Foiling a Good Walk

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Don’t be surprised if Donald Trump decides to spend even more time at his golf courses between now and 2020. He should be worried if the courses will remain a part of the Trump organization let alone how much more time he can spend golfing in his lifetime.

At two points during the House Oversight Committee hearing this past Wednesday, Trump’s golf courses came up.

When Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked Michael Cohen about the “catch-and-kill” program by which Trump avoided being publicly exposed by his extra marital sexual partners, Cohen explained why he ended up financing the payment to Stormy Daniels (Miss Clifford).

Transcript (01:45:13) —

Cohen: Well, going back into the story as I stated when we — Allen Weisselberg and I — left the office and went to his office to make the determination on how the money was going to be wired to the IOLA, the interest on the lawyer’s account for Keith Davidson in California, I had asked Allen to use his money. I didn’t want to use mine. He said he couldn’t. We then decided how else we could do it and he asked me whether or not I know anybody that wants to have a party at one of his clubs that could pay me instead or somebody who may have wanted to become a member of one of the golf clubs. And I also don’t have anybody that was interested in that. And it got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either we — somebody — wire the funds and purchase the life rights to the story from Miss Clifford or it was going to end up being sold to television and that would have embarrassed the president and it would have interfered with the election.

In his response, Cohen shares three different methods used to launder money, two of which would have gone through a Trump golf course. In a previous post examining profiteering and money laundering through a golf club, these same methods were mentioned as possibilities. A new member’s initiation fee could easily match the amount needed to pay off Miss Cliffords as could charges or fees for a single event held at a Trump course.

Given Cohen’s inability to say how many ‘catch-and-kill’ stories Trump or his organization had to pay off, it’s reasonable to suspect golf courses have been used this way to launder hush money let alone launder money for other purposes.

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortes asked Cohen about the property value of a Trump golf course after noting the exceptionally sweet deal Trump org received when developing the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, New York.

Transcript (04:50:13) —

Ocasio-Cortes: Thank you very much. The last thing here. The Trump golf organization currently has a golf course in my home borough of the Bronx and Queens. In fact, the Washington Post reported on the Trump links Bronx course in an article titled, ‘Taxpayers Built this Golf Course and Trump Reaps the Rewards’. Many learned that taxpayers spent $127 million to build Trump links in a, quote, generous deal allowing President Trump to keep almost every dollar that flows in on a golf course built with public funds. And this doesn’t seem to be the only time the president has benefited at the expense of the public. Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about your assertion that the president may have improperly devalued his assets to avoid paying taxes. According to an August 21st 2016 report by the Washington Post, while the president claimed in financial disclosure forms that the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was worth more than $50 million, he had reported otherwise to local tax authorities thaAt the course was worth, quote, no more than $5 million. Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?

Cohen: It’s identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.

Briarcliff offers a good example of Trump org’s treatment of municipal regulations as well as state and local laws. The course management damaged the local storm sewage system with unauthorized modifications, causing damage to residents’ and Ossining’s property. Goodwill was further damaged by years of fighting local tax assessments:

Nowhere has the conflict between the tax assessments on Trump’s properties and his claims of soaring value been more apparent than in Ossining, New York, where his lawyers argued to the city assessor that his Westchester County golf club was worth $1.4 million in 2015, less than a tenth of its appraised value. On the financial disclosure statement candidates are required to file, he valued it at more than $50 million. The city assessor’s office, which valued the property at $15 million, did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump and his organization fought the valuations of all Trump courses in Florida over the last handful of years as well as Mar-a-Lago and several small non-golf estates. The value of the Jupiter course, reported as $50 million on financial disclosure forms furnished to the government, was estimated by Palm Beach County at $19.7 million. But Trump org sued Palm Beach for a fifth time disputing the county’s valuation, electing to pay taxes on a property worth $5 million less than the county’s estimate.

Trump org also appealed its tax bill for the Trump National Doral Golf Club; they’ve tried for each of the last five years to shave its tax liability with Miami-Dade county. They weren’t sucessful.

Briarcliff and the Florida golf clubs aren’t the only courses for which Trump’s organization claimed lower property values in order to avoid tax obligations.

Trump National Golf Course in Hudson Valley, New York, was assessed at $6 million; the organization claims the property is only worth $2 million. The Trump organization doesn’t own the real estate, operating instead as a lessee. It’s not clear if ownership factors into Trump org’s argument against paying higher taxes; the municipality charges the lessee, however.

The Bedminster course was used to claim a $39.1 million federal tax deduction in 2005 relying on a land conservation rule, and a deduction as farmland because the course kept a small number of goats on the premises.

The Los Angeles course may be the most confusing to make sense of its value. Trump said it was worth $264 million when it opened in 2006, claimed it was worth at least $50 million on federal financial disclosure filings, but only $10 million when filing property taxes in 2008.

