to change the ownership of the unit in secret, simply by changing the ownership of the company. They often used so-called bearer shares, allowing a stake in a company to be transferred simply by passing a piece of paper.</p> <p>“Nobody ever asked where these sales were coming from, where the money was coming from,” said Studnicky, adding that this wasn’t unusual for such a building at the time.</p> <p>The purchase of multiple units and the use of bearer shares or shell companies are not illegal in themselves. But they can be hallmarks of money laundering, according to experts. “We have no idea of the people behind those companies,” said Eryn Schornick, a policy adviser for Global Witness, an international anti-corruption organization. The Panama deal, she said, bore signs of “classic money laundering.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, multiple buyers claimed they were promised quick profits through flips arranged by the developers, promises they say were not fulfilled. Some of those allegations began emerging in litigation even before the Trump Ocean Club opened.</p> <p>In late 2010, a group of buyers accused Trump, the Trump Organization, Khafif and Newland, Khafif’s development operation, of misleading them, according to a previously unreported lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Florida. There were 37 plaintiffs, led by an independent broker, Greg Landau. The group — including South Florida residents, a family in Brooklyn, a Massachusetts psychiatrist, a New York fashion mogul and several Russians — had bought 42 Ocean Club condominiums between 2006 and 2009.</p> <p>The group alleged that Khafif had offered them a sweet enticement: If they put 30 percent down, either the developer or the Trump Organization would finance the rest. Khafif, plaintiffs claimed, said Newland or the Trump Organization would manage the investment — finding new buyers so they could flip it for a big profit before construction was finished and they had to close on the property.</p> <p>The deal soured after some of the Ocean Club plans were trimmed (including, as noted, reducing the size of units). Buyers discovered there was no developer financing, and no buyers lined up to flip to. They went to court.</p> <p>Trump had “stood by silently as Khafif made the misrepresentations” in a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in 2007 aimed at attracting investors and encouraging current investors to increase their deposits, the lawsuit claimed. It also cited the marketing materials in which Trump called Khafif his “partner.” “The Trump Organization knew these representations were being made by Khafif to Landau and of the fact that Landau was expected to repeat them to other potential investors,” it alleged. “Defendants Khafif, Donald Trump, and the Trump Organization were culpable participants in the fraudulent scheme.”</p> <p>In an interview with ProPublica, one of those buyers described what he had expected to happen. “There was an agreement that when the hotel is built, when the building is ready, we’ll sell our apartments, our shares, and quit the project,” said Victor Masaltsev, an internet entrepreneur who lives in Moscow and invested in the Ocean Club through a Panamanian shell company that became a plaintiff in the Landau suit against Trump. Masaltsev said he was invited to visit Mar-a-Lago for an event with Trump celebrating the project, but he couldn’t make the trip.</p> <p>“I’ve been doing business for a long time and, you know, there’s never a 100 percent guarantee,” he said through a translator. “But I was expecting to make no less than 50 percent profit on my money.” Instead, he said, he lost his deposit.</p> <p>In their legal papers, the Trump Organization and Newland asserted that the complaint was “completely devoid of facts sufficient to show that Donald Trump and The Trump Organization were conducting the affairs of a ‘fraudulent scheme.’”</p> <p>Khafif called the lawsuit a case of “buyers’ remorse, of course.” There were “a million” such lawsuits when the financial crisis came, he added. “They tried to invent anything in order to get their money back. It wasn’t our fault.”</p> <p>A U.S. judge ordered the case be moved to Panamanian courts, but the parties reached a confidential settlement before that happened. Other plaintiffs, reached by ProPublica, have a surprising take on the dispute today. Three of them echoed Khafif and said the project was simply a bad investment. “It’s nothing to do with Trump,” said David Feldman, speaking outside his Brooklyn duplex. He said he did not receive any money in the settlement and added that he thought Trump was hurt by the deal, too, before declining to talk further. Landau did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Roderick Coleman, the attorney named on the lawsuit pleadings.</p> <p>Landau’s group wasn’t the only one to claim it was sold on an unfulfilled promise of easy flipping. One buyer from Dubai made similar claims, according to emails in the Panama Papers, a collection of documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. “The concept was pay the deposit and they would get it resold before completion,” a representative for the buyer wrote to a lawyer in Panama. “[T]he apartment was going to be resold for them by the agents that came from Panama to Dubai for Marketing the project.” Khafif called it another case of buyer’s remorse.</p> <p><strong>“Our project was the cleanest one of them all”</strong></p> <p>Unfulfilled promises weren’t the only questionable behavior alleged at the Trump Ocean Club. For example, one high-selling broker, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira<span> </span>, was linked to money laundering by<span> <a href="">Global Witness</a></span> and a joint<span> <a href="">Reuters</a></span>-<span><a href="">NBC</a></span> investigation. Nogueira confirmed in that article that some of his partners and investors on the Trump Panama project had connections to the Russian mafia. (He asserted that he had discovered those connections only after the fact.) Among the buyers Nogueira landed was a Colombian businessman who was subsequently convicted in the United States of<span> <a href="">conspiring to launder</a></span> drug money.</p> <p>Khafif told ProPublica that he hired Nogueira because he was one of the highest-profile brokers in Panama City at the time. “That guy was very famous,” Khafif said. “We ended up suing him because he swindled the clients.” Nogueira, who was also accused of selling the same units to more than one buyer at the same time, fled Panama and described himself in the Reuters article as a “fugitive.” (He denied in that story, but could not be reached for comment for this article.)</p> <p>The Trump Organization denied the family knew Nogueira. But photos were published of Ivanka and her father smiling with an arm around Nogueira at events at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.</p> <p>Project developers also seem to have made dubious presales themselves — and profitable ones at that — according to emails between bondholders and Newland obtained by ProPublica.</p> <p>Newland shareholders purchased some of the building’s units at below-market prices with down payments of just 5 percent. “I have never seen 8-10 percent of a 996 unit project reserved by the developers at prices as much as 70 percent less than list price (with just a 5% deposit),” asserted one email from Gary Lundgren, who now owns a sizable part of the building, to others in the project. The purchases were “not disclosed in the Bear Stearns’s bond offering circular, not disclosed in the quarterly financial disclosure, not disclosed in the annual audited financial statements,” he complained.</p> <p>Newland acquired some of the units by taking over ones that were in danger of default, Lundgren stated in the email, with the developers kicking in the 5 percent needed for the units to continue being counted as collateral under the bond terms. The developers resold some of the properties at higher prices, Lundgren’s email asserted, and they pocketed the difference. These resales effectively cut out bondholders from their share of the proceeds. His emails to Newland did not mention the Trumps. (In 2016, Lundgren was barred by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority from acting as a broker after he failed to respond to an information request. His filings asserted that the complaint against him, filed by someone who was not his customer, was without merit, and that Panamanian law prevented him from disclosing the records.)</p> <p>The insider purchases potentially violated the terms of the project’s financing. The bond prospectus required down payments of at least 30 percent, which would “protect the economics of our project.” Since sweetheart deals generated less cash — which meant less collateral for the bonds — a provision of the bond agreement restricted sales made to affiliates of the developers. And if buyers stopped making payments, they were supposed to go through a default process rather than have Newland take over their purchase.</p> <p>“The developers made bad judgment calls, and they justified it by their support for the project,” said Alfredo “Dino” de Angelis, of Gapstone, which advised Newland in the bankruptcy. Ultimately, he said, the developers added money to stabilize the project, enough to equal or exceed what they appear to have made by re-selling units.</p> <p>Khafif said that bondholders looked into the questions and “found everything was 100 percent by the book.” He said developers didn’t need to buy units and followed the rules in the bond indenture. Khafif insisted that he conducted business the right way. “Our project was the cleanest one of them all,” he said. “We had to watch out for Trump, we had to watch out for bondholders. We had to work within the indenture, or else we’d be screwed.”</p> <p><strong>“Replete with misrepresentations”</strong></p> <p>Ivanka Trump<span> </span>’s exaggerations about the Ocean Club reflected a tactic she and her father employed repeatedly in other cases, ProPublica and WNYC found. Their statements, typically made in the midst of sales drives, tended to overstate the number of units under contract or the Trump Organization’s equity stake in projects scattered around the globe.</p> <p>The Trumps’ propensity to overstate sales led them, as ProPublica, WNYC and the New Yorker reported last year,<span> <a href="">to be investigated on potential felony fraud charges</a></span> in one case. Ivanka had announced in June 2008 that 60 percent of the units at the SoHo<span> </span> tower had been bought when in fact 15 percent had, according to an affidavit filed by a Trump partner. The Manhattan district attorney’s office considered charging the Trumps but backed off after a visit from a donor — Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz<span> </span>. (The DA, Cyrus Vance<span> </span>, denied he was influenced by the donation but later changed his policy and now refuses donations from lawyers with cases before him.)</p> <p>Similar deceptions occurred elsewhere. In a marketing video for a project in Baja, Mexico, Ivanka referred to Trump International Hotel in Toronto as one of several “sold out” properties. The Toronto tower never did sell out. It was still three-quarters empty late last year,<span> <a href="">a few months after</a></span> Trump’s name was removed from the building.</p> <p>Trump himself also made misrepresentations. In 2006, he said the Trump Organization would be a significant equity investor in the $200 million Baja project and repeatedly portrayed himself as the project’s developer. Yet in 2008, the company admitted it was neither a developer nor an investor.</p> <p>In Tampa, as noted, Trump told the press he had a significant ownership stake<span> </span> when he had none. Moreover, his licensing agreement contained a confidentiality provision barring “under any circumstances” that anyone reveal the agreement existed, and hence that Trump was only licensing his name. The deal never got financing and ultimately fell apart.</p> <p>Panama also wasn’t the only project where questions emerged about insider deals. In Tampa, Donald Trump Jr. and three executives associated with the Trump Organization arranged to buy a unit under unusually attractive terms, according to emails between the executives and the developer. As early sales on the project surged, the Trump group — which formed a company called Busy Boys Investments to handle the purchase — bargained both for a discount price and a smaller deposit than other buyers paid.</p> <p>“Can you confirm the deal?” asked Russell Flicker, a former Trump Organization executive vice president, in a late-2004 email to one of the Tampa developers. “(We had discussed 5% down payment, discounted price and flip rights prior to closing — are all of these on the table?) You’re the man.” The developer replied, “The deal is as you state!”</p> <p>The Trump group also discussed backdating documents to reduce their tax liability, according to the emails. They excitedly anticipated a quick flip that would yield a $200,000 profit — $50,000 apiece, a handsome return on the $8,604 deposit each paid. (The emails were revealed in a court case filed by unhappy buyers; their suit ultimately settled, with the buyers receiving limited refunds of their deposits.) In January 2005, Flicker forwarded an email conveying the prospect of such a windfall to his partners in the side deal: Donald Jr. and Trump Organization executive vice presidents Bernie Diamond and Jason Greenblatt, with the message: “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”</p> <p>In a July 2005 email, Diamond, an attorney, explained to the others that the developer told him he would prepare a unit purchase contract “for Busy Boys to sign dated in 2004,” as well as an assignment of their contract to the proposed buyer, also “dated one year earlier.” Diamond noted, “This is good, as it will give us the best shot at capital gains treatment.” (The Tampa tower was never constructed, so the Busy Boys entity did not ultimately cash in. <span><span>On behalf of Greenblatt, who is now a special representative for international negotiations in the Trump administration, a White House official said “Mr. Greenblatt complied with all applicable laws in connection with condominium purchase agreements.”</span></span><span>)</span></p> <p>In Baja, Ivanka tried to leverage her own unit purchase to pull in other buyers. “I personally am very excited about it, I actually chose to purchase a unit in the first tower,” she said in a promotional video as she flashed a smile. She did not mention that the deposit she paid was less than half of the 30 percent other investors put in for their units, according to Univision. Univision also reported that the developers overstated the percentage of units sold and had assigned 34 units to their own executives and other related parties.</p> <p>Written materials became a matter of contention, as well; multiple buyers contended they were misleading. Trump had some say over such materials: Projects including Baja, Tampa, the Dominican Republic, Israel and Panama all required developers and other partners to obtain prior approval from Trump’s company before posting press releases. In some cases, the company had veto power over promotional materials in general, as well.<span> </span></p> <p>There were other deceptions. In marketing materials featuring a grinning image of the New York developer, potential buyers in a Trump-branded project in Toronto were shown investment projections that proved wildly optimistic, according to interviews and records from the extensive litigation that ensued. A Canadian appeals court, ruling after the Toronto deal went sour, unanimously found that estimates of profitability provided to purchasers “bore no relation to financial reality.” The panel quoted a trial judge’s findings that the projections were “deceptive” and “replete with misrepresentations of commission, of omission, and of half-truth.” (The case is still pending.)</p> <p>In Chicago<span> </span>, Trump promised discounts — some with down payments of as little as 5 percent — to friends and colleagues, only to rescind those arrangements when sales in the building picked up. Trump justified the broken promises, saying “we’re entitled” to the higher prices.</p> <p>Buyers who sued Trump have had mixed success. Most suits settled before trial, but Trump prevailed in cases in Las Vegas and Florida in which buyers accused his company of deception.</p> <p><strong>The “Stormy Jack Daniels”</strong></p> <p>The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was officially inaugurated on July 6, 2011. It was nearly a year behind schedule after cost overruns and construction delays. The Trumps had been more visible again during the final stages. Ivanka picked out design finishes, including helping deck out the “sky lobby” on the 15th floor with wood paneling, pillars and marble that echoed the ground floor entrance hall. The lobby’s “tropical color palette” was “reminiscent of indigenous flowers,” Ivanka said in one promotional video.</p> <p>July falls during Panama’s rainy season and a downpour<span> <a href="">swamped the city’s already-overwhelmed infrastructure</a></span> on the day of the opening, turning the cramped roads near the tower into waterways. Trump had angered many Panamanians by declaring that the U.S. had “stupidly” turned over the Panama Canal “in exchange for nothing.” But the country’s then-president, Ricardo Martinelli<span> </span>, turned up for the ceremony nonetheless. He joined Trump, his two adult sons, Khafif, and other dignitaries to cut a ribbon<span> </span> to mark the opening. Ivanka, days away from giving birth to her first child, did not attend. (In June 2018, Martinelli<span> <a href="">was extradited</a></span> on corruption charges, unrelated to the Trump project, from the U.S., where he had fled in search of sanctuary. He has denied wrongdoing.)