While the average business makes a reasonable effort to reduce its tax burden, the Trump organization made it a pattern of habit, particularly with its golf course businesses. It’s odd that each course’s asset valuation established by a local municipality was questioned multiple years in a row, even when the municipality had already gone out of its way to provide unusual benefits to the Trump organization (ex. a long-term lease of county-owned property adjoining the West Palm Beach airport while allowing the course to contest the value the county assigned to the real estate).

The pattern of behavior was tightly entwined with asset inflation for other purposes. One reason was for bank loans, elevating the amount the Trump organization could borrow. Cohen testified that he knew Deustche Bank had received these arbitrary numbers.

Rep. William Clay (D-MO) asked about specific Trump organization financial statements from 2011, 2012, and 2013 Cohen had in his possession pertaining to Trump and his organization, with regard specifically to manipulation of asset values.

Transcript (01:48: ) —

Clay: Thank you…can you explain why you had these financial statements and what you used them for?

Cohen: These were used by me for two purposes. One was discussing with media, whether Forbes or other magazines, to demonstrate Mr. Trump’s significant net worth. That was one function. Another was when we were dealing later on with insurance companies. We would provide them with copies so that they would understand that the premium on the individuals’ capabilities to pay would be reduced.

It’s not clear whether Cohen meant individuals singular or plural. The proliferation of disparities between asset valuations reported by media, by members of the Trump family and organization, and by different government entities now makes more sense — the confusion allows easy misrepresentation of value for insurance purposes.

Transcript (04:43.46) —

Ocasio-Cortes: Okay, thank you. Secondly, I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

Cohen: Yes.

Mr. Trump’s federal financial disclosure statements need to be audited for false statements if they were completed using manipulated asset data.

The House Oversight Committee now has testimony and evidence suggesting further investigation into bank and insurance fraud by Trump and the Trump organization is warranted.

But it isn’t the House Oversight Committee alone which should now investigate insurance fraud. While insurance in the U.S. must comply with federal law, it’s regulated at state level. Insurance commissioners and state attorneys general in each state where the Trump organization owns, operates, and insures businesses including golf courses should now review Trump’s insurers and policies. How did insurers write policies for Trump organization for so long given the disparities between property values established by municipalities and the asset values published by so many different media outlets?

It’s easy to see there’s a problem with the perception of Trump org’s asset valuations by comparing a few articles written about the golf courses. Outside Florida it’s not well known that Trump org doesn’t own the real estate underneath Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s even less well known that Trump org does not own the real estate beneath the Hudson Valley, New York course. Many articles reported, however, that these courses are wholly owned by Trump without any additional detail about what assets are included.

How has this gap in public knowledge been used?

The entire financial industry needs to take a good look at itself and consider how it may have been played. Cohen mentioned media outlets like Forbes coming to him for asset valuations which they published, replicating and dispersing deceit read most often by finance people. Because he appeared to own multiple golf courses in addition to other real estate, the perception of Trump’s wealth wasn’t adequately questioned.

It will hurt not only municipalities if Trump org golf courses were to suddenly cease operations.

This is an open thread.

97 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Sorry, gang, this piece probably contains typos and spelling errors as I am working on an unfamiliar device over a glitchy network. Please leave a reply with any corrections you think are needed. Thanks.

    I, for one, have been salivating over the prospect of more state-based investigations since I heard these questions put to Cohen. He must have teased or anticipated them based on what he submitted in his written statement.

    • Bri2k says:

      Another fantastic article, Rayne and I didn’t spot any obvious issues at first glance. I’m thrilled to see Trump the Tax Cheat finally get his yet astonished he’s gotten away with such obvious chicanery for so long. I think his tax crimes will ultimately do him in and are easier to explain and prove than his other more heinous acts.

    • Pete says:

      I dunno about hope that any FL State level agency will investigate Trump golf courses. NY – sure. CA (LA) – probably. In FL maybe the local counties and, like you revealed above, Miami-Dade (for his Doral course) didn’t cave on the valuation for tax purposes. Not sure about Palm Beach County, but while the county government has ample reason to not be very accommodating to Trump, there is also a lot of pro-Trump moneyed interests there moneyed anti-Trump interests, too – it’s complicated.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Definitely complicated in FL. May be problems on the state level. But there are absolutely dedicated people behind the scenes who are working hard to untangle and deal with the Trump trash.

      • InfiniteLoop says:

        There’s a reason that Trump is so chummy with former FL AG Pam Bondi. Her replacement was elected last fall on a pro-Trump platform. I am not holding my breath for that office to step up.

    • harpie says:

      Rayne, I can’t find the info you’re referring to here:
      [quote] The course management damaged the local storm sewage system with unauthorized modifications, causing damage to residents’ and Ossining’s property [end quote]
      I think you’re referring to storm run-off…anyway, the systems are sometimes referred to as “storm sewers”, but in this instance, most people would probably say “storm drain system”. Not important, but just something I noticed…

        • harpie says:

          Thank you! I guess they are referring to Michael Cohen when they say:
          [quote] Trump denies the [2011] allegations, with his lawyer claiming to have an email from someone behind the lawsuit stating the flooding was caused by the extent of the rain and Trump was not to blame. [end quote]
          Remember [quote] “Cohen brought Trump’s partial financial records for 2011-2013 that Cohen alleged showed that Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets to obtain a loan in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills [end quote]
          That’s from Ken Gude’s thread:

          [quote] I don’t think people have appropriately processed the incredible number of felonies that Cohen directly implicated Trump in today. [end quote]

      • Rayne says:

        When I wrote ‘storm sewage’ I meant the drains underground which carry storm water, not sanitary sewers which carry waste water. There’s at least one photo out there showing a community sports field flooded with a storm drain mid-field spewing water under pressure. “Storm run-off’ is frequently above ground and in my part of the midwest, runs in open drains.

        • harpie says:

          Yeah. The systems are planned for a certain amount of rainfall, and square acres covered; have to be designed with a corresponding amount of pitch to an end point body of water or retention basin; and the grates have to be kept clear of leaves and other obstructions…all of which takes time and planning and costs towns money. That’s why they require building permits for construction projects.
          Sorry, I know you know all this, but SOME people flaunt all the rules and despise all the regulations, and it makes me angry.

    • Ollie says:

      rayne: Listen. I was perusing twitter and found a link to a new entry from EW. I clicked on it and it took me to a site that looks just like this. The story was on Comey. See those arrows to the rt/left? When I clicked on one it had just one word: rubbish. I went to the other side and it read when clicked: trash.

      The comments were ramblings. At the bottom the page had: comments closed. I have no idea if this is a worry. It might be nothing but do you want the link to the screenshot I took of it? Ollie

      I also twittered bmaz but I don’t know if he’s there or would even reply to me. I hope I’m being helpful. Truthfully it kinda freaked me out….

  2. Ollie says:

    Something like 64 subpoenas going out next week….all stimulated by Cohen
    ‘s testimony. I guess he’s coming back Wed. again. Trump’s gonna be in town too.

    Then I just read that Trump has to pay legal fees on his golf course legal battle in Scotland. He’s been fighting for years to block power wind mills. HAHAHA I guess he made reference to it today, via tweet, talking about an opportunity for UK and US relationships….The reporter (I think it was a UK media) said that was the most blatant Trumps been in violation of the Emoluments clause.

    I’ve spent the weekend watching Oliver Stones: History of the US/Netflix and damn. If they can do what they’ve done in the past, why it gives even more fear when remembering Cohen’s statement (warning) at the end of his testimony: If Trump doesn’t win in 2020? It will be the end of easy transitions.

    Loved Jim Jones on SNL! OMG I’ve watched that skit at least a dozen times..

    • Ollie says:

      Request for documents NOT subpoenas! My error, apologize.

      and 81 NOT 64 requests for documents via twitter.

  3. Gnome de Plume says:

    Those financial techniques have been around ever since speculation was invented. I worked with and for real estate developers for 40 years. I know a lot of guys who were caught and busted for creative “bookkeeping” and financing. Trump never got caught because he was a relatively small fish in a giant pool of sharks.

    • TruthCanHurt says:

      Yep, they’ll surely find what they’re looking for at TrumpWorld, the reality is this is like speeding. Most every large company and RealEstate brokers cook their books. I’ve said before – American business is crooked by design. If the books of the Dow companies were investigated a few of them would go under and sink the whole market, for example. They need to get him on other stuff than corporate speeding and it sure looks like they will.

      • Rayne says:

        Bring evidence before making claims like “every large company” cooks their books. Since Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted post-Enron, publicly-held corporations have been subject to much tighter regulations governing their financial statements.

        Trump and his organization have gotten away with so much bullshit because Trump org is both litigious and a privately-held holding company structure.

        • Jockobadger says:

          You got it, Rayne. Privately-held and from what I’ve read, an exceptionally small company. Apparently staffed entirely by family and/or sycophants/bootlickers a la Cohen. Great piece, btw. Thanks as usual. jb

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Exactly. Even by closely held private company standards, Trump’s supposedly billion dollar company employs exceptionally few people and little structure or organization.

          Trump’s mythology notwithstanding, he has no experience managing anything large: no complex systems and structures, little business planning and analysis, few people, little interplay among investments and operations except moving money, and no experience in long term people or project management. Little coordination and no discipline. He’s an empty marketing suit.

          Trump moves from project to unrelated project, stringing them together with his name and a cashflow chart. Most of the “talent” needed for each is outsourced: architects, lawyers, accountants, local liaisons and government relations types, and so on. He hires and fires at will, for the most irrational of reasons, in part because he believes that the only things that count are what he does personally.

          The consequences are as public as his books about what a great deal maker he is. Failed companies, serial bankruptcies, zero bankability. All he has is his hype, and the guys who need him from project to project.

          • Jockobadger says:

            It’s weird but trump reminds me so much of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or as he was known around here, the Bhagawind Shree Rajneesh. Must be all the corruption, vile noise and salmonella.

  4. Devlin says:

    Seems like the article ends abruptly with the final sentence not clearly connected to the rest of the piece.