</p> <p>Trump was upbeat. “I think this hotel is truly magnificent,” he said, according to press reports. “You look at Panama’s skyline and you see how this one truly stands out.”</p> <p>The time had come for the hundreds of sales contracts that brokers had amassed over the previous five years — eventually covering about 85 percent of the building — to convert to actual sales. In the months that followed, however, it became increasingly clear that buyers were walking away in droves.</p> <p>Ultimately, only about half the sales contracts closed, leaving the building largely empty and developers struggling to make bond-related payments.<span> <a href="">One-bedroom units</a></span> that once sold for $350,000 could be scooped up for $180,000. In November 2011, developers defaulted on a critical bond payment.</p> <p>The volume of people who abandoned their deposits far exceeded the ratings agencies’ worst-case predictions. Those predictions rested on the forbidding combination of tight post-crisis financing standards and the high prices that many buyers had agreed to pay. That strongly suggests that many of the remaining people who paid deposits and then vanished may not have intended to do anything more than put down enough cash to trigger the $220 million bond issuance.</p> <p>Newland declared bankruptcy in April 2013 in federal court in New York City, where it kept much of its cash. The Trumps agreed to reduce their fees, making concessions that bankruptcy records said would amount to $20 million over a period of years.</p> <p>Even after those concessions, Khafif’s company continued to run in the red in 2014 and 2015, with net losses nearing $28 million in 2014 alone, financial reports show. It missed another payment in 2015.So Trump didn’t make the $74 million he had hoped for. He appears to have walked away with between $30 million and $55 million, based on fragmentary information in his government disclosure forms, financial statements filed in Panama and estimates by observers.</p> <p>Khafif seems philosophical about it. At 63, he’s semiretired and travels to the U.S. and Europe often. These days, he said, his main business is laundering linens. The company, Perfect Cleaners, which Khafif called the largest industrial laundry plant in Central America, has served the Trump Ocean Club. (He did not respond to a question about his own financial outcome on the Trump project.)</p> <p>Khafif said his relationship with the family remains good. “I was in New York a couple months ago. I went to visit Eric Trump,” he said. “We’re fine.” The Ocean Club proved a disappointment in many respects, he said, “but life goes on. … It’s the best building in town.”</p> <p>As much as $120 million of the original bond was never paid back, according to one investor. Asked about that, Khafif pointed out that many investors sold their bonds — albeit at a discount — after receiving interest payments for years, allowing some to recoup much of their investment at a time when lots of people were hemorrhaging money. “It depends on how you look at it,” Khafif said. “You’re grateful at getting your money back, or you’re greedy and you want to make money when everybody lost their shirt.”</p> <p>Ocean Club buyers filed a host of lawsuits in Panama, complaining of the delays and changes in the building plans. The beach club was never built. A non-Trump company took over the casino. Some rooms were smaller than planned.</p> <p>By 2015, a new revolt was brewing, this time by Ocean Club unit owners fed up with the way the Trumps were managing the property — or more particularly, with how they were spending the building association’s money. Led by Lundgren, the owners alleged that Trump employees overspent budgets, taking excessive bonuses for themselves, and mishandled building finances, leading them to propose a steep increase in fees to owners.<span> <a href="">Trump responded by suing the condo owners</a></span>, demanding up to $75 million for wrongful termination. (The litigation was settled<span> </span> confidentially in 2016.)</p> <p>In 2017, Ithaca Capital Partners, led by Orestes Fintiklis, bought 202 of the hotel’s 369 hotel-condo units. In October of last year, his group<span> <a href="">sought to remove</a></span> the Trump Organization as hotel managers — alleging in a legal action that it had mismanaged the hotel, leading to drastic drop-offs in occupancy and profits. The Trump Organization countersued, accusing Fintiklis of a “fraudulent scheme” that breached its 20-year management contract.</p> <p>The dispute reached a head early this year, when Fintiklis’ representatives, with a court order behind them, sought to take physical control of the building. Trump Organization employees and a group of security personnel tried to block the effort, leading to<span> <a href="">confrontations and shoving matches</a></span>.</p> <p>Fintiklis’ group ultimately gained entry but discovered walls had been hastily erected in inconvenient places — in the middle of a hallway, in front of an elevator bank — to impede access to the building’s inner offices. Reports circulated of Trump employees shredding documents.</p> <p>In March of this year, the Trumps suffered the ignominy of seeing their name crowbarred off the stone wall in front of the tower<span> </span>. It was rebranded the Bahia Grand Panama. In late spring, the hotel, once touted as boasting stratospheric levels of luxury, was quiet, with rooms renting for the decidedly terrestrial rate of $169 a night. At the hotel bar, you could order drinks with a sardonic twist that reflected Fintiklis’ sense of humor, including the “Fire and Fury” and the “Stormy Jack Daniels.”</p> <p>In June, Fintiklis announced the hotel would have a new manager. “We are thrilled that our hotel will operate as a JW Marriott<span> </span>,” he said in a statement, “and we believe this partnership, together with a talented team and spectacular hotel amenities, will be a success.”</p> <p>###</p> <p><em>Additional reporting by Micah Hauser, Ian MacDougall, Gabriel Sandoval, Katherine Sullivan and Madeleine Varner.</em></p>
Oct 17, 2018
Trump’s Patron-in-Chief: Sheldon Adelson
<p>Late on a Thursday evening in February 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for his first visit with President Donald Trump. A few hours earlier, the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s Boeing 737, which is so large it can seat 149 people, touched down at Reagan National Airport after a flight from Las Vegas.</p> <p>Adelson dined that night at the White House with Trump, Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were among Trump’s biggest benefactors, writing checks for $20 million in the campaign and pitching in an additional $5 million for the inaugural festivities.</p> <p>Adelson was in town to see the Japanese prime minister about a much greater sum of money. Japan, after years of acrimonious public debate, has legalized casinos. For more than a decade, Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands, have sought to build a multibillion-dollar casino resort there. He has called expanding to the country, one of the world’s last major untapped markets, the “holy grail.” Nearly every major casino company in the world is competing to secure one of a limited number of licenses to enter a market worth up to $25 billion per year. “This opportunity won’t come along again, potentially ever,” said Kahlil Philander, an academic who studies the industry.</p> <p>The morning after his White House dinner, Adelson attended a breakfast in Washington with Abe and a small group of American CEOs, including two others from the casino industry. Adelson and the other executives raised the casino issue with Abe, according to an attendee.</p> <p>Adelson had a potent ally in his quest: the new president of the United States. Following the business breakfast, Abe had a meeting with Trump before boarding Air Force One for a weekend at Mar-a-Lago. The two heads of state dined with Patriots owner Bob Kraft and golfed at Trump National Jupiter Golf Club with the South African golfer Ernie Els. During a meeting at Mar-a-Lago that weekend, Trump raised Adelson’s casino bid to Abe, according to two people briefed on the meeting. The Japanese side was surprised.</p> <p>“It was totally brought up out of the blue,” according to one of the people briefed on the exchange. “They were a little incredulous that he would be so brazen.” After Trump told Abe he should strongly consider Las Vegas Sands for a license, “Abe didn’t really respond, and said thank you for the information,” this person said.</p> <p>Trump also mentioned at least one other casino operator. Accounts differ on whether it was MGM or Wynn Resorts, then run by Trump donor and then-Republican National Committee finance chairman Steve Wynn. The Japanese newspaper <a href="">Nikkei</a> reported the president also mentioned MGM and Abe instructed an aide who was present to jot down the names of both companies. Questioned about the meeting, Abe said in remarks before the Japanese legislature in July that Trump had not passed on requests from casino companies but did not deny that the topic had come up.</p> <p>The president raising a top donor’s personal business interests directly with a foreign head of state would violate longstanding norms. “That should be nowhere near the agenda of senior officials,” said Brian Harding, a Japan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “U.S.-Japan relations is about the security of the Asia-Pacific, China and economic issues.”</p> <p>Adelson has told his shareholders to expect good news. On a recent earnings call, Adelson cited unnamed insiders as saying Sands’ efforts to win a place in the Japanese market will pay off. “The estimates by people who know, say they know, whom we believe they know, say that we're in the No. 1 pole position,” he said.</p> <p>After decades as a major Republican donor, Adelson is known as an ideological figure, motivated by his desire to influence U.S. policy to help Israel. “I’m a one-issue person. That issue is Israel,” he said last year.  On that issue — Israel — Trump has delivered. The administration has slashed funding for aid to Palestinian refugees and scrapped the Iran nuclear deal. Attending the recent opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Adelson seemed to almost weep with joy, according to an attendee.</p> <p>But his reputation as an Israel advocate has obscured a through-line in his career: He has used his political access to push his financial self-interest. Not only has Trump touted Sands’ interests in Japan, but his administration also installed an executive from the casino industry in a top position in the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Adelson’s influence reverberates through this administration. Cabinet-level officials jump when he calls. One who displeased him was replaced. He has helped a friend’s company get a research deal with the Environmental Protection Agency. And Adelson has already received a windfall from Trump’s new tax law, which particularly favored companies like Las Vegas Sands. The company estimated the benefit of the law at $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Adelson’s influence is not absolute: His company’s casinos in Macau are vulnerable in Trump’s trade war with China, which controls the former Portuguese colony near Hong Kong. If the Chinese government chose to retaliate by targeting Macau, where Sands has several large properties, it could hurt Adelson’s bottom line. So far, there’s no evidence that has happened.</p> <p>The White House declined to comment on Adelson. The Japanese Embassy in Washington declined to comment. Sands spokesman Ron Reese declined to answer detailed questions but said in a statement: “The gaming industry has long sought the opportunity to enter the Japan market. Gaming companies have spent significant resources there on that effort and Las Vegas Sands is no exception.”</p> <p>Reese added: “If our company has any advantage it would be because of our significant Asian operating experience and our unique convention-based business model. Any suggestion we are favored for some other reason is not based on the reality of the process in Japan or the integrity of the officials involved in it.”</p> <p>With a fortune estimated at $35 billion, Adelson is the 21st-richest person in the world, according to Forbes. In August, when he celebrated his 85th birthday in Las Vegas, the party stretched over four days. Adelson covered guests’ expenses. A 92-year-old Tony Bennett and the Israeli winner of Eurovision performed for the festivities. He is slowing down physically; stricken by neuropathy, he uses a motorized scooter to get around and often stands up with the help of a bodyguard. He fell and broke three ribs while on a ferry from Macau to Hong Kong last November.</p> <p>Yet Adelson has spent the Trump era hustling to expand his gambling empire. With Trump occupying the White House, Adelson has found the greatest political ally he’s ever had.</p> <p>“I would put Adelson at the very top of the list of both access and influence in the Trump administration,” said Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen. “I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I’ve been studying money in politics for 40 years.”</p> <p><strong>*****</strong></p> <p>Adelson grew up poor in Boston, the son of a cabdriver with a sixth-grade education. According to his wife, Adelson was beaten up as a kid for being Jewish. A serial entrepreneur who has started or acquired more than 50 different businesses, he had already made and lost his first fortune by the late 1960s, when he was in his mid-30s.</p> <p>It took him until the mid-1990s to become extraordinarily rich. In 1995, he sold the pioneering computer trade show Comdex to the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank for $800 million. He entered the gambling business in earnest when his Venetian casino resort opened in 1999 in Las Vegas. With its gondola rides on faux canals, it was inspired by his honeymoon to Venice with Miriam, who is 12 years younger than Adelson.</p> <p>It’s been said that Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person. Adelson could be thought of as Trump’s idea of a rich person. A family friend recalls Sheldon and Miriam’s two sons, who are now in college, getting picked up from school in stretch Hummer limousines and his home being so large it was stocked with Segway transporters to get around. A Las Vegas TV station found a few years ago that, amid a drought, Adelson’s palatial home a short drive from the Vegas Strip had used nearly 8 million gallons of water in a year, enough for 55 average homes. Adelson will rattle off his precise wealth based on the fluctuation of Las Vegas Sands’ share price, said his friend the New York investor Michael Steinhardt. “He’s very sensitive to his net worth,” Steinhardt said.</p> <p>Trump entered the casino business several years before Adelson. In the early 1990s, both eyed Eilat in southern Israel as a potential casino site. Neither built there. Adelson “didn’t have a whole lot of respect for Trump when Trump was operating casinos. He was dismissive of Trump,” recalled one former Las Vegas Sands official. In an interview in the late ’90s, Adelson lumped Trump with Wynn: “Both of these gentlemen have very big egos,” Adelson said. “Well, the world doesn't really care about their egos.”</p> <p>Today, in his rare public appearances, Adelson has a grandfatherly affect. He likes to refer to himself as “Self” (“I said to myself, ‘Self …’”). He makes Borscht Belt jokes about his short stature: “A friend of mine says, ‘You’re the tallest guy in the world.’ I said, ‘How do you figure that?’ He says, ‘When you stand on your wallet.’”</p> <p>By the early 2000s, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands had surpassed Trump’s casino operations. While Trump was getting bogged down in Atlantic City, Adelson’s properties thrived. When Macau opened up a local gambling monopoly, Adelson bested a crowded field that included Trump to win a license. Today, Macau accounts for more than half of Las Vegas Sands’ roughly $13 billion in annual revenue.</p> <p>Trump’s casinos went bankrupt, and now he is out of the industry entirely. By the mid-2000s, Trump was playing the role of business tycoon on his reality show, “The Apprentice.” Meanwhile, Adelson aggressively expanded his empire in Macau and later in Singapore. His company’s Moshe Safdie-designed Marina Bay Sands property there, with its rooftop infinity pool, featured prominently in the recent hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians.”</p> <p>While their business trajectories diverged, Adelson and Trump have long shared a willingness to sue critics, enemies and business associates. Multiple people said they were too afraid of lawsuits to speak on the record for this story. In 1989, after the Nevada Gaming Control Board conducted a background investigation of Adelson, it found he had already been personally involved in around 100 civil lawsuits, according to the book “License to Steal,” a history of the agency. That included matters as small as a $600 contractual dispute with a Boston hospital.</p> <p>The lawsuits have continued even as Adelson became so rich the amounts of money at stake hardly mattered. In one case, Adelson was unhappy with the quality of construction on one of his beachfront Malibu, California, properties and pursued a legal dispute with the contractor for more than seven years, going through a lengthy series of appeals and cases in different courts. Adelson sued a Wall Street Journal reporter for libel over a single phrase — a description of him as “foul-mouthed” — and fought the case for four years before it was settled, with the story unchanged. In a particularly bitter case in Massachusetts Superior Court in the 1990s, his sons from his first marriage accused him of cheating them out of money. Adelson prevailed.