  5. Onionguy says:

    On a lighter note. Several calls have been made to continue the Mueller investigation at State level. Robert Mueller and his team have almost completed the interview of all resident of New Jersey. To stay within the guidelines provided by the executive branch, the enquiry has focused on residents weighing between 390lb and 410lb. While this was branded as overreach by the Federalist Society who insisted that the potential hackers should weigh exactly 400lb, their appeal was rejected by the courts. The state prosecutors are now considering a much wider enquiry, and plan to interview all individuals weighing between 350 and 450 pounds in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

  6. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    Not the least bit surprised to learn any of this. I’ve suspected all along that Donnie was more likely to get nabbed for financial crimes than anything else, especially if the charges originate at the state as opposed to federal level.

    Does NYS have anything like a RICO act on its books?

    Hope the kids go down w/ him.

  7. harpie says:

    Thanks for this series, Rayne!
    Ollie mentions the Scottish Courses at 1:13 AM above. Trump has to pay the legal bills for years of litigation about wind turbines which are now in place and generating power. This was reported by BBC on 2/28.
    At 5:31 AM – 2 Mar 2019 Trump tweeted the following, with a photo linked to an advertising blurb:
    [quote] Very proud of perhaps the greatest golf course anywhere in the world. Also, furthers U.K. relationship! [end quote]
    Judd Legum has a screenshot here, and says:
    [quote] For Trump, there is no distinction between his business and the presidency. It’s all one grift. [end quote]

    • harpie says:

      David Frum writes:
      [quote] 1) The two Trump golf courses in Scotland have lost something like $200 million under Trump management. The losses are covered by loans from the Trump Organization. But where is that money coming from? Trump Co doesn’t have anything like sufficient income / 2) Trump bought the land for his Aberdeen golf course in 2006 and Turnberry in 2014. By then, no reputable lender wd deal with him. How did he find the cash to buy the properties? […] [end quote]
      When Rayne wrote above…:
      [quote] Given Cohen’s inability to say how many ‘catch-and-kill’ stories Trump or his organization had to pay off, it’s reasonable to suspect golf courses have been used this way to launder hush money let alone launder money for other purposes. [end quote]
      …I immediately thought of these golf courses. I think it was reported in The Guardian lately about the huge amount of money being laundered in the UK. I’ll see if I can find that.
      David Frum [link above] also mentions that the tweet
      [quote] also directly linked the US-UK relationship to his golf courses. Was that some kind of request? Or threat? [end quote]
      Susan Simpson’s thread is good on this:
      [quote] This is just a breathtaking level of corruption. / This tweet is way scarier. / […] / Trump’s explicit message was: “My golf course in Scotland is important to the US’s relationship with the UK.” // And his barely-implicit message was: “If the UK takes a position that is adverse to my golf course, US foreign policy will take a position that is adverse to the UK.” / And of course, Trump has foreign business interests in countries all over the world. / […] / It’s naked corruption. The ugliest kind — not just a request for a handout, but the use of U.S. foreign policy as a weapon against an ally, to coerce them into giving favorable treatment to the president’s private business. /end

      • BobCon says:

        There has been a potent astroturf campaign against offshore wind power in the US, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also paying Trump’s legal bills in Scotland.

        The astroturfers have done a good job dredging up useful idiots — Robert “Antivax” Kennedy is probably the most famous — and Trump certainly fits the bill.

        • P J Evans says:

          The problem is that wind turbines are turning out to be better than the anti-wind people claim. Offshore is more reliable – assuming you have suitable locations – than most onshore, but still, you can put turbines in a lot of places.
          (I remember commuting for several days past a trainload of turbine parts that was parked on a side track running through a station: they have special cars to handle those long blades. Just like they have special cars to handle welded rails for the tracks.)

      • John boy says:

        Simple 19th century imperialism. No longer tolerated. Interesting Great Britain is the target, the greatest imperialists of the world’s most imperialistic century.

  8. Hops says:

    Op-ed in the NYT today looks at how Giuliani prosecuted Mafia under RICO when he was at SDNY. If Trump Org has a RICO problem, they and their lawyers surely know it. Could that be why the otherwise seemingly inept Rudy is on the team? Because of his insight into how SDNY would go about RICO?

    • Peterr says:

      No. There is nothing about Rudy’s legal chops that got him on Trump’s team. Nothing at all.

      Rudy is part of Team Trump because (a) in Trump’s mind, getting Rudy’s seal of approval means he’s closer to getting the approval of NYC’s Powers That Be that he has craved all his life; and (b) Rudy makes for good tv, and has shown himself to be willing to say whatever is needed — truth be damned — to defend Trump.

  9. J. Adams Jefferson says:

    Good morning, Rayne. I must have been paying too much attention to what you’re saying, because I didn’t notice a single typo or glitch. Point is, you make your points very well; and that’s what matters, anyway.

    I’ve been playing with toys on Medium just now, and I also feel pretty crude with the toolbox there. (Similarly, I don’t have any buttons with this browser connection, so this isn’t going to look/feel the way I want.) Not meaning to change your topic, or take too much advantage of an open thread, but part of my meaning is that all of this is related (the emptywheel-go-round):

    jason leopold’s buzzkill affair, news real and not-real, and the emptywheel-go-round (or, how I re-memeorandum’d gabe rivera’s wikipedium)

    part one

    in which our newstream is surreptitiously commandeered,
    cultural evolution is factored as communication quantum
    and an intrepid philosopher presumes to decode the soul of mitch mcconnell

    I’m done with my work, and about to log off; but I wanted to leave a mark here first (it’s really a poem for all of you).

    Consider this the author’s dedication:

    dear marcy
    thank u

  10. Michael says:

    re: Devlin March 4, 2019 at 1:23 am
    “Seems like the article ends abruptly with the final sentence not clearly connected to the rest of the piece.”

    I agree. I read it twice.

      • Old Antarctic Explorer says:

        David Cay Johnston says -$300 Million, which is an interesting number given the amount of the Moscow Trump Tower deal. Don’t have a link for that, but it was on a TV show or a blog interview.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump is famous for assessing his wealth by looking only at his assets. For example, he would count the self-inflated value of a property, but ignore the oversized mortgage on it. Trump adds goodwill – for him, his name – at whatever inflated value he needs to make his numbers look good. When the tax man comes round, he just uses different numbers.

      A CPA wanting to keep her license and stay out of prison would calculate net worth by reducing asset values by the amount of debt and other obligations associated with those assets. She would also be careful when determining what constituted an asset. Leaseholds, management rights, and contractual naming rights, for example, do not amount to full ownership rights, a distinction Trump does not always make.

      There’s a reason Trump went bankrupt six times and why no responsible bank will lend to him, which makes it interesting that Deutsche Bank, Trump’s last bank lender, is reportedly cooperating with Bob Mueller.

  11. harpie says:

    This is a blockbuster story from Jane Mayer that just came out: 4:13 AM – 4 Mar 2019
    [quote] New from me: Fox News HAD the story of Trump’s hush money payoffs to Stormy Daniels BEFORE the election but killed it because the reporter said she was told, “Good reporting Kiddo, but Rupert Murdoch wants Donald Trump to win. So set it aside.” Reporter sued, is bound by an NDA. [end quote]
    Links to: The Making of the Fox News White House Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?

  12. Badger Robert says:

    Golf club memberships depend somewhat on the course owner’s future political influence. As prospects for future presidential success decline, the potential membership purchasers have a lower opinion of the value of the membership. In addition, if substantial criminal investigations attach to the owner of the course, members seeking privacy begin to shy away.
    With respect to the Trump organization, new money has always been an important goal. International oligarchs are now the final source. As soon as Trump’s poll numbers are irretrievable, that source is likely to disappear also.
    The Schiff Committee investigation attacks Trump at his greatest psychological weakness, his compulsion to be a billionaire. However a RICO investigation in SDNY has much more power and can catch more family members and threaten more assets. It is the primary legal threat. A RICO case does not have to be completely successful in order to have a devastating impact. The simplest threat is the abuse of power investigation by the Nadler committee. The standard was announced by William Barr. The evidence naturally flows from allies who were charged and convicted. The impact on Senators from the states on the plains and in the mountain areas would be hard to control.
    Being President is not private. And Trump needed the shroud of privacy to continue in order to protect his scams. It appears he did not fully comprehend what would happen if he won. To the extent he did think it through, he thought he could control the results.

    • bmaz says:

      And to Hops @9:00 am – No, nothing has evolved. RICO is still a joke. And I do not care what Glen Kirschner says in the least. Glen is making bank keeping himself in and on the news.

      I will say this though, if there was ever to be an attempt at RICO, it would almost certainly be state based, not federal. Maybe NY is that foolish and desirous of attention to make an idiotic charge.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      As has been said here frequently, if a prosecutor can establish the predicate crimes necessary to establish a RICO claim, she would prosecute those and ignore the unnecessary extra time, cost, work and distractions for the jury and press of establishing, in effect, a meta-claim based on RICO.

      • Badger Robert says:

        Regardless of whether it is practical, if a RICO investigation stays in the news, it scares away new money. The threat has not provoked Trump to fire the prosecutors at this point, but that would be his remedy.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Pursuing RICO is like a hamster-on-a-wheel trying to finish the race. The only way to do it is to stop.

          • david_l says:

            I’m sure FIFA, the Catholic Church, Len Fasano, and Scott Rothstein would agree, as would the various opioid pharmas being sued by FL AG Bondi under the FL RICO Act…

            • bmaz says:

              Earl is right. It is extremely unlikely there will be a RICO case, especially federal. More traditional crimes, yes.

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Attacking FIFA and the Catholic Church was shootin’ ducks on a pond. Going after a state senator and a middling law firm partner cum Ponzi scheme pusher, who ripped off wealthier capitalists, does not require much juice. It would take more, say, to go after any of the top dozen abusers of family business organizations and charitable trusts in Manhattan.