</p> <p>Adelson rarely speaks to the media any more, with occasional exceptions for friendly business journalists or on stage at conferences, usually interviewed by people to whom he has given a great deal of money. “He keeps a very tight inner circle,” said a casino industry executive who has known Adelson for decades. Adelson declined to comment for this story.</p> <p>*******</p> <p>Adelson once told a reporter of entering the casino business late in life, “I loved being an outsider.” For nearly a decade he played that role in presidential politics, bankrolling the opposition to the Obama administration. As with some of his early entrepreneurial forays, he dumped money for little return, his political picks going bust. In 2008, he backed Rudy Giuliani. As America’s Mayor faded, he came on board late with the John McCain campaign. In 2012, he almost single-handedly funded Newt Gingrich’s candidacy. Gingrich spent a few weeks atop the polls before his candidacy collapsed. Adelson became a late adopter of Mitt Romney.</p> <p>In 2016, the Adelsons didn’t officially endorse a candidate for months. Trump used Adelson as a foil, an example of the well-heeled donors who wielded outsized influence in Washington. “Sheldon or whoever — you could say Koch. I could name them all. They’re all friends of mine, every one of them. I know all of them. They have pretty much total control over the candidate,” Trump said on Fox News in October 2015. “Nobody controls me but the American public.” In a pointed tweet that month, Trump said: “<span>Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to [Marco] Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!”</span></p> <p>Despite Trump’s barbs, Adelson had grown curious about the candidate and called his friend Steinhardt, who founded the Birthright program that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel. Adelson is now the program’s largest funder.</p> <p>“I called Kushner and I said Sheldon would like to meet your father-in-law,” Steinhardt recalled. “Kushner was excited.” Trump got on a plane to Las Vegas. “Sheldon has strong views when it comes to the Jewish people; Trump recognized that, and a marriage was formed.”</p> <p>Trump and his son-in-law Kushner courted Adelson privately, meeting several times in New York and Las Vegas. “Having Orthodox Jews like Jared and Ivanka next to him and so many common people in interest gave a level of comfort to Sheldon,” said Ronn Torossian, a New York public relations executive who knows both men. “Someone who lets their kid marry an Orthodox Jew and then become Orthodox is probably going to stand pretty damn close to Israel.”</p> <p>Miriam Adelson, a physician born and raised in what became Israel, is said to be an equal partner in Sheldon Adelson’s political decisions. He has said the interests of the Jewish state are at the center of his worldview, and his views align with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-of-center approach to Iran and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.</p> <p>Adelson suggested in 2014 that Israel doesn’t need to be a democracy. “I think God didn’t say anything about democracy,” Adelson said. “He didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state.” On a trip to the country several years ago, on the eve of his young son’s bar mitzvah, Adelson said, “Hopefully he’ll come back; his hobby is shooting. He’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF,” referring to the Israel Defense Forces.</p> <p>On domestic issues, Adelson is more Chamber of Commerce Republican than movement conservative or Trumpian populist. He is pro-choice and has called for work permits and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a position sharply at odds with Trump’s. While the Koch brothers, his fellow Republican megadonors, have evinced concern over trade policy and distaste for Trump, Adelson has proved flexible, putting aside any qualms about Trump’s business acumen or ideological misgivings. In May 2016, he declared in a Washington Post op-ed that he was endorsing Trump. He wrote that Trump represented “a CEO success story that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to cause and business stewardship.”</p> <p>The Adelsons came through with $20 million in donations to the pro-Trump super PAC, part of at least $83 million in donations to Republicans. By the time of the October 2016 release of the Access Hollywood tape featuring Trump bragging about sexual assault, Adelson was among his staunchest supporters. “Sheldon Adelson had Donald Trump's back,” said Steve Bannon in a speech last year, speaking of the time after the scandal broke. “He was there.”</p> <p>In December 2016, Adelson donated $5 million to the Trump inaugural festivities. The Adelsons had better seats at Trump’s inauguration than many Cabinet secretaries. The whole family, including their two college-age sons, came to Washington for the celebration. One of his sons posted a picture on Instagram of the event with the hashtag #HuckFillary.</p> <p>The investment paid off in access and in financial returns. Adelson has met with Trump or visited the White House at least six times since Trump’s election victory. The two speak regularly. Adelson has also had access to others in the White House. He met privately with Vice President Mike Pence before Pence gave a speech at Adelson’s Venetian resort in Las Vegas last year. “He just calls the president all the time. Donald Trump takes Sheldon Adelson’s calls,” said Alan Dershowitz, who has done legal work for Adelson and advised Trump.</p> <p>Adelson’s tens of millions in donations to Trump have already been paid back many times over by the new tax law. While all corporations benefited from the lower tax rate in the new law, many incurred an extra bill in the transition because profits overseas were hit with a one-time tax. But not Sands. Adelson’s company hired lobbyists to press Trump’s Treasury Department and Congress on provisions that would help companies like Sands that paid high taxes abroad, according to public filings and tax experts. The lobbying effort appears to have worked. After Trump signed the tax overhaul into law in December, Las Vegas Sands recorded a benefit from the new law the company estimated at <a href="">$1.2 billion</a>.</p> <p>The Adelson family owns 55 percent of Las Vegas Sands, which is publicly traded, according to filings. The Treasury Department didn’t respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>Now as Trump and the Republican Party face a reckoning in the midterm elections in November, they have once again turned to Adelson. He has given at least $55 million so far.</p> <p><strong>*****</strong></p> <p>In 2014, Adelson told an interviewer he was not interested in building a dynasty. “I want my legacy to be that I helped out humankind,” he said, underscoring his family’s considerable donations to medical research. But he gives no indication of sticking to a quiet life of philanthropy. In the last four years, he has used the Sands’ fleet of private jets, assiduously meeting with world leaders and seeking to build new casinos in Japan, Korea and Brazil.</p> <p>He is closest in Japan. Japan has been considering lifting its ban on casinos for years, in spite of majority opposition in polls from a public that is wary of the social problems that might result. A huge de facto gambling industry of the pinball-like game pachinko has long existed in the country, historically associated with organized crime and seedy parlors filled with cigarette-smoking men. Opposition to allowing casinos is so heated that a brawl broke out in the Japanese legislature this summer. But lawmakers have moved forward on legalizing casinos and crafted regulations that hew to Adelson’s wishes.</p> <p>“Japan is considered the next big market. Sheldon looks at it that way,” said a former Sands official. Adelson envisions building a $10 billion “integrated resort,” which in industry parlance refers to a large complex featuring a casino with hotels, entertainment venues, restaurants and shopping malls.</p> <p>The new Japanese law allows for just three licenses to build casinos in cities around the country, effectively granting valuable local monopolies. At least 13 companies, including giants like MGM and Genting, are vying for a license. Even though Sands is already a strong contender because of its size and its successful resort in Singapore, some observers in Japan believe Adelson’s relationship with Trump has helped move Las Vegas Sands closer to the multibillion-dollar prize.</p> <p>Just a week after the U.S. election, Prime Minister Abe arrived at Trump Tower, becoming the first foreign leader to meet with the president-elect. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were also there. Abe presented Trump with a gilded $3,800 golf driver. Few know the details of what the Trumps and Abe discussed at the meeting. In a break with protocol, Trump’s transition team sidelined the State Department, whose Japan experts were never briefed on what was said. “There was a great deal of frustration,” said one State Department official. “There was zero communication from anyone on Trump’s team.”</p> <p>In another sign of Adelson’s direct access to the incoming president and ties with Japan, he secured a coveted Trump Tower meeting a few weeks later for an old friend, the Japanese billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son. Son’s company, SoftBank, had bought Adelson’s computer trade show business in the 1990s. A few years ago, Adelson named Son as a potential partner in his casino resort plans in Japan. Son’s SoftBank, for its part, owns Sprint, which has long wanted to merge with T-Mobile but needs a green light from the Trump administration. A beaming Son emerged from the meeting in the lobby of Trump Tower with the president-elect and promised $50 billion in investments in the U.S.</p> <p>When Trump won the election in November 2016, the casino bill had been stalled in the Japanese Diet. One month after the Trump-Abe meeting, in an unexpected move in mid-December, Abe’s ruling coalition pushed through landmark legislation authorizing casinos, with specific regulations to be ironed out later. There was minimal debate on the controversial bill, and it passed at the very end of an extraordinary session of the legislature. “That was a surprise to a lot of stakeholders,” said one former Sands executive who still works in the industry. Some observers suspect the timing was not a coincidence. “After Trump won the election in 2016, the Abe government’s efforts to pass the casino bill shifted into high gear,” said Yoichi Torihata, a professor at Shizuoka University and opponent of the casino law.</p> <p>On a Las Vegas Sands earnings call a few days after Trump’s inauguration, Adelson touted that Abe had visited the company’s casino resort complex in Singapore. “He was very impressed with it,” Adelson said. Days later, Adelson attended the February breakfast with Abe in Washington, after which the prime minister went on to Mar-a-Lago, where the president raised Las Vegas Sands. A week after that, Adelson flew to Japan and met with the secretary general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo.</p> <p>The casino business is one of the most regulated industries in the world, and Adelson has always sought political allies. To enter the business in 1989, he hired the former governor of Nevada to represent him before the state’s gaming commission. In 2001, according to court testimony reported in the <a href="">New Yorker</a>, Adelson intervened with then-House Majority Whip Rep. Tom DeLay, to whom he was a major donor, at the behest of a Chinese official over a proposed House resolution that was critical of the country’s human rights record. At the time, Las Vegas Sands was seeking entry into the Macau market. The resolution died, which Adelson attributed to factors other than his intervention, according to the magazine.</p> <p>In 2015, he purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, which then published a lengthy investigative series on one of Adelson’s longtime rivals, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which runs a convention center that competes with Adelson’s. (The paper said Adelson had no influence over its coverage.)</p> <p>In Japan, Las Vegas Sands’ efforts have accelerated in the last year. Adelson returned to the country in September 2017, visiting top officials in Osaka, a possible casino site. In a show of star power in October, Sands flew in David Beckham and the Eagles’ Joe Walsh for a press conference at the Palace Hotel Tokyo. Beckham waxed enthusiastic about his love of sea urchin and declared, "Las Vegas Sands is creating fabulous resorts all around the world, and their scale and vision are impressive.”</p> <p>Adelson appears emboldened. When he was in Osaka last fall, he publicly criticized a proposal under consideration to cap the total amount of floor space devoted to casinos in the resorts that have been legalized. In July, the Japanese Diet passed a bill with more details on what casinos will look like and laying out the bidding process. The absolute limit on casino floor area had been dropped from the legislation.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made an unusual personnel move that could help advance pro-gambling interests. The new U.S. ambassador, an early Trump campaign supporter and Tennessee businessman named William Hagerty, hired as his senior adviser an American executive working on casino issues for the Japanese company SEGA Sammy. Joseph Schmelzeis left his role as senior adviser on global government and industry affairs for the company in February to join the U.S. Embassy. (He has not worked for Sands.)</p> <p>A State Department spokesperson said that embassy officials had communicated with Sands as part of “routine” meetings and advice provided to members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The spokesperson said that “Schmelzeis is not participating in any matter related to integrated resorts or Las Vegas Sands.” </p> <p>Japanese opposition politicians have seized on the Adelson-Trump-Abe nexus. One, Tetsuya Shiokawa, said this year that he believes Trump has been the unseen force behind why Abe’s party has “tailor-made the [casino] bill to suit foreign investors like Adelson.” In the next stage of the process, casino companies will complete their bids with Japanese localities.</p> <p>******</p> <p>Adelson’s influence has spread across the Trump administration. In August 2017, the Zionist Organization of America, to which the Adelsons are major donors, launched a campaign against National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. ZOA chief Mort Klein charged McMaster “clearly has animus toward Israel.”</p> <p>Adelson said he was convinced to support the attack on McMaster after Adelson spoke with Safra Catz, the Israeli-born CEO of Oracle, who “enlightened me quite a bit” about McMaster, according to an email Klein later released to the media. Adelson pressed Trump to appoint the hawkish John Bolton to a high position, The New York Times <a href="">reported</a>. In March, Trump fired McMaster and replaced him with Bolton. The president and other cabinet officials also clashed with McMaster on policy and style issues.</p> <p>For Scott Pruitt, the former EPA administrator known as an ally of industry, courting Adelson meant developing a keen interest in an unlikely topic: technology that generates clean water from air. An obscure Israeli startup called Watergen makes machines that resemble air conditioners and, with enough electricity, can pull potable water from the air.</p> <p>Adelson doesn’t have a stake in the company, but he is old friends with the Israeli-Georgian billionaire who owns the firm, Mikhael Mirilashvili, according to the head of Watergen’s U.S. operation, Yehuda Kaploun. Adelson first encountered the technology on a trip to Israel, Kaploun said. Dershowitz is also on the company’s board.</p> <p>Just weeks after being confirmed, Pruitt met with Watergen executives at Adelson’s request. Pruitt promptly mobilized dozens of EPA officials to ink a research deal under which the agency would study Watergen’s technology. EPA officials immediately began voicing concerns about the request, according to hundreds of previously unreported emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. They argued that the then-EPA chief was violating regular procedures.</p> <p>Pruitt, according to one <a href="">email</a>, asked that staffers explore “on an expedited time frame” whether a deal could be done “without the typical contracting requirements.” Other emails described the matter as “very time sensitive” and having “high Administrator interest.”</p> <p>A veteran scientist at the agency warned that the “technology has been around for decades,” adding that the agency should not be “focusing on a single vendor, in this case Watergen.” Officials said that Watergen’s technology was not unique, noting there were as many as <a href="">70</a> different suppliers on the market with products using the same concept. Notes from a meeting said the agency “does not currently have the expertise or staff to evaluate these technologies.” Agency lawyers “seemed scared” about the arrangement, according to an internal text <a href="">exchange</a>. The EPA didn’t respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>Watergen got its research deal. It’s not known how much money the agency has spent on the project. The technology was shipped to a lab in Cincinnati, and Watergen said the government will produce a report on its study. Pruitt planned to unveil the deal on a trip to Israel, which was also planned with the assistance of Adelson, The Washington Post <a href="">reported</a>. But amid multiple scandals, the trip never happened.