              Pam Bondi going after opioid abuse drugs companies? As Gandhi apocryphally said about western civilization, it would be a good idea.

              She filed suit long after other states and cities had already done so, and three months after her embarrassing Trump and NRA supporting response to the school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

              “Bondi has been repeatedly criticized for taking so long to file. Already, hundreds of cities, counties and states have filed lawsuits against the same companies….After her announcement Tuesday, Democratic candidates applauded the filing but criticized how long it’s taken.”


              My guess is that Bondi, a Trump loyalist in the mold of Kirstjen Nielsen, more often considers corporate malfeasance a networking and fundraising opportunity.

              • david_l says:

                “It would take more, say, to go after any of the top dozen abusers of family business organizations and charitable trusts in Manhattan.”

                I agree completely. But I think the calculus of the upside of going after, and the downside of not going after, the now politically lower and lower hanging Trump fruit (as opposed to e.g., longtime under the radar cave dweller families) is changing now that so many entities (local, state, federal) with prosecutorial powers are investigating and much of the public wants to see some blood.

                One of these entities is (I think) going to pull the trigger bigly on a slam dunk case if only for the credit, and most of the rest will have to follow pdq with theirs if they calculate that’s the right side to be on and they want to be on it, which they will. And one of them – likely more – will want to be able to say “We killed TTO, got all their assets for the taxpayers, and sent them all to prison.”

                And Bondi: totally agree. The president has more than indicated that he’s going to go after the opioid manufacturers so as to give them time to cover their tracks as much as they can, and Decline-to-Prosecute-Trump-FLCharity Bondi wants to be on the right side when reelection donation time rolls around…

                • earlofhuntingdon says:

                  Trump will pursue opioid crisis inducing drugs companies with oxymoronic “all deliberate speed.”

                  He knows the people they most abuse are his base. But he’s not shown the slightest interest in policies that actually help his base. He is, on the other hand, all for corporate power and the accountability-free ability to abuse it, especially if the result is to make billions.

                  In the same way, he is reflexively approving of foreign state potentates who abuse theirs. He sees himself in them. Letting them off scot-free is his way of doing the same for himself.

  13. david_l says:

    “The pattern of behavior was tightly entwined with asset inflation for other purposes. One reason was for bank loans, elevating the amount the Trump organization could borrow. Cohen testified that he knew Deustche Bank had received these arbitrary numbers.”


    “Mr. Trump’s federal financial disclosure statements need to be audited for false statements if they were completed using manipulated asset data.”

    It seems a virtual certainty that TTO communicated with insurance companies (as well as banks and local, state, and federal tax authorities) by email, fax, and regular mail.

    If knowingly false statements “for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice” were included in such communications, 18 U.S. Code § 1343. Fraud by wire, radio, or television, sets out the crimes and the penalties: “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

    Manafort’s former son in law was indicted in November 2018 and “According to the [Attorney for the Central District of California] press release, Yohai submitted inflated appraisals in seeking to refinance two of the properties at issue in the first case. Yohai also sought to defraud the owner of a rental property with a $60,000 check he falsely claimed was remitted from his ex-wife’s account, the release said. Yohai faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the newly unsealed complaint, the release said.”

    I would imagine that SDNY’s conversations with Cohen and Weisselberg touched on these matters…

  14. Michael says:

    The Donald said he’d like to be buried on the Bedminster golf course. (I read it a year or two ago; don’t have a link to the article)

    I wonder: what roadblocks would hallowed ground throw up (no pun) to new owner of that playground if she desires to put, say, a fish pond where Donald reposes?

    • P J Evans says:

      Apparently there’s a mausoleum at Bedminster, somewhere, so putting in a fishpond at that location would require a few more permits.

  15. A. Non says:

    Everyone is on board when assets are inflated for the purposes of securing a loan. The lender gets to make a bigger loan, with larger interest payments, which are booked immediately as revenue and go straight to employee bonuses and promotions. The borrower gets more money or a lower interest rate. That dynamic is the heart of all the subprime lending crises we’ve experienced over the past 40 years.

    • Rayne says:

      Which is why I was infuriated by recent bipartisan attempts to weaken post-crash regulations on finance (I’m looking at you, Sen. Peters). There must be sticks as well as carrots applied to lenders to deincentivize the inflation.

    • Njrun says:

      Um, if the loan is not repaid because it is too large, the benefit to the lender is short-lived.

      As I’ve said before, bankers did not come out ahead in the financial crisis, despite what people think. The income of investment bankers in the mortgage industry has gone down dramatically because there are few deals and not many fees being generated. I’m not saying feel sorry for them, but whatever gains they had for a few years by writing and selling poorly underwritten loans was short-lived.

      My question about this article is what exactly are the illegal acts being alleged? It’s not illegal to challenge assessments, nor is illegal to claim to be wealthier than you are. It is illegal to apply for a loan with knowingly false information, but I didn’t recall any specific examples of that mentioned. I’m not saying Trump isn’t a crook and hasn’t done all sorts of fraud, just wondering if there are specific examples known.