</p> <p>Other parts of the Trump administration have also been friendly to Watergen. Over the summer, Mirilashvili attended the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s Fourth of July party, where he was photographed grinning and sipping water next to one of the company’s machines on display. Kaploun said U.S. Ambassador David Friedman’s staff assisted the company to help highlight its technology. </p> <p>A State Department spokesperson said Watergen was one of many private sponsors of the embassy party and was “subject to rigorous vetting.” The embassy is now considering leasing or buying a Watergen unit as part of a “routine procurement action,” the spokesperson said.</p> <p>A Mirilashvili spokesman said in a <a href="">statement</a> that Adelson and Mirilashvili “have no business ties with each other.” The spokesman added that Adelson had been briefed on the company’s technology by Watergen engineers and “Adelson has also expressed an interest in the ability of this Israeli technology to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are affected by water pollution.”</p> <p>*****</p> <p>Even as the casino business looks promising in Japan, China has been a potential trouble spot for Adelson. Few businesses are as vulnerable to geopolitical winds as Adelson’s. The majority of Sands’ value derives from its properties in Macau. It is the world’s gambling capital, and China’s central government controls it.</p> <p>“Sheldon Adelson highly values direct engagement in Beijing,” a 2009 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks <a href="">says</a>, “especially given the impact of Beijing's visa policies on the company's growing mass market operations in Macau.”</p> <p>At times, Sands’ <a href="">aggressive efforts</a> in China crossed legal lines. On Jan. 19, 2017, the day before Trump took office, the Justice Department announced Sands was paying a nearly $7 million fine to settle a longstanding investigation into whether it violated a U.S. anti-bribery statute in China. The <a href="">case</a> revealed that Sands paid roughly $60 million to a consultant who “advertised his political connections with [People’s Republic of China] government officials” and that some of the payments “had no discernible legitimate business purpose.” Part of the work involved an effort by Sands to acquire a professional basketball team in the country to promote its casinos. The DOJ said Sands fully cooperated in the investigation and fixed its compliance problems.</p> <p>A year and a half into the Trump administration, Adelson has a bigger problem than the Justice Department investigation: Trump’s trade war against Beijing has put Sands’ business in Macau at risk. Sands’ right to operate expires in a few years. Beijing could throttle the flow of money and people from the mainland to Macau. Sands and the other foreign operators in Macau “now sit on a geopolitical fault line. Their Macau concessions can therefore be on the line,” said a report from the Hong Kong business consultancy Steve Vickers &amp; Associates.</p> <p>A former Sands board member, George Koo, wrote a column in the Asia Times newspaper in April warning that Beijing could undercut the Macau market by legalizing casinos in the southern island province of Hainan. “A major blow in the trade war would be for China to allow Hainan to become a gambling destination and divert visitors who would otherwise be visiting Macau,” Koo wrote. “As one of Trump’s principal supporters, it’s undoubtedly a good time for Mr. Adelson to have a private conversation with the president.”</p> <p>It’s not clear if Adelson has had that conversation. According to The Associated Press, Adelson was present for a discussion of China policy at the dinner he attended with Trump at the White House in February 2017. In September, Trump escalated his trade war with China. He raised tariffs on $200 billion Chinese imports. China retaliated with tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. products.</p> <p>Adelson has said privately that if he can be helpful in any way he would volunteer himself to do whatever is asked for either side of the equation — the U.S. or China, according to a person who has spoken to him.</p> <p>******</p> <p>Torossian, the public relations executive, calls Adelson “this generation’s Rothschild” for his support of Israel. In early May, the Adelsons gave $30 million to the super PAC that is seeking to keep Republican control of the House for the remainder of Trump’s term. A few days later, Trump announced he was killing the Iran nuclear deal, a target of Adelson’s and the Netanyahu government’s for years. The following day, Adelson met with the president at the White House.</p> <p>Five days later, Adelson was in Israel for another landmark, the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem marked a major shift in U.S. foreign policy, long eschewed by presidents of both parties. Besides dealing a major blow to Palestinian claims on part of the city, which are recognized by most of the world, it was the culmination of a more than 20-year project of the Adelsons. Sheldon and Miriam personally lobbied for the move on Capitol Hill as far back as 1995.</p> <p>In an audience dotted with yarmulkes and MAGA-red hats, the Adelsons were in the front now, next to Netanyahu and his wife, the Kushners and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. A beaming Miriam, wearing a dress featuring an illustration of the Jerusalem skyline, filmed the event with her phone. She wrote a first-person account of the ceremony that was co-published on the front page of the two newspapers the Adelsons own, Israel Hayom and the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “The embassy opening is a crowning moment for U.S. foreign policy and for our president, Donald Trump. Just over a year into his first term, he has re-enshrined the United States as the standard-bearer of moral clarity and courage in a world that too often feels adrift.”</p> <p>Adelson paid for the official delegation of Guatemala, the only other country to move its embassy, to travel to Israel. “Sheldon told me that any country that wants to move its embassy to Jerusalem, he’ll fly them in — the president and everyone — for the opening,” said Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce CEO Duvi Honig, who was in attendance.</p> <p>Klein, the Zionist Organization of America president, was also there. The Adelsons, he said, “were glowing with a serene happiness like I’ve never seen them. Sheldon “said to me, ‘President Trump promised he would do this and he did it.’ And he almost became emotional. ‘And look, Mort, he did it.’</p>
Oct 10, 2018
The Cost of the Office? Trump's Billion-Dollar Loss
<p>Nearly 20 years ago, Donald Trump told <a href=""><em>Fortune</em> magazine</a> that he could run for president and make money doing it.</p> <p>"It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it," he said in an <a href="">interview</a> in 2000.</p> <p>But now that he's president, the story is looking a bit different. A new <a href="">report from <em>Forbes</em></a> concluded that the presidency has not enriched Trump overall: Measuring Trump's net worth before he announced his run for the presidency in 2015 to the last two years, Trump’s fortune has dropped from $4.5 billion to $3.1 billion.</p> <p>In a <a href="">statement</a> to the magazine, Eric Trump, who is co-managing the Trump Organization, said, “My father made a tremendous sacrifice when he left a company that he spent his entire life building to go into politics. Everything he does is for the good" of the American people.</p> <p>In this Trump, Inc. extra, <a href="">Charlie Herman</a> talks with one of the <em>Forbes</em> reporter who looked into Trump's finances, <a href="">Dan Alexander</a>, and how Trump could have saved millions (and prevented a lot of headaches as well).</p>
Oct 05, 2018
The Business of Silence
<p>President Donald Trump has had many roles in his life: Real estate scion, reality show star, Oval Office holder. But through it all, one thing has remained consistent. He tries to control what information becomes public about himself and his business.</p> <p>In the latest episode of Trump, Inc., our podcast with <a href="" target="_blank">ProPublica</a>, we’re looking at the ways Trump has tried to buy and enforce silence — and how it matters more than ever now that he’s president. We talk to The New Yorker’s <a href="" target="_blank">Ronan Farrow</a> about just one of the tactics used by those helping the president: the “catch and kill.”  </p>
Oct 03, 2018
Elliott Broidy's All-Access Pass
<p>Trump, Inc. is back. Our podcast with ProPublica focused earlier this year on the many mysteries around President Donald Trump’s businesses. This season, we’re widening the lens to look at the people around Trump and how they are benefitting from his presidency.</p> <p>Our first episode looks at Elliott Broidy. You might remember him as the Republican financier who agreed to pay a Playboy model $1.6 million in return for her silence. (Broidy has said it was just to help her financially.)</p> <p>Before that scandal, Broidy was at the center of another one. A decade ago, he pleaded guilty to <a href="">bribing</a> New York State pension officials — “an old-fashioned payoff,“ as then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo put it. (Before the plea was finalized, a judge allowed Broidy to change his plea from a felony to a misdemeanor.)</p> <p>After that, Broidy built himself back up as a fundraiser for Republican candidates and, eventually, for Trump. He became the deputy finance co-chair of the Republican National Committee, met with the president, and drummed up hundreds of millions in foreign business while touting his connections.</p> <p>“Elliott Broidy is fantastic,” Trump <a href="">said</a> last year at his first presidential fundraiser. “Everybody loves Elliott.”</p> <p>How did Broidy go from a criminal conviction to praise from the president? And what did he do with that connection? Listen to our episode.</p> <p>We have an unusually detailed picture of Broidy’s work from his emails, which were hacked and given to reporters. Broidy has blamed Qatar, saying the country targeted him because he is a vocal supporter of Israel and critic of Qatar. (Here is a <a href="">letter we received</a> from Broidy’s lawyer about that.)  </p> <p>Broidy declined our requests for an interview. His spokesman told us in an email statement: “Elliott Broidy has never agreed to work for, been retained by nor been compensated by any foreign government for any interaction with the United States Government, ever.”</p> <p> </p> <p><em>Correction, Sept 26, 2018: This story originally stated that Elliott Broidy was convicted of bribing New York State officials. In fact, he pleaded guilty to bribing them, but before the plea was finalized, a judge allowed him to change his plea from a felony to a misdemeanor.</em></p> <p><em>Correction, Sept 26, 2018: This story originally said that Elliott Broidy paid $1.6 million to a Playboy model. He agreed to do so but stopped paying her after the arrangement became public. </em></p> <p> </p>
Sep 26, 2018
Two Convictions That Shook Trump-World
<p>In April, we published an <a href="">investigation into Michael Cohen’s past</a>. That episode traced how so many of Cohen’s associates over the years have been convicted of crimes, disbarred or faced other legal troubles.</p> <p>But — at the time of the episode — the president’s former lawyer had himself never been convicted, or even accused of a crime.</p> <p>Well, it’s time for an update.</p> <p>Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight felony counts, including tax fraud, lying to a bank and campaign finance violations. The same hour he was pleading guilty in a New York courthouse, a federal jury some 200 miles away found another former Trump aide guilty: Paul Manafort, the erstwhile campaign chairman. Also eight counts. Also bank and tax fraud. Though the jury couldn’t reach a final verdict on 10 other counts.</p> <p>Trump, Inc. podcast co-hosts Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz  sat down with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer for a live radio segment to break down the action. And we’re posting it here for you. Enjoy.    </p> <p>And keep an eye on your podcast feeds, because season two of Trump, Inc. is coming your way in September! <a href=";id=d943f3fd91" target="_blank">Sign up to the notified</a><strong>. </strong></p>
Aug 22, 2018
Manafort, Inc.
<p>Paul Manafort was Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for three critical months in 2016, leading up to the Republican Convention.</p> <p>But for a decade before that, he did political work in Ukraine, and it's the money Manafort made from that work that is now under the microscope in a Virginia courtroom. Manafort stands accused of tax fraud and bank fraud in the first case in the Mueller investigation to go to trial. Allegedly, Manafort set up secret offshore bank accounts, took in tens of millions of dollars, and avoided the Internal Revenue Service. And later, when the work in Ukraine dried up, and he was short of cash, Manafort allegedly lied to banks to get loans. </p> <p>Trump, Inc.'s Ilya Marritz and Andrea Bernstein dissect the trial's opening with Franklin Foer, a staff writer at <em>The Atlantic</em> who profiled Manafort in his article <em><a href="">The Plot Against America</a>. </em></p>
Aug 02, 2018
Government Employees Spend Your Money at Trump Hotels
<p>Shortly before President Trump took office, his lawyer promised Trump would forgo any profits his hotels made from foreign governments. There was no similar pledge for money earned from federal government employees, state officials, or anybody else who might be seeking to curry favor. And a lot of that money is coming from you, U.S. taxpayers.</p> <p>In this episode of Trump, Inc. we’re going deep on Trump’s hotel rooms and the people who are paying to stay in them. We will talk to three people tracking the flow of taxpayer money from government employees and elected officials to the Trump Organization, many through hotel stays, many booked by individual government workers.</p> <p>ProPublica has just released an <a href="">interactive detailing</a> at least $16.1 million spent at Trump Organization-managed and branded hotels, golf courses and restaurants from his campaign, Republican organizations, and government agencies since Trump announced his candidacy.</p> <p>The vast majority of the money — at least $13.5 million — was spent by Trump’s presidential campaign.</p> <p>We also found at least $400,000 has been spent by federal and state agencies — a figure that includes only a few agencies as many have resisted disclosing that information.</p> <p>Among the examples we know of: In March 2017, for example, the Secret Service paid $27,724.32 at the Trump golf course and resort in Doonbeg, Ireland. The stay was to “support E. Trump Visit.”</p> <p>The Trump Organization and the White House did not respond to our requests for comment.</p> <p><em>Reporting by Derek Kravitz and Derek Willis, ProPublica and Paul Cronan, Mark Schifferli and Charlie Smart, Fathom Information Design.</em></p> <p><em> </em></p>
Jun 28, 2018
What You Need to Know About Wilbur Ross’ Many Conflicts
<p>There’s a chance you missed it amid the <a href="">other news</a>, but <em>Forbes </em>had a <a href="">blockbuster story</a> about Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It turns out, Ross <a href="">bet against the stock</a> of a company after journalists had contacted him with questions about his connections to the firm. Using inside information in stock trades is illegal.</p> <p>(Ross has <a href="">defended</a> the short sale, saying he was trying to comply with ethics laws and described the <a href="">criticism</a> as being based on “unfounded allegations.”)</p> <p>That’s only one of the revelations from <em>Forbes</em>’ story. Trump, Inc. spoke to reporter Dan Alexander about what else he found: for most of last year, Ross had ties to foreign businesses that included an auto parts firm owned jointly with a Chinese government-owned entity and a stake in a shipping company also owned in part by Russian oligarchs. <span> Ross transferred many of his assets to a family trust last fall.</span></p> <p><span>There is no evidence Ross made any policy decisions based on his financial interests. “But the problem is that you have to wonder,” said Alexander. “And usually we don't allow people to hold interests in which the public is left wondering.”  <br></span></p>
Jun 22, 2018
Trump, Inc, Live: From ‘The Art of the Deal’ to the Dossier
<p>A few days ago, we held a <a href="">live taping</a> of the <em>Trump, Inc</em>. podcast at The Greene Space in New York City. <a href="">Tony Schwartz</a>, the co-author with Donald Trump of <a href=""><em>The Art of The Deal</em></a><em>,</em> talked with Ilya Marritz from WNYC and Jesse Eisinger from ProPublica about what Schwartz does and does not recognize in President Trump now.</p> <p><span>Then, ProPublica’s Eric Umansky and WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein spoke with <a href="">Mark Schoofs</a>, the Investigations Editor at Buzzfeed. Schoofs explained why he was the first journalist to post the Russian “dossier,” and what we’ve learned since.</span></p> <p>There was also a <em>Trump, Inc.</em> trivia contest. How do you think you’d do? Here two examples. For the answers, listen to the podcast!</p> <p><span><span><span> </span></span></span></p> <p>1) The Trump Organization has partnered with developers M3M for projects in India. What does M3M stand for?     </p> <p>a) Magnificence in the Trinity Of Men, Materials &amp; Money</p> <p>b) Money, Money, Money</p> <p>c) My Three Mates Make Money</p> <p>d) Mumbai Manufacturing and Materials</p> <p> </p> <p>2) The largest contractor for the Trump inauguration was connected to the First Family how?</p> <p>a) Eric Trump’s former wedding planner</p> <p>b) Melania Trump’s friend</p> <p>c) Donald Trump’s former caddy</p> <p>d) Ivanka Trump’s former public relations advisor</p>
May 18, 2018
The "King of Debt"? He Pays Cash.
<p>Last week, the <em>Washington Post</em> had an intriguing story: In the nine years before now-President Donald Trump announced his candidacy, his company <a href="">paid $400 million in cash</a> to buy a number of properties.</p> <p>Real estate companies doing deals usually borrow money for the same reason that many homeowners take out mortgages: Leveraging your money—especially when the cost of borrowing is low, as it has been for a decade—makes your money go farther.</p> <p>The fact that Trump, the self-styled “king of debt," didn’t do that in these deals has raised a number questions, including how the Trump Organization had so much cash, and why it would use it to purchase properties in all cash.</p> <p>Eric Trump told the <em>Washington Post</em> that the money came from profits that his father put back in the business. “He had incredible cash flow and built incredible wealth,” the younger Trump said. “We invested in ourselves.”</p> <p>In this Trump Inc. podcast extra, we speak to the <em>New Yorker’s</em> Adam Davidson and the <em>Washington Post’s</em> David Fahrenthold, who wrote last week’s story with Jonathan O'Connell and Jack Gillum. Davidson and Fahrenthold talk about trying to make the numbers and the explanations add up. (Spoiler: They can’t.)</p> <p>“There's this fundamental question we have,” says Davidson. “Where did the money come from and why was it spent the way it was spent? There’s some piece of information that we are missing because none of the explanations make sense.”</p>
May 11, 2018
The Hidden Hand of a Casino Company In Trump’s Contact with Vietnam
<p>On Dec. 14, 2016, one month after his election, President-elect Donald Trump had a call with the prime minister of Vietnam. At a time when foreign governments were scrambling to contact Trump, the conversation was a victory for the Vietnamese. State television <a href="">broadcast footage</a> of the call, with the prime minister surrounded by other smiling officials.</p> <p>But inside the State Department, officials were puzzled and concerned. Historically, post-election calls to heads of state are carefully choreographed affairs. Careful deliberation goes into who the president-elect speaks to first and career diplomats deliver background briefings on issues to be raised and avoided.</p> <p>The Trump transition operation ignored those conventions. The contact with Vietnam was not set up by the State Department. Instead, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, helped arrange the call.</p> <p>Kasowitz had another client with a keen interest in Vietnam: Philip Falcone, an American investor with a major casino outside Ho Chi Minh City. After the Trump call, Kasowitz traveled to Vietnam with Falcone. They met with government officials as part of an effort to persuade Vietnam to lift a ban on gambling for its citizens. Such a shift would deliver vastly more gamblers to Falcone’s casino.</p> <p>“Phil asked if Marc could arrange a phone call between the president and prime minister of Vietnam,” said a person familiar with the call. “Marc did that.”</p> <p>In an interview, Falcone denied he requested the call. He added there was nothing improper about arranging such a call. “It’s just lending a hand when people ask you,” he said. A spokesman for Kasowitz acknowledged the lawyer provided a “telephone contact” to the Vietnamese government to call Trump.</p> <p>Kasowitz has represented Trump for over 15 years, including in the Trump University fraud case, against allegations of sexual harassment, and, most recently, in the Russia investigation.</p> <p>Falcone, who was barred from the securities industry several years ago after <a href="">admitting</a> to wrongdoing in managing his hedge fund, has been trying for several years to salvage his several hundred-million-dollar-bet on Vietnam’s gaming industry. So far, that investment has not paid off, in large measure because of the rules limiting casinos to foreign bettors.</p> <p>It’s not clear whether Trump mentioned the casino on his December 2016 call with the prime minister or in any other communications with the Vietnamese. A White House spokeswoman referred all questions to Kasowitz. The Vietnamese embassy in the U.S. didn’t respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>U.S. embassy officials in Vietnam heard about the call in advance from Falcone’s casino company, not the Trump transition. And they never received information from the Trump transition about what was said on the call; their only understanding of what was discussed came from Vietnamese officials, according to a person with knowledge of the episode.</p> <p>“You want the State Department to set up calls and take notes,” said Susan Rice, a senior adviser on Barack Obama’s transition in 2008-09 who went on to become National Security Advisor. “You want contacts made in a fashion that can be accountable to the president-elect. You want background briefings for the president-elect.”</p> <p>In November 2008, the Obama transition <a href="">explicitly warned</a> high-profile campaign supporters not to “under any circumstances” speak to “any foreign officials, or embassies on behalf of the transition or President-elect Obama. </p> <p>The Vietnam call was just one instance of how the Trump administration has blurred the lines between private business interests and those of the country. Trump, who did not divest from his own real estate empire, has declared America “open for business.” Many have tried to take him up on the promise. Business people, lobbyists, friends, and foreign dignitaries have all vied for access to Trump since his election, believing it can mean lucrative contracts, eased regulations, or otherwise convey to potential partners a proximity to power and influence.</p> <p>Falcone, who didn’t donate to Trump’s campaign, told ProPublica his casino hasn’t gained anything from the phone call. “Literally nothing has changed since the new administration.”</p> <p>***</p> <p>Falcone’s business interest in Vietnam goes back a decade. His Harbinger Capital fund has poured money -- <a href="">Bloomberg put it</a> at more than $450 million -- into a casino-resort called <a href="">The Grand Ho Tram Strip</a>. Located on a remote coastline 75 miles outside Ho Chi Minh City, the complex includes a gleaming Vegas-style tower, a golf course designed by the legendary Greg Norman, and a casino with 90 tables and a private area for high rollers dubbed the <a href="">Pearl Room</a>.</p> <p>But the illegality of gambling for Vietnamese citizens has posed a nearly insurmountable obstacle. On a recent visit, the sprawling casino was almost entirely empty. Staff outnumbered customers. One industry observer quipped, “You could drive a truck through the casino and not hit anyone.”</p> <p>To save the project, Falcone has spent years lobbying the Vietnamese government to allow its citizens to gamble in his casino.</p> <p>The casino has proved not to be the comeback vehicle Falcone might have hoped for. A Harvard hockey player turned high-flying hedge fund manager who made it onto Forbes’ billionaire list and amassed a large <a href="">stake</a> in the New York Times Company, Falcone’s fortunes turned in the years after the financial crisis. In a 2013 settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he was barred from the securities industry for five years and <a href="">admitted</a> to taking an improper loan of over $100 million from his fund. Falcone lost his place on the <a href="">Forbes’ list</a>.</p> <p>Two months before the 2016 election, Falcone’s team made a play to add political heft to the Ho Tram project, <a href="">appointing</a> a pair of new board members to the casino company: Tony Podesta, the veteran lobbyist and brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager; and Loretta Pickus, former vice president of legal affairs at Trump Entertainment Resorts, Donald Trump’s now-defunct casino company.</p> <p>A week after Trump won the election, the casino company sent out a <a href="">new press release</a> touting Pickus’ appointment. It mentioned her onetime role representing Ivanka Trump and made a thinly veiled reference to Ho Tram’s efforts to get its local gambling license in Vietnam.</p> <p>“With Ms. Pickus having substantial experience with Trump properties, she hopes The Grand Ho Tram can continue to serve as a champion of U.S.-Vietnam ties for the incoming Trump Administration,” the release said, calling her appointment “an excellent opportunity to share best practices from the United States as Vietnam considers opportunities to reform the regulatory regime for its hospitality and gaming sector.”</p> <p>One of Pickus’ duties at Trump’s company was overseeing anti-money laundering enforcement. The Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City <a href="">repeatedly ran afoul</a> of anti-money laundering laws, and paid multiple fines for its lack of proper oversight. Pickus told ProPublica she has a decades long relationship with Trump but hasn’t had contact with him or the administration since his election. She also defended the Trump casino anti-money laundering programs as “sophisticated” and appropriate.</p> <p>After Trump’s surprise election victory, Kasowitz’s longtime client was suddenly president-elect. A spokesman for the lawyer acknowledged Kasowitz’s role in setting up the December call between Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. “At the request of the office of the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Kasowitz provided a telephone contact that the Vietnamese could use to try to arrange a congratulatory call to President-elect Trump,” the spokesman said.</p> <p>(This wasn’t the only unusual Trump call during the chaotic transition. Controversy erupted when it emerged that former Senator Bob Dole, working as a lobbyist for Taiwan, played a role <a href="">arranging</a> a precedent-breaking call between Trump and Taiwan’s president.)</p> <p>Just a few weeks after the phone call between Trump and Phuc, Falcone traveled to Hanoi to meet the Vietnamese prime minister and press him on the casino project. State media <a href="">reported</a> that Falcone “asked the Vietnamese government to continue creating favorable conditions for U.S. companies, including Harbinger, to do long-term and stable business in Vietnam.”</p> <p>Falcone has retained an array of lobbyists, consultants, and media advisers to persuade the Vietnamese government to change its rules on gambling. The effort included getting Falcone on the cover of <a href="">Vietnamese Esquire</a>, arranging regular meetings between Falcone and top Vietnamese officials, and seeking assistance from the U.S. embassy.</p> <p>It’s not clear when Kasowitz first got involved in the Ho Tram project. His law firm has represented Falcone and his associated businesses going back to at least 2013. David Friedman, who was a name partner at Kasowitz’s firm until Trump named him U.S. ambassador to Israel, also <a href="">represented</a> Falcone’s fund.</p> <p>In 2017, Kasowitz traveled to Vietnam with Falcone. But Kasowitz went “not as my attorney, just kind of getting to know the landscape, understanding what was happening over there,” Falcone told ProPublica. Falcone said Kasowitz attended some meetings with Falcone and Vietnamese officials. A Kasowitz spokesman said Kasowitz went to Vietnam “to advise Mr. Falcone on legal issues” and declined to comment further.</p> <p>Also on that trip was Jerry Abbruzzese, a Falcone consultant who has a history of working the levers of government for business interests. He is best known for being the main witness in the corruption trials of the former New York State Senate leader, Joe Bruno. The case <a href="">centered</a> on Bruno receiving a large consulting contract and payment for a racehorse from Abbruzzese, whose companies had business before the state. Bruno was ultimately <a href="">acquitted</a>. Abbruzzese was not charged in the case. He declined to comment on his role in Ho Tram. </p> <p>Two Washington-based firms stocked with former diplomats from both Democratic and Republican administrations, <a href="">BowerGroupAsia</a> and <a href="">The Asia Group</a>, have worked on Falcone’s casino project. According to Falcone, Asia Group asked him for a connection with Kasowitz because of the attorney’s close ties with the Trump administration. A spokesman for Asia Group said: “The Asia Group does not comment on business confidential information, including the names of our clients and contract terms.”</p> <p>Asia Group worked with Falcone to host a <a href="">conference</a> of investors in New York for Prime Minister Phuc’s visit to the U.S. last May. Luminaries including Ret. General <a href="">David Petraeus</a>, now with the firm KKR, attended.</p> <p>The next day, Phuc traveled to Washington for his first in-person meeting with President Trump at the White House. The two leaders discussed trade and North Korea. As Trump and Phuc left a large meeting in the Cabinet Room, Marc Kasowitz was there, apparently waiting, according to a person familiar with the visit. Kasowitz greeted Trump and shook hands with Phuc.</p> <p>The White House and the Vietnamese embassy declined to comment on Trump’s meeting with Phuc. There’s no evidence Trump raised Ho Tram.</p> <p>Kasowitz’s spokesman denied he was waiting to greet the prime minister: “Mr. Kasowitz was in the White House on other business on May 31, 2017. He had no idea the Prime Minister of Vietnam was there that day, he was not waiting outside a meeting room for the Prime Minister, it was a total coincidence that he ran into the Prime Minister with the President and he had no substantive conversation with the Prime Minister.”</p> <p>The spokesman added, “Neither Mr. Kasowitz nor anyone else at the firm has used any access [to Trump] to help a client of the firm.”</p> <p>Falcone’s efforts have so far proved unsuccessful: the Ho Tram casino hasn’t yet won a local gambling license. One industry expert attributed that to disagreements within Vietnam’s Communist Party-controlled state.</p> <p>“I find it shocking that people would think that the administration would bring up Ho Tram or even think about getting involved,” Falcone said.</p> <p><em>Do you have information about the Trump administration and casino companies? Contact Justin at </em><a href=""><em></em></a><em> or via Signal at 774-826-6240.</em></p>
Apr 25, 2018
The Company Michael Cohen Kept
<p>If you’ve seen video or images of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, they’ve probably been set in locations that exude power and importance: Cohen berating a CNN anchor in a TV studio, for example, or striding across the sleek marbled interior of Trump Tower, or more recently, smoking cigars in front of Cohen’s temporary residence, the Loews Regency Hotel on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.</p> <p>But to understand how Michael Cohen arrived in those precincts, you need to venture across New York City’s East River. There, in a Queens warehouse district in the shadows of an elevated No. 7 subway line, is a taxi garage that used to house his law practice. The office area in the front is painted a garish taxi-cab-yellow, with posters of hockey players on the wall and a framed photo of the late Hasidic rabbi, Menachem Schneerson. Cohen practiced law there and invested in the once-lucrative medallions that grant New York cabs the right to operate.</p> <p>Or you could drive 45 minutes deep into Brooklyn, near where Gravesend turns into Brighton Beach. There, in a desolate stretch near a shuttered podiatrist’s office, you’d find a medical office. According to previously unexamined records, Cohen incorporated a business there in 2002 that was involved in large quantities of medical claims. Separately, he represented more than 100 plaintiffs who claimed they were injured in auto collisions.</p> <p>At the same time, in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York prosecutors were investigating what Fortune magazine called possibly “the largest organized insurance-fraud ring in U.S. history.” That fraud resulted in hundreds of criminal prosecutions for staging car accidents to collect insurance payments. Cohen was not implicated in the fraud.</p> <p>A distinctive pattern emerged early in Cohen’s career, according to an examination by WNYC and ProPublica for the Trump, Inc. podcast: Many of the people who crossed paths with Cohen when he worked in Queens and Brooklyn were disciplined, disbarred, accused or convicted of crimes.</p> <p>Cohen, 51, has always emerged unscathed — until now. Last week, his Rockefeller Center office was raided by federal agents, as were his home, hotel room, safety deposit box, and two cell phones. Cohen is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. According to court papers, investigators are examining whether he committed fraud and showed a “lack of truthfulness.”</p> <p>He and his attorneys did not respond to a lengthy set of questions emailed to them. Cohen’s lawyers have stated that he has done nothing improper.</p> <p>Cohen has attained national attention as the man who paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her alleged affair with Trump secret. He also negotiated a $1.6 million settlement with a woman impregnated by Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy. (Cohen’s attorney told a judge on Monday that his only three legal clients over the past 15 months were Trump, Broidy and talk-show host Sean Hannity.)</p> <p>Cohen has for decades had close personal and professional relationships with many citizens of the former Soviet Union. He ended up as point men on Trump’s deals there and also turned up in the notorious Russia “dossier.” He has routinely been described as an indispensable man to Donald Trump.</p> <p>One indicator of that, according to the New York Times: President Trump is more agitated by what those New York prosecutors may find in Cohen’s files than he is by the wide-ranging investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen, it seems, may hold some crucial secrets. What’s more surprising, perhaps, is the path he took to get to that point.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Michael Cohen grew up in the Five Towns area of Long Island, N.Y., a heavily Jewish enclave. His father was a surgeon, according to media reports, and Cohen enjoyed a top-tier education, graduating from the private Lawrence Woodmere Academy, then moving on to American University.</p> <p>From there, it seems, Cohen’s educational trajectory turned in a different direction. He attended the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law in Michigan, which once wrote, “is known for admitting students other law schools would not touch.”</p> <p>In 1992, after law school, he returned to his home region and landed a job working for a personal injury attorney named Melvyn Estrin, who had an office on lower Broadway in Manhattan. </p> <p>Estrin was the first in a series of colleagues who would run afoul of authorities. Within three years of Cohen’s arrival, Estrin was charged with bribing insurance adjusters to inflate damage estimates and expedite claims. He later pleaded guilty. Cohen was never implicated in any of the misdeeds. Estrin did not respond to a request for comment. He is still practicing law.</p> <p>Cohen continued to use Estrin’s address on legal filings as late as 1999, but he added several new addresses during this period, including 22-05 43rd Avenue, in Long Island City, Queens — the taxi garage. It was the headquarters of the New York branch of the empire of Simon Garber, a Soviet emigre who also has had cab companies in Chicago and Moscow. Charismatic and silver-haired, Garber released <a href="">kitschy TV-style advertisements</a>, in Russian, for his company.</p> <p>Over the years, Garber has been convicted of assault in New York, arrested for battery in Miami, and pleaded guilty in New Jersey to charges of criminal mischief involving him breaking into three neighbors’ homes, shattering glass doors, smearing blood all over, and taking a shower. In Chicago, his taxi fleet included wrecked vehicles with illegally laundered titles.