      • P J Evans says:

        Undervaluing property to reduce taxes owed, while at the same time claiming much higher values for the same property when selling condos/memberships/”investment opportunities”, may not be illegal by the letters of the laws, but it’s definitely on the shady side and should result in investigations.

      • Rayne says:

        Note the questions House Oversight Committee members asked about asset valuations furnished to insurance companies. Cohen said yes, values had been inflated. This is a flag for further investigation with an eye to insurance fraud.

        The federal financial statements’ asset valuations do not agree with the amounts claimed with local tax authorities; there have been no known attempts to correct these amounts. This is a flag for further investigation into false statements.

        Both flags suggest valuations provided to lenders should also be examined with an eye to bank fraud, especially since money laundering appeared to be a regular consideration (that is to say, it was considered and not rejected out of hand as a solution to a problem).

        The point is that there was ample reason for more investigation into Trump org finances before and after the election, with the golf businesses being particularly problematic.

        • P J Evans says:

          There was that fairly obvious fraud at Mar-al-Ego, where they claimed something like $200K in hurricane damage that no one working there knew anything about – they could only document about $30K in damage.

      • A. Non says:

        When was the last time a lender clawed back the bonuses and promotions it granted to its employees and officers for making big profitable-appearing loans that eventually defaulted?

  16. I Never Lie and am Always Right says:


    Yup. Wire fraud and mail fraud. Less likely, but worth looking at, is bank fraud. Deutsche Bank presumably is a federally insured financial institution.

    It may turn out that the easiest tax crime to prove is filing a materially false tax return, or tax perjury, under 7206(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. Under this section, the government does not needs to prove that a taxpayer understated their income. Proof of an intentional materially false statement on an income tax return, such as misstating your occupation or failing to check the box on Schedule B that says you have a foreign bank account when you have such an account, can support an indictment and conviction.

    There are cases where persons have been charged and convicted under 7206(1) for overstating their income. Such a charge would make sense in conjunction with a charge of loan fraud.

  17. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Excellent, timely, and pregnant article. I expect AOC will pursue this, as will others in Congress whose districts include a Trump property. It is important that they do.

    Trump is not a small fish, he is a well-oiled one. That’s more of a reason his decades of financial crimes have been ignored. There are lots of powerful, well-heeled actors who engage in similar extraordinarily aggressive financial manipulations. They are politically hard and dangerous to prosecute, they ordinarily hide their manipulations better than does Trump, and they hire exceptional accountants and lawyers to defend their practices. The latter have incentive to work hard on these accounts: they typically have other clients in the same boat, many of whom have relied on their professional opinions to hide their suspect actions.

    Most prosecutors do not have the juice to go after them, their patrons do not ordinarily have the will for them to do that. A common trade-off is to accept political donations from them instead. The Epstein case in Florida is a recent example of the problem.

    As in so many other ways, Trump’s behavior is a field guide for necessary legal reforms. For example, tax and accounting changes should prohibit multiple valuations of the same property. Private companies should be subject to more financial disclosures. Party nominees for president should be subject to rigid and repeated financial and health disclosures; the latter should include a mental health component used elsewhere in the military. The PRA should be strengthened. If presidential records are the property of the people, they should be held, organized and made available by the USG. It is the former president who should be required to seek access to them, not the people.

    • david_l says:


      I agree entirely on the prosecution issue and Eisinger ( gives part of the story. (Also agree on the transparency issues.)

      We’ll see whether SDNY tries to do to Weisselberg what Mueller tried to do to Manafort. Weisselberg (age 71) must be assessing this eventuality, would not want to die in prison, and has (I think) a different calculation regarding what would happen to him if he cooperates.

      New York State is, and will continue to be, under a lot of pressure to go after TTO and the family. The state legislature is now controlled by Democrats, NY AG James has reinvigorated the Foundation investigation, Weisselberg signed the checks, and Cohen gave them documents. And Cyrus Vance, jr., the NY County prosecutor, may be forced to finally “do the right thing” – or else.

      It will be interesting to see if all these prosecutorial stakeholders can calculate their ways out of doing something with significant impact.

      My hunch is that there are so many competing agendas that a couple of the many entities addressing pieces of the whole ball of wax will do something major and, at that point, most of the others will be unable to not do anything. I imagine that is part of the Democrats’ “Investigate Everything” calculation…

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I think it’s important that these state actions be prepared and that state attorneys general be ready to act on short notice. Unless Trump is criminally prosecuted by the feds, once Trump is no longer in office, he will become a back burner issues. That will make it harder to maintain the coalition of power needed to prosecute him.

        Unless and until his assets are subject to lien or recovery, Trump will be able to use the usual high-powered lawyers to keep him unaccountable. Not that he will necessarily use them: he’s a cheap shit and still thinks that he’s as immortal as a seventeen-year old drunk driver.