</p> <p>Garber did not respond to a request for comment. (Two other attorneys had offices inside Garber’s offices in the early 2000s. One was forced to resign from the bar after he was accused of not turning money over to a client. The other was disbarred, in part for trying to steal money from the first lawyer.)</p> <p>In 1994 Cohen married Laura Shusterman, who was born in the Soviet Union. Her father, also a taxi entrepreneur, pleaded guilty to a felony, conspiracy to defraud the IRS, the year before.</p> <p>By the late 1990s, records show, Cohen had begun acquiring taxi medallions, licenses required by the City of New York to operate a yellow cab. The number of medallions has been strictly controlled for decades. Before the advent of services like Uber, they were particularly valuable, with their price peaking at over $1 million in 2014.</p> <p>Cohen co-owned some of the medallions with his wife, and indeed, his family and business relationships sometimes overlapped. Filings show his father-in-law once made a loan to Garber. And in 2001, Cohen borrowed money for one of his taxi companies, Golden Child Cab Corp., from one of the men convicted with Cohen’s father in law, Fima Shusterman, in the fraud against the IRS.</p> <p>Starting around 2000, Cohen was involved in scores of car insurance lawsuits, often on behalf of plaintiffs who claimed to have been injured in auto collisions and were seeking judgments to cover purported medical expenses.</p> <p>At this time, a wave of staged auto accidents, involving immigrants from the former Soviet Union who claimed to have been hurt, had led prosecutors to open a massive investigation. They dubbed it Operation Boris, an acronym for Big Organized Russian Insurance Scam. The prosecutorial push resulted in hundreds of convictions.</p> <p>Cohen also drew up incorporation papers for at least three medical practices, and three medical billing companies. One company Cohen registered in 2002, Avex Medical Care PRC, sued insurance companies nearly 300 times. The plaintiffs lawyer in almost all of these cases was David Katz, who was disbarred later for professional misconduct.</p> <p>The doctor who owned Avex was charged in 2003 with criminal insurance fraud connected with another medical business; the charge was dismissed. He’s now practicing medicine in New Jersey.</p> <p>Dr. Zhanna Kanevsky, the principal of Life Quality Medical, a clinic business that Cohen incorporated in 2002, surrendered her medical license after pleading guilty to writing phony prescriptions for 100,000 oxycodone and other pills.</p> <p>Once again, Cohen was never charged.</p> <p>***</p> <p>In the early 2000s, Trump and Cohen became connected, fittingly, through real estate. Cohen started to transfer the wealth he’d gained from taxi medallions and insurance lawsuits to apartments in Trump buildings. Along with his parents, his in-laws, and Simon Garber, Cohen acquired eight units in Trump Palace, Trump Park Avenue, and Trump World Plaza. The man who operated out of a Queens taxi garage now owned apartments alongside the likes of Sophia Loren and Harrison Ford.</p> <p>Cohen also began to show political ambitions. In 2003, he ran for city council on Manhattan’s Upper East Side as a Republican. Even people close to his campaign weren’t sure why he ran.</p> <p>His own campaign biography provided few answers — or rather, disparate ones. He claimed at the time to own 200 taxi medallions, to be a member of the Friars Club, an avid stamp collector, and a member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Inspector General advisory board.</p> <p>Cohen lost the city council race, but his donor list provides a snapshot of his network. He received contributions from his father, his father in law, and Bruce Winston, a son of the jeweler Harry Winston. A New York Republican with knowledge of Cohen’s 2003 campaign said Cohen told him then that he was Harry Winston’s in-house counsel at the time. The company says Cohen was never an employee.</p> <p>Court papers show Cohen was one of the lawyers who helped Bruce Winston, and his daughter, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, in a legal action challenging Deutsche Bank’s conduct as trustee of Harry Winston’s estate. Their petition failed. (For her part, Wolkoff, a friend of Melania Trump’s, later became the highest-paid contractor for Donald Trump’s inauguration, taking in an eye-popping $26 million, and sparking a backlash.)</p> <p>It’s unclear when Cohen and Trump first met, but the two were publicly linked in February 2007. The New York Post published an <a href="">article</a> then about an attorney who was purchasing large numbers of apartments in Trump buildings. “Trump properties are solid investments,” Cohen told the Post. Trump returned the compliment, declaring Cohen to be a wise investor. “Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market,” he told the Post. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money — and he does.”</p> <p>Three months later, Cohen became an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, with the same job title as Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump.</p> <p>Cohen was never a traditional in-house lawyer for Trump. He has been described as both a “fixer” and a “dealmaker” — and it seems he embraced both roles. “He did jobs for Donald that no one else would do,” said one person who worked with Cohen, “especially not a lawyer. He did a lot of these jobs.”</p> <p>Still, even after Cohen had joined the Trump Organization, he harbored personal political dreams. In 2010, Cohen mounted a second unsuccessful campaign, this time for the New York State Senate. Among his donors in that race were shipping magnate Oleg Mitnik and tobacco tycoon and New York real estate man Howard Lorber, one of Donald Trump’s closest friends.</p> <p>Cohen continued to expand his role within the Trump universe. It had become simultaneously global, national and highly local. The Trump Organization’s business model had shifted, from building high-end Manhattan properties to scoping for international licensing deals, particularly in the former Soviet Union. Cohen, along with Trump’s adult children, headed up this effort.</p> <p>At a Trump Tower press conference in early 2011, Cohen took the public stage as an international dealmaker. “Seven months ago, at the request of a dear friend of mine from Georgia, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, I traveled to the Republic of Georgia to explore several real estate opportunities on behalf of Mr. Trump,” Cohen said in his unmistakable Long Island accent. He then introduced Trump and the then-president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili.</p> <p>The ostensible purpose of the press conference was to talk up a planned tower in the city of Batumi, on the Black Sea coast. But most of the questions centered on Donald Trump’s possible run for President.</p> <p>Months earlier, Michael Cohen had helped set up a website called with the Long Island law firm Schwartz, Gerstman, and Malito. (David Schwartz is a long time Cohen friend and attorney who made several television appearances on Cohen’s behalf when the Stormy Daniels news broke.) Cohen also traveled to Iowa to explore the political terrain.</p> <p> was billed as independent of Trump; otherwise Trump would have had to file papers with the Federal Election Commission on his own behalf. At the press conference, Trump was peppered with political questions. “Could you comment on the kind of feedback or what you took from the feedback from Mr. Cohen’s Iowa trip,” one reporter asked. “You could ask Mr. Cohen. You can speak to him,” Trump replied.</p> <p>But she pressed. “Are you encouraged by anything that you saw or read out of that? Trump couldn’t resist. “Well,” he said, “I mean the response has been amazing, actually.”</p> <p>Another response: A complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission, alleging Trump had accepted “excessive or impermissible contributions from the Trump Organization, LLC” because was set up by an employee: Michael Cohen. Trump and Cohen were cleared of wrongdoing. One of the two commissioners who signed off on the ruling was Donald McGahn. McGahn later became Trump’s White House Counsel.</p> <p>There’s another piece of public work that Cohen was involved in that further shows the close links among Trump, Cohen, and the attorney David Schwartz. During the same time period of the Georgia deal and, Schwartz and Cohen were both working on a project called Trump on the Ocean, which aimed to construct a massive catering hall in the popular Jones Beach State Park on Long Island.</p> <p>Trump was so keen on this project that, unusually even for him, he called four governors and a state comptroller to lobby for it, according to former state officials. In at least one of the calls, he cited his generous donations as a reason to get the clearances he needed to move forward.  </p> <p>Trump put Cohen in charge of the negotiations. But some state officials balked at what they saw as an attempt to commercialize a state park, and Trump’s insistence that the state override its fire code so he could build a kitchen in the basement.</p> <p>The lobbying was contentious, said Judith Enck, the top environmental advisor for Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson (and later the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency for the New York region), who was involved in the negotiations. “That was not a typical discussion with a business that was trying to do business with the state of New York. It was aggressive,” Enck said. “There were efforts to go around me to get a better outcome in the discussion… I recall it as you know one of the most unpleasant experiences I had in the governor's office.”</p> <p>Misery, perhaps for a government official — but triumph for Trump, Cohen, and Schwartz. They got permission to begin construction. “GREAT JOB!” Trump wrote in a note to Schwartz. “I will hire your firm again!”</p> <p>Alas, it was all for naught in the end. Months later, the tail of the storm Sandy inundated Jones Beach and Trump walked away from the project.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Three years later, when Trump made a run for the White House, Cohen continued to serve both as promoter and dealmaker. He frequently appeared on TV as a Trump surrogate, though he had no official campaign position. In one interview in the summer of 2016, Cohen refused to acknowledge that polls strongly favored Hillary Clinton. He badgered CNN anchor Brianna Keilar when she referred to Trump’s then-dismal poll numbers. “Says who?” Cohen shot back. “What polls?” The anchor, seemingly mystified, answered “all of them?” The clip went viral.</p> <p>Cohen’s truculent tendencies were also on display a year before that interview when he threatened Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak. Mak had resurfaced an old accusation made by Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana, during their divorce proceedings, that Trump had raped her. (She later withdrew the allegation.) “I'm warning you,” Mak says Cohen told him, “tread very fucking lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”</p> <p>Behind the scenes, Cohen was still attempting to make deals for Trump in the former Soviet Union. Cohen drafted a letter of intent with a Moscow investment company to build Trump World Tower Moscow.</p> <p>Cohen’s partner in the deal was Felix Sater, a Trump associate who had been convicted of assault and securities fraud and had widely reported connections to the Russian mob. “Let’s make this happen and build a Trump Moscow,” Sater wrote in an email to Cohen. “And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone commerce and business are much better and more practical than politics.”</p> <p>In another email, Sater wrote, “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.” In a statement issued last summer, Cohen called this “puffery” and said Sater was prone to colorful language and salesmanship.</p> <p>Cohen’s activities drew the attention of Christopher Steele, a former British spy who was assembling raw intelligence on the Trump campaign for a private client (ultimately paid for by the Clinton campaign). The resulting collection of documents has become known as “the dossier.”</p> <p>Steele’s memo included the assertion that Cohen met with Russian contacts in Prague after damaging news emerged about Trump’s former campaign manager and an aide. “The overall objective had been ‘sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connection could be fully established or proven,’” Steele wrote in a memo dated Oct. 19, 2016.</p> <p>In statements and court documents, Cohen has vociferously denied ever visiting Prague, even dispensing photos of his passport, with no Czech stamps visible, as putative proof. Cohen has filed two defamation lawsuits over the release of the dossier. But now McClatchy has reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen was in Prague in late summer 2016. (And the photographic “proof” Cohen offered may turn out to be moot, according to the McClatchy article, since he reportedly entered the Czech Republic from Germany, which would not have required him to pass through immigration or customs.)</p> <p>One thing that Cohen does not dispute: In October 2016, he was involved in fixing another problem, this time by paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen asserts he did this on his own, with money he obtained from a home equity line of credit.</p> <p>When FBI agents searched Cohen’s offices on April 9, 2018, they were seeking evidence relating to the Stormy Daniels payment. They were also, according to the Washington Post, sifting through business records relating to Cohen’s taxi medallions. There may still be answers to be found in Queens.</p>
Apr 18, 2018
Trump’s Company Is Suing Towns Across the Country to Get Breaks on Taxes
<p>President Trump is famous for bragging about his net worth. Publicly, he claims he’s worth  <a href="">more than $10 billion</a>. He even <a href="">sued an author</a> over the issue and <a href="">lobbied</a> the editors of <a href="">Forbes</a> about his ranking on their billionaires list.</p> <p>Yet quietly in another setting, the Trump Organization says the president’s holdings are worth far less than he has proclaimed. Across the country, the company is suing local governments, claiming it owes much less in property taxes than government assessors say because its properties are worth much less than they’ve been valued at. In just one example, the company has asserted that its gleaming waterfront skyscraper in Chicago is worth less than than its assessed value, in part because its retail space is failing and worth less than nothing. </p> <p>Since becoming president, Trump’s companies have filed at least nine new lawsuits against municipalities in Florida, New York and Illinois, arguing for lower tax bills, ProPublica has found. Some of those lawsuits have been previously reported. At stake is millions of dollars that communities use to fund roads, schools and police departments.</p> <p>Real estate owners dispute property taxes frequently, and some even sue. The president has a long track record of doing so himself. But experts are troubled that he’s doing so while in office.</p> <p>No president in modern times has owned a business involved in legal battles with local governments.</p> <p>“The idea that the president would have these interests and then those companies would sue localities is really a dangerous precedent,” said Larry Noble of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The dynamic between local and federal governments is impossible to ignore in these cases, he said, and municipalities “rely on resources from the federal government and the federal government can make your life easier or much more difficult.” He added that the concern arises because the president did not fully separate from his businesses.</p> <p>A spokesman for the Trump Organization said, “Like any other business or property owner, when property taxes become inflated, it is not uncommon to challenge the process to ensure fair treatment. This is a routine practice and any suggestion otherwise is simply ridiculous.”</p> <p>Here’s a selection of the Trump Organization’s fights:</p> <ul> <li>Just 35 miles north of New York City, the company is fighting the town of Ossining home to Trump National Westchester Golf Club.</li> </ul> <p>Trump bought the course in 1996 for $7.5 million and put in $40 million of renovations. The course includes a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse, a 101-foot man-made waterfall, and a host of luxury condominiums overlooking the fairway.</p> <p>Trump said in presidential financial disclosures that this property is worth at least $50 million. Ossining currently assesses the property at only $15 million. Yet in legal filings, the Trump Organization claims that assessment is far too high. In 2015, the company said the property is worth only $1.5 million in a lawsuit filed against the town in Westchester County court.</p> <p>Municipalities almost always settle instead of taking these cases to trials, which can be expensive. But after public outcry, the town decided not to settle and instead is fighting this case and another one related to a neighboring private golf course which is not owned by Trump.</p> <p>Asked how it feels to be sued by President Trump’s company, Dana Levenberg, a town supervisor in Ossining said, “It is certainly uncomfortable at best.”</p> <p>Ossining has a population of 38,000 and an annual budget of $5.5 million. In order to fight, it’s had to bring in expert assessors and outside lawyers and that adds up.</p> <p>“When you have deep private pockets, it’s a lot easier to have staying power in these cases,” said Levenberg.</p> <p>Trump National Golf Club LLC, the subsidiary that owns the club, has filed lawsuits over property taxes each year since 2015. If the town loses, they’ll have to refund Trump National the difference between what it claimed was owed and the Trump Organization’s number — roughly $439,960 from 2015 alone. That will come out of school budgets and municipal funds. Briarcliff Schools, the district the course falls in, has put aside $2.8 million of their annual $51.4 million budget for future tax refunds. The town and a number of other municipal offices have set aside funds as well.</p> <ul> <li>In Chicago, the Trump Organization has embraced a <a href="" target="_blank">notoriously unequal system</a> of property assessment challenges to its own benefit. The Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, set on prime riverfront downtown real estate, was born out of the first season of “The Apprentice.” Completed in 2008, it rises 92 stories and includes a hotel, condominiums and retail space.</li> </ul> <p>But in lawsuits filed against the Cook County Assessor’s Office, Trump’s lawyers call the building a “failed business” and claim the riverfront commercial retail space is worthless.</p> <p>The Trump Organization, through its subsidiary, 401 Wabash Ventures LLC, has appealed valuations for Trump Tower Chicago and lowered its tax bills <a href="">by over $14 million dollars</a> over the years through settlement negotiations. Not satisfied with those reductions, the Trump Organization sued, first in 2006, and then repeatedly in subsequent years. Currently, there are five open cases filed on behalf of the Trump Organization against the county, all regarding Trump Tower. The Chicago Sun-Times estimates there are about $3 million in tax refunds at stake in these cases. </p> <p>Reports by <a href="">ProPublica</a> Illinois and the Chicago Tribune show that the tax appeals system can exacerbate existing inequalities in the tax system in Illinois, in part because appeals are filed most frequently by those who can afford lawyers. Experts said they see this in many places across the country.</p> <p>“The trend has often been that these appeals processes have been abused by those that are already advantaged,” said Andrew Kahrl, an expert in the history of taxation and an associate professor at the University of Virginia. </p> <ul> <li>In Palm Beach County, Florida, the Trump Organization <a href="">is suing</a> the tax assessor over its tax bill for the Trump National Golf Course Palm Beach. The course, located in the town of Jupiter, is one of two nearby private courses the president frequents while staying at Mar-a-Lago.</li> </ul> <p>On his financial disclosure, Trump lists the value of the Jupiter course as $50 million. Yet in the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Civil Court, the company says the county’s current $19.5 million assessment “<a href="">exceed[s] the market value</a>” of the course. The county and its lawyer declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. </p> <p>The county billed the company $398,315. In December, Jupiter Golf Club paid $296,595.01, calling it a “good faith estimate” of what’s owed.</p> <ul> <li>In Manhattan, the Trump Organization filed six lawsuits in New York County court over property tax assessments of Trump Tower, Trump Park Avenue, and other buildings in midtown and the Upper East Side in 2017 alone. Owners of high-value properties frequently appeal their tax bills in New York City. </li> </ul>
Apr 11, 2018
Trump, the Ex-Lobbyist and 'Chemically Castrated' Frogs
<p>This week, we’re doing a couple of  things differently on Trump, Inc. Instead of focusing on President Trump’s businesses, we’re looking more broadly at business interests in the Trump administration. We’re also giving you, our listeners, homework.</p> <p>Last month, ProPublica published the first comprehensive and searchable <a href="" target="_blank">database of Trump’s 2,685 political appointees</a>, along with their federal lobbying and financial records. It’s the result of a year spent filing Freedom of Information Act requests, collecting staffing lists and publishing financial disclosure reports.</p> <p>We’ve found plenty in the documents. We know there are lots of lobbyists <a href="" target="_blank">now working at agencies they once lobbied</a> (including one involving <span>an herbicide that could affect the sexual development of frogs). </span>We know there are dozens of officials who’ve <a href="" target="_blank">received ethics waivers</a> from the White House. We know there are “special-government employees” who are working in the private sector and the government at the same time.</p> <p>But there’s so much more to do. Remember, we have multiple documents for nearly 2,700 appointees. And we need your help. For example, you can help us unmask who is actually behind LLCs listed in officials’ financial disclosures. (A reader did that last year and turned us on to<a href="" target="_blank"> an interesting below-market condo sale</a> the president made to his son, Eric Trump.)  </p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Here’s step-by-step-instructions on how you can dig in</a>.</p> <p><strong>You can also contact us</strong> via Signal, WhatsApp or voicemail at 347-244-2134. <a href="" target="_blank">Here’s more</a> about how you can contact us securely.</p> <p>You can always email us at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.</p> <p> </p>
Apr 04, 2018
The Many Red Flags of Trump’s Partners in India
<p>President Donald Trump does not like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “<a href="" target="_blank">It’s a horrible law</a>,” Trump has said. The FCPA makes it a crime for U.S. companies to bribe foreign officials, or to partner with others who are clearly doing so.</p> <p>Trump has argued that the law puts U.S. firms at a disadvantage. “It’s things like this that cause us to not be able to lead the world,” Trump said on CNBC in 2012. “For this country to prosecute because something took place in India is outrageous.”</p> <p>Corruption in India is quite common, particularly in the real estate industry. India’s also where the Trump Organization has four projects currently under construction and another just completed, more than it has in any other foreign country. As we detailed last week on Trump, Inc., Donald Trump Jr. has been <a href="" target="_blank">closely involved in much of the work</a>.</p> <p>This week, we’re looking at the Trump Organization’s partners in India — and red flags their work has raised. We worked with <a href="" target="_blank">Investigative Fund </a>reporter Anjali Kamat, whose <a href="" target="_blank">story on the Trumps’ business in India</a> appears in the latest issue of <em>The New Republic</em>.</p> <p>Kamat traveled to the location of each of the projects that are still under construction. Here’s what she found:</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The project:</strong> Trump Tower Kolkata</p> <p><strong>What Trump Jr. has billed it as:</strong> Kolkata’s “<a href="">first residential building with floor to ceiling glass.” </a></p> <p><strong>What’s there now: </strong>The foundation and a billboard</p> <p><strong>A partner: </strong>RDB Group</p> <p><strong>The red flags: </strong>Back in 2011, the RDB Group’s directors were charged with insider trading and were barred from the Indian stock market for four years. Also, the day after Trump Jr.’s visit, tax officials raided RDB’s offices over alleged “<a href="">financial irregularities</a>.” The group did not comment on the raid at the time.  </p> <p><strong>Their response to us: </strong>None</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The project:</strong> A residential tower in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi</p> <p><strong>What Trump Jr. has billed it as:</strong> “<a href="">The most prestigious address in the city</a>”</p> <p><strong>What’s there now: </strong>A small patch of empty land</p> <p><strong>A partner: </strong>M3M, which stands for “Magnificence in the Trinity of Men, Materials &amp; Money”</p> <p><strong>The red flags: </strong>Tax investigators seized about $70 million of undeclared money from M3M offices in 2011. The company later <a href="">paid back taxes</a> on the money, according to the <em>Washington Post</em>. Last year, a forest official filed a complaint alleging the company <a href="">bribed forest guards</a> to illegally cut trees. We couldn’t find any response from M3M about the alleged bribes.  </p> <p><strong>Their response to us: </strong>None.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The project:</strong> An office tower in Gurgaon</p> <p><strong>What Trump Jr. has billed it as:</strong> “<a href="">One of the most exciting and sought after commercial towers in India and beyond”</a></p> <p><strong>What’s there now: </strong>An empty lot with goats grazing</p> <p><strong>A partner: </strong>IREO</p> <p><strong>The red flags:</strong> Last month, <a href="">two investment companies filed a criminal complaint </a>against IREO for defrauding investors of nearly $150 million. It cites the former CEO, who said he witnessed “various acts of cheating, fraud, and misappropriation of money.”</p> <p><strong>Their response to us: </strong>None. In a letter to investors earlier this month, IREO’s managing director called the charges “false, baseless and devoid of any merit.”</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>The project:</strong> Trump Tower Mumbai</p> <p><strong>What the Trumps have billed it as</strong>: “<a href="">The most spectacular addition to the Mumbai skyline</a>.”</p> <p><strong>What’s there now: </strong>The tower is almost complete</p> <p><strong>A partner: </strong>The Lodha Group</p> <p><strong>The red flags:  </strong>Officials at multiple Indian agencies told Kamat they had been looking into allegations of money laundering, tax fraud, and violations of foreign exchange regulations involving Lodha Group subsidiaries. No charges have been brought.</p> <p><strong>Their response to us: </strong>None. The Lodha Group has previously responded to one reported investigation, saying they were not aware of it.</p> <p> </p> <p>Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization spoke to us for this story.</p> <p>Remember, we want to hear from you. <strong>Our latest request: Do you know of lawsuits the president or his businesses have filed since he took office?</strong></p> <p><strong>You can contact us</strong> via Signal, WhatsApp or voicemail at 347-244-2134. <a href="" target="_blank">Here’s more</a> about how you can contact us securely.</p> <p>You can always email us at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. </p>
Mar 28, 2018
Former Indian Official: Donald Trump Jr. Pushed 'Blatantly Illegal' Project
<p>Last month, Donald Trump Jr. visited India to <a href="">tout new Trump properties</a>. Full page ads in India’s top papers announced, “Trump has arrived. Have you?”</p> <p>It wasn’t Trump Jr.’s first trip to India. "I've been coming to India for over a decade,” he said during the visit. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit needs no further explanation.”</p> <p>This week on Trump Inc., we’re looking at the Trumps’ years-long work in India, where corruption in the real estate industry is endemic.</p> <p>We worked with Investigative Fund reporter Anjali Kamat, whose <a href="">reporting on the Trumps’ business in India</a> appears in the new issue of <em>The New Republic</em>.</p> <p>As with many of the company’s deals abroad, the Trump Organization's India projects are licensing deals. Trump Jr. has been closely involved in much of the work.</p> <p>The Trumps’ first India project, in Mumbai, was halted in early 2012 after investigators found significant “irregularities.” The investigators had been tipped off by a state lawmaker who suspected a possible $100 million fraud scheme and warned of “gross violations” in the project’s plans. Authorities revoked the building’s permits.  </p> <p>A few months later, in April 2012, Trump Jr. traveled to Mumbai and, along with his Indian business partners, met with a top official to try to get the project restarted.</p> <p>Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the equivalent of a U.S. governor, had been told Trump Jr. wanted to discuss investing in the state. But instead, Chavan recalled, Trump Jr. and his partners asked Chavan to overturn the decision to revoke the permits.</p> <p>Chavan declined.</p> <p>“I would get into trouble to sanction something that was blatantly illegal,” he told Kamat. The plans were “not within the existing rules.” (Chavan has described the encounter to the <a href="">New York Times</a> and <a href="">Washington Post</a>, though he has not previously called the project "blatantly illegal.")</p> <p>The Trumps were back in India in 2014, after a new government came into power, Narendra Modi’s political party, the BJP. The Trump Tower Mumbai — a gold-hued skyscraper that the Trump Organization describes as “unlike anything you have ever seen” — is now slated to finished next year. It is one of five Trump-affiliated projects currently under development in India.</p> <p>The Trump Organization said the projects are doing well. One Trump partner said they booked <a href="">$15 million in sales</a> on just one day during the visit by Trump Jr. It was the last day buyers would qualify for an offer by the Trump Organization’s partners to dine with the president’s son. Most of the names of buyers in the Trump projects have not been disclosed.</p> <p>The Trump Organization, the White House and the developers for the projects did not respond to our requests for comment.</p> <p>Remember, we want to hear from you: Do you have information about Trump-branded projects in India? Or do you have photos of them? Let us know.</p>
Mar 21, 2018
Where’d Trump’s Record Inauguration Spending Go? 'It’s Inexplicable'
<p>Last month, the committee that ran President Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities released <a href="">basic details</a> about its revenues and spending. Trump raised $107 million, almost twice the previous record, and spent $104 million. The committee’s tax filing showed that $26 million of the spending went to an event planning firm started in December by a friend of the First Lady.</p> <p>It’s not clear how the firm spent that money, or how most of the money raised for the inauguration was used. The tax filing doesn’t show spending by subcontractors, nor is it required to do so.</p> <p>In this week’s episode of Trump Inc., we dig into the inauguration. We’ve found that even experienced inaugural planners are baffled by the Trump committee’s massive fundraising and spending operation. We also noticed that two members of the inaugural committee have been convicted of financial crimes, and a third — the committee’s treasurer — was reportedly an unindicted co-conspirator in an accounting fraud.</p> <p>Greg Jenkins led President George W. Bush’s second inaugural committee in 2005, which raised and spent $42 million (that would be $53 million in today’s dollars). Asked about how Trump’s team managed to spend so much more, Jenkins said, “It's inexplicable to me. I literally don't know.”</p> <p>“They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins said. “So there's the obvious question: where did it go? I don't know.”</p> <p>Steve Kerrigan, who led both of President Obama’s inaugural committees, agreed. “There was no need for that amount of money,” said Kerrigan.” We literally did two inaugurations for less than the cost of that.”</p> <p>According to Trump’s filing, slightly more than half of the money went to four event-planning companies, including the firm owned by the First Lady’s friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her company, WIS Media Partners, <a href="">paid the co-creator of “The Apprentice,” </a>Mark Burnett, to help with the festivities, as the New York Times reported.  </p> <p>Melania Trump has since cut off her work with Wolkoff after the disclosure of the spending. Wolkoff and WIS Media Partners did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>We asked the White House and the inaugural committee about fundraising and spending related to the inauguration. Officials did not agree to be interviewed on the record.</p> <p>We also looked at members of the inaugural committee, which had about 30 people in leadership and fundraising roles.</p> <p>The committee’s treasurer, Doug Ammerman, was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a tax shelter fraud in the early 2000s, <a href="">according</a> to the Wall Street Journal.  Ammerman was a partner at the accounting firm KPMG, which later <a href="">admitted</a> criminal liability. A Senate <a href="">investigation</a> from the time includes emails from Ammerman suggesting he was aware of the scheme.</p> <p>Ammerman is also currently accused in a shareholder lawsuit of dumping stock in a grilled chicken chain, El Pollo Loco, where he was on the board, ahead of a bad quarterly report. Ammerman did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>The finance vice-chair for the inaugural committee, Elliott Broidy, <a href="">pleaded guilty</a> in 2009 to paying bribes to get investments from the New York State pension fund. His felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor. Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, has also come <a href="">under scrutiny</a> in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Broidy did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>Another inaugural organizer was Rick Gates, the former deputy to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. <a href="">Gates pleaded guilty </a>this year to lying to the FBI and to conspiracy in a vast money laundering scheme, charges that came from Mueller’s office.</p> <p>At the time that Gates worked on the inauguration, he had not been indicted, but his dealings with former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych had already come under scrutiny. Gates’ business partner, Manafort, was forced off of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 after it was reported he got nearly $13 million of undisclosed payments from Yanukovych. Gates did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>We found one more thing that set this inauguration apart: Some of the donations are almost impossible to trace. As the Center for Responsive Politics <a href=";utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=crspost-secret-contributions-to-trump-031318">reports</a>, two “dark money” groups, which do not disclose their donors, gave $1 million each. Trump’s inaugural committee appears to have been the first to accept significant donations from dark money groups.</p> <p>Kerrigan, Obama’s inauguration chief, said he would have rejected a check from a group designed to preserve donor anonymity. “I would have said, ‘Prove who you are and if you can’t pass vet, I’ll have to give the check back,’” Kerrigan said.</p> <p>There are also, of course, many donors we do know about. Like other presidents, Trump raised millions from <a href="">corporate contributions and wealthy individuals</a>. The securities and investment industry contributed the most, nearly $15 million. Other top industries included real estate, casinos, oil and gas, and mining — each of which later benefited from various presidential initiatives and policies. The existence of a contribution, of course, doesn’t mean that’s the reason for a policy change.</p> <p><span><a href="">Click here</a> to explore OpenSecrets’ analysis of inaugural contributions. And <a href="">click here</a> to check out journalist Christina Wilkie’s easy-to-search spreadsheet of inaugural donors. </span></p>
Mar 14, 2018
Son-in-Law Inc: The (Other) Secretive Real Estate Scion in the White House
<p><span>We’ve seen headline after head-spinning headline about Jared Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump. We’ve heard that his company has been on a</span><a href=""><span> global search for cash</span></a><span>, that it </span><a href=""><span>got giant loans</span></a><span> from two big financial institutions after Kushner met with officials from those companies at the White House, and that countries believed they could </span><a href=""><span>manipulate Kushner</span></a><span> through his “complex” business arrangements.</span></p> <p><span>Like his father-in-law, Kushner has not fully divested from his family’s business, <a href="" target="_blank">Kushner Companies</a>. His disclosure forms show he owns at least $761 million in assets. Meanwhile, the company owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt that comes due in less than a year.  <br></span></p> <p><span>All of this while Kushner Companies has worked very hard to keep some of its <a href=""><span>partners a secret</span></a><span>. </span><br></span></p> <p><span>It gets back to a familiar question: How can we know whether Kushner is operating in the interests of the country or his company? </span></p> <p><span>A spokeswoman for the Kushner Companies said in an email that it “is financially very strong” and that “Jared Kushner is not in any way involved in the management of the business.” </span></p> <p><span>Peter Mirijanian, spokesman for Jared Kushner’s attorney, said in a statement Kushner’s meetings are “to hear ideas about improving the American economy” and that he “has followed the ethics advice he has received for all of his work which include the separation from his business and recusals when appropriate.”</span></p> <p><span>Joining us on this episode are </span><a href=""><span>David Kocieniewski</span></a><span> and</span><a href=""><span> Caleb Melby</span></a><span> of Bloomberg, who’ve broken a series of stories about the Kushner Companies' financial stress. They take WNYC and ProPublica on a tour of some of the real estate company's marquee properties.</span></p> <p><span>Then we take a different kind of tour with ProPublica’s </span><a href=""><span>Alec MacGillis</span></a><span>. For the past year, he's been tracking the travails of tenants living in apartment complexes in Baltimore owned by Kushner Companies -- and the extent to which the real estate company has gone to keep its partners secret. </span></p>
Mar 07, 2018
Trump Org Ordered Golf Markers With the Presidential Seal. That May Be Illegal.
<p>Donald Trump loves putting his name on everything from ties to steaks to water — and, of course, his buildings. But now the Trump Organization appears to be borrowing a brand even more powerful than the gilded Trump moniker: the presidential seal.</p> <p>In recent weeks, the Trump Organization has ordered the manufacture of new tee markers for golf courses that are emblazoned with the seal of the President of the United States. Under federal law, the seal’s use is permitted only for official government business. Misuse can be a crime.</p> <p>Past administrations have policed usage vigilantly. In 2005 the Bush administration ordered the satirical news website <em>The Onion</em> to remove a replica of the seal. Grant M. Dixton, associate White House council, wrote in a <a href="">letter to <em>The Onion</em></a> that the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement.”</p> <p>After listening to the new ProPublica/WNYC podcast Trump, Inc., a listener brought the signs to our attention.</p> <p>Eagle Sign and Design, a metalworking and sign company with offices in New Albany, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, said it had received an order to manufacture dozens of round, 12-inch replicas of the Presidential Seal to be placed next to the tee boxes at Trump golf course holes. Two tee markers are placed on the ground at the start of a hole on golf courses to indicate where golfers should stand to take their first swing.</p> <p>“We made the design, and the client confirmed the design,” said Joseph E. Bates, who owns Eagle Sign, declining to say who the client was.</p> <p>An order form for the tee markers reviewed by ProPublica and WNYC says the customer was “Trump International.” The Facebook page for Eagle Sign and Design <a href=";album_id=1673005599426216">shows a photo</a> of the markers in an album with the caption “Trump International Golf Course.”</p> <p>It is unclear how many Trump International golf courses could feature the markers. The Trump Organization owns four courses with the “International” name in the U.S. and abroad, with a fifth course in Bali, Indonesia, in the works.</p> <p>Eagle Sign makes a wide array of tee markers out of bronze and aluminum, and has made other signs for Trump’s courses, according to its website. At some of Trump’s golf courses, tee markers have sported the Trump family crest, which he took from the family that <a href="">originally owned Mar-a-Lago</a> without permission and then altered by adding his own name.</p> <p>Ethics experts have long been on the lookout for signs that the Trump Organization would exploit the office of the presidency for commercial gain. Several said that using the Presidential Seal on the company’s golf courses would fall into this category.</p> <p><a href="">A law governs</a> the manufacture or use of the seal, its likeness, “or any facsimile thereof” for anything other than official U.S. government business. It can be a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in prison.</p> <p>The “law is an expression of the idea that the government and government authority should not be used for private purpose,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University specializing in government and legal ethics said. “It would be a misuse of government authority.”</p> <p>The Department of Justice declined to comment on whether it was aware the seal had been used by entities outside the government. The White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to request for comment.</p> <p>The presidential seal was <a href="">first sketched</a> out by President Millard Fillmore in 1850 and the current design — which shows a bald eagle with an olive branch in its right talon, a bundle of 13 arrows in the left, and a scroll bearing the words “E pluribus unum” in its beak — was chosen by President Truman and made official in a 1945 <a href="">executive order.</a> </p> <p>The seal that adorns the president’s speaking lecterns is <a href="">hand-made</a> by the <a href="">Institute of Heraldry</a>, a department of the Army located at Fort Belvoir in Virginia that designs and provides guidance related to military and governmental symbols.</p> <p>Versions of the seal have occasionally been put to personal use by past presidents. George W. Bush and Barack Obama had custom sets of <a href="">golf balls</a> made with the seal. Ronald and Nancy Reagan had a set of <a href="">presidential china </a>bearing the seal, and there have even been <a href="">M&amp;M’s and jelly-beans</a> that featured the seal.</p> <p>In this case, the difference is that a private company is using the seal, said Richard Painter, vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government accountability group. Painter also served as an associate White House counsel during the George W. Bush administration.</p> <p>“If we had heard of a private company using it for commercial purposes, we would have sent them a nasty letter,” he said.</p> <p><em>Update: After this story was published, the Facebook page with the image of the Presidential Seal golf tee marker was removed.</em></p> <div class="embedded-image" style="max-width: 800px;"><img class="mcePuppyImage" src="" alt=""> <div class="image-metadata"> <div class="image-caption">Screen shot of Facebook page of Eagle Sign &amp; Design.</div> <div class="image-credit">(katherine Sullivan, ProPublica/WNYC/Facebook)</div> </div> </div> <p><em> </em></p> <p> </p> <p> </p>
Mar 05, 2018
The Mysterious Loan Trump Made to Himself and More
<p>Listeners have been sending us lots of questions about President Trump and his businesses. So we sat down with one of the best in the business to answer them. The Washington Post’s <a href="">David Fahrenthold</a> has been digging into Trump for nearly two years. And he’s involved <a href="">readers from the get-go</a>.</p> <p>Among the questions Fahrenthold takes on: How much money has the government spent on Trump properties? How much does it cost taxpayers and does Trump profit when he visits Mar-a-Lago? And who is Trump literally indebted to?</p> <p>Fahrenthold also has his own question for listeners. He’s been looking into Trump’s debts and one loan in particularly piqued his interest: Trump has disclosed at least a $50 million loan from something called “Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC.” And according to Fahrenthold, it turns out Trump also owns that entity. Now, there can be a perfectly good explanation for why Trump would lend money to himself, but he should then also disclose the loan as an asset and Trump didn’t.</p> <p>Fahrenthold wants to know more about “Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC.” (To get started, check out this <a href="">Mother Jones story</a>.) You can <a href="">email</a> Fahrenthold or reach us through our <a href="">tip line</a>. We’ll pass along the message, promise.</p> <p>We also have our own request: Did you have any involvement in Washington, D.C.’s most expensive party ever? Yes, we’re talking about President Trump’s Inauguration.  Perhaps you worked at it? Or attended the Candlelight Dinner? We want to hear from you.</p> <p> </p> <p><em>“Trump, Inc.” is a production of </em><a href=""><em>WNYC Studios</em></a><em> and </em><a href=""><em>ProPublica</em></a><em>. Support our work by visiting </em><a href="!/donation/checkout"><em></em></a><em> or by becoming a </em><a href=""><em>supporting member</em></a><em> of WNYC. </em><a href=""><em>Subscribe here</em></a><em> or wherever you get your podcasts.</em></p>
Feb 28, 2018
Trump, Russia and 'Alternative Financing'
<p>After Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians for an intensive, elaborate effort to interfere with the 2016 elections, President Trump reacted as he has before — with bluster and bellicosity, at <a href="">everyone but Russia</a>.</p> <p>This week on Trump Inc., we’re exploring the president’s, persistent weirdness around Russia: Why has Trump been <a href="">so quiet</a> about Russia and its interference?</p> <p>Glenn Simpson has a theory—that one cannot understand the Russian collusion scandal without understanding Trump’s business.</p> <p>Simpson is the head of Fusion GPS, the investigative firm behind the now-famous Trump dossier. Before that, he was a <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reporter who specialized in the nexus of money, politics and international skullduggery. Simpson was hired, first by conservatives and then by Democrats, to dig into Trump’s business record.</p> <p>Simpson has been pilloried on the right as a tool of the Clinton campaign — or worse. He’s been sued multiple times. But amid all the charges, few have followed the details of what Simpson concluded: After a string of Trump failures, disappointments, and bankruptcies, Western financiers shut him off. Trump still needed money to fund his projects. Where did he get it? Simpson came to believe it came from Russia and Russian-connected sources. It came via golf courses, condos, and other conduits.</p> <p>The eventual result, Simpson suggests, is that Trump ended up beholden to those providing his businesses with “alternative financing.”</p> <p>One note: The Trump Organization and White House declined to answer our questions for the podcast.</p> <p>And remember, we want to hear from you: We’re always eager for tips. We also want to hear your questions. What would you like to know about Trump’s businesses? What confuses you? <a href="">Contact us.</a></p> <p><em>“Trump, Inc.” is a production of </em><a href=""><em>WNYC Studios</em></a><em> and </em><a href=""><em>ProPublica</em></a><em>. Support our work by </em><em>becoming a </em><a href=""><em>supporting member</em></a><em> of WNYC or visiting <a href="!/donation/checkout"><em></em></a>. </em><a href=""><em>Subscribe here</em></a><em> or wherever you get your podcasts.</em></p> <p> </p>
Feb 21, 2018
Money Laundering and the Trump Taj Mahal
<p>Just months before Donald Trump announced his bid for president in 2015, federal regulators announced they were slapping one of his longtime Atlantic City casinos with <a href="" target="_blank">a record-setting $10 million fine</a> for lack of controls around money laundering.</p> <p>The problems went back years. The penalty was actually the second record-setting fine for the Trump Taj Mahal involving money-laundering oversight.</p> <p>What exactly did the Taj fail to do? Casino officials admitted to “willful and repeated” violations of the Bank Secrecy Act: As federal authorities put it in a <a href="">settlement</a>, the Trump Taj Mahal “failed to report suspicious transactions; failed to properly file required currency transaction reports; and failed to keep appropriate records as required.”</p> <p>In this episode of <a href="">Trump, Inc</a>., our podcast with ProPublica, we dig into the now-bankrupt and shuttered Trump Taj Mahal, once one of the biggest and glitziest casinos in the world. It’s a story of chaotic operations, massive debt, and a tendency to treat rules as more like suggestions. Ring a bell?</p> <p>And remember, <a href="">we want to hear from you</a>: We’re always eager for tips. We also want to hear your questions. What would you like to know about Trump’s businesses? What confuses you? We <em>may </em>be able to answer, and even if not, we can at least try to explain why something isn’t known.</p>
Feb 14, 2018
Open For Business
<p>Last year, Trump's attorney Sheri Dillon made a promise to the country: The Trump Organization would donate all the profits its hotels collected from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. But what she didn't mention was what the president would do with the profits from his commercial tenants. According to <a href="" target="_blank">Dan Alexander</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Matt Drange</a> in<em> <a href="">Forbes Magazine</a>, </em>that's where the real money is.</p> <p>The two investigative reporters dug through financial documents, real estate websites and even measured off square footage in some properties with their feet to come up with a $175 million in commercial rent. That's the estimated amount that the president's company is collecting from "law firms that lobby the federal government, banks controlled by foreign states, and big media companies that cover Trump."</p> <p>In this bonus episode of <a href="" target="_blank">Trump Inc.</a>, Alexander tells WNYC's <a href="" target="_blank">Andrea Bernstein</a> how he uncovered these little-known payments to the president's company.</p>
Feb 13, 2018
Trump's 'No Conflict Situation'
<p>A couple of months ago, a few of us from ProPublica and WNYC sat together in a conference room and started scribbling on a whiteboard. We were brainstorming all the possible paths to explore around President Trump and his family businesses.</p> <p>It looked like <a href="">Carrie Mathison’s wall</a> from <em>Homeland. </em>There’s so much that’s still unknown: We don’t know if the president is taking money from his businesses, or what deals are happening, or who his business partners are, who’s providing the financing. It goes on and on.</p> <p>Sitting there, staring at the whiteboard filled with basic, unanswered questions, something occurred to us: That <em>is </em>the story.</p> <p>More than a year into Trump’s presidency, we still have no way to know whether he is making decisions that place his company’s interests — and profits — ahead of the country’s.</p> <p>There’s never been a situation like this before, where the person elected to lead our country owns a sprawling, active business empire. Trump has refused ethics experts’ advice to <a href="">divest himself</a> from his businesses.</p> <p>So we’re trying something new: ProPublica and WNYC are teaming up to launch Trump Inc. It’s a weekly podcast that will start with questions, not answers.</p> <p>We’re thinking of it as an “open investigation.” We’ll be laying out what we know and what we don’t. And we’re inviting everyone — our journalism colleagues elsewhere, experts, tipsters and<em> anyone else </em>interested — to join us in the quest for answers.</p> <p>In our first episode, we take a breath, roll back a year, and lay out how we got to this point, where it’s almost impossible to see the line between Trump the president and Trump the CEO. </p> <p>In his first year, the president spent <a href="">a third of his time at a Trump-owned property</a>. He promoted his winery in Virginia during a press conference about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. He plugged his New Jersey golf resort at an official speech in South Korea. And his daughter and son had nearly simultaneous business in India: one official, one private. The lines are blurred.</p> <p>We’re trying to make sense of this situation, and we want to hear from you. We’re always eager for tips, so <a href="">contact us</a>. We also want to hear your questions. What would you like to know about Trump’s businesses? What confuses you? We <em>may </em>be able to answer, and even if not, we can at least try to explain why something isn’t known.</p>
Feb 07, 2018
Coming Soon: 'Trump Inc.' the Podcast
<p>Donald J. Trump is president, yet we're still trying to answer basic questions about how his family business works. In the new podcast <em>Trump Inc.</em>, WNYC Studios and ProPublica jointly investigate and report on the central mysteries of the Trump Organization, laying out what we know, what we don't and how you can help fill in the gaps.</p> <p>The first episode airs February 7, 2018.</p> <p>If you know something we should know, tell us. Here’s how: Send us a Signal or WhatsApp message, or leave a voicemail at 347-244-2134.</p> <p>You can also use the postal service:</p> <p>Trump Inc at ProPublica</p> <p>155 Ave of the Americas, 13th Floor</p> <p>New York, NY 10013</p> <p>Here’s more about <a href="">how you can contact us securely</a>.</p> <p>And, finally, you can always email us tips at <a href=""></a></p> <p><span>Finally, while you should definitely use secure channels like Signal or WhatsApp to send or talk about anything sensitive or non-public, you can always email us other tips at </span><a href=""></a> </p> <p> </p> <p><em>Trump Inc. is a production of <a href="">WNYC Studios</a> and <a href="">ProPublica</a>. Support our work by becoming a <a href="">supporting member</a> of WNYC or visiting <a href="!/donation/checkout"></a>.</em></p>
Feb 05, 2018