  18. Thomasa says:

    In recent research into arms smuggling and mercenaries in the Angolan civil war, I stumbled across the following. Manifort apparently registered as a lobbyist for foreign governments and assorted non-elected dictators in GHW bushes time as CIA Director.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Government troops wounded Savimbi in battles in January and February 1990, but not enough to restrict his mobility.[127] He went to Washington, D.C. in December and met with President George H. W. Bush again,[119] the fourth of five trips he made to the United States. Savimbi paid Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C., $5 million to lobby the Federal government for aid, portray UNITA favorably in Western media, and acquire support among politicians in Washington. Savimbi was highly successful in this endeavour.[citation needed]
    Senators Larry Smith and Dante Fascell, a senior member of the firm, worked with the Cuban American National Foundation, Representative Claude Pepper of Florida, Neal Blair’s Free the Eagle, and Howard Phillips’ Conservative Caucus to repeal the Clark Amendment in 1985.[128] From the amendment’s repeal in 1985 to 1992 the U.S. government gave Savimbi $60 million per year, a total of $420 million.”

    See Angolan Civil War.

  19. Kenneth Kohl says:

    Interesting article, thank you. One question; you mentioned that several of Trump’s golf courses are operated by Trump Golf, via a lease agreement, and that, if I interpreted correctly, TTO doesn’t own the real estate. Do you know who does?

    As a side note, I’ve recently stumbled across ’emptywheel’; I enjoy and find useful the articles and the comments. Nice job, thank you.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I think the ownership varies depending on the location, as does the real interest Trump has, such as a lease or contractual management, naming and marketing rights.

    • Rayne says:

      In the case of the West Palm Beach course (not to be confused with the Jupiter course), the real estate is owned by Palm Beach County.

      In the case of the Hudson Valley course, see the embedded link in my post to Poughkeepsie Journal:

      The property at 178 Stormville Road is owned by the Trust of Diane Tucker, however, it is leased by Homestead Farms Inc., which is noted in the complaint as being in the care of Trump National Golf Club.

      Hudson Valley offers an example of another problem investigators will face: shell and front companies used to shield Trump org from all manner of issues including taxes.

      Nice to see you at emptywheel.

  20. Eureka says:

    This is Rayne GETTING HIM.

    What a ton of work– I can tell the amount of research that went into many single sentences, and have elaborate spreadsheets in my imagination’s eye.

    In the realm of unpardonables, I note with appreciation your pointing to state-level jurisdiction over insurance matters. Which reminds me (via an ACA link a bit too ungainly on which to elaborate) that we need to keep an eye on the GOP’s selective federalizing via litigation, (legislation) etc. If they can take away or moot e.g. environmental protections in California, what other states’ rights might they be plundering– if even indirectly– in the name of manifest destiny. i.e., I wonder what’s in the pipeline that might blunt the comeuppance of the GOP-RU-NRA-Trump era.

    • Eureka says:

      (Internet yelling for) RAYNE:

      Vern posted a DB summary link on another page; below is original via NYT:

      Trump Organization’s Insurance Policies Under Scrutiny in New York

      The nine-page subpoena demands a broad range of materials regarding Aon’s business with Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization dating back to 2009, according to the person briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

      Among other things, it seeks copies of all communications between Aon and Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization, as well as all internal Aon documents relating to Mr. Trump and the company, the person said.

      The regulators are also looking at compensation for the current and former Aon employees who handled the Trump Organization account, seeking information about their incentives, bonus payments or commissions. They are seeking similar contracts and agreements between Aon and Mr. Trump.

      Also, I need to stop using the word ‘unpardonables’ as regards potential state-level crimes, as they will ultimately be the purview of the respective– and future– governors. I’ve meant it in the potentially more immediate sense of Pence-as-savior.

  21. CitizenCrone says:

    (This comment isn’t about investigations or litigation.)

    I just wondered whether anyone else was sobered by the astounding comments from Trump, Cohen and others last week:

    Cohen in hearing said: When Trump said he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and get away with it, HE WASN’T KIDDING. You don’t know this man.

    and: He wouldn’t have to hire someone to commit violence–they work for him.

    and: I’m afraid if he doesn’t win in 2020, there won’t be a peaceful turnover of power.

    And Trump said of Cohen: He’s a stone-cold killer. He’s a brutal man.

    And there was reference on Joy in the morning to that Calimari guy Cohen mentioned in the hearing. Apparently Trump asked Calimari if he’d do anything for Trump. Yes. Then: would you kill for me? Yes.

    This is the president of the U.S. I’ve not seen one raised eyebrow about these comments. Just think about that.

  22. Eureka says:


    NBC News: “A new, large study finds that children who did not get childhood vaccines were more likely to be diagnosed with autism than kids who did get their recommended vaccinations. – @NBCNewsHealth”


    Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism | Annals of Internal Medicine | American College of Physicians

  23. Margo Schulter says:

    With great appreciation to bmaz, I’m tempted to quip that at least in the context of this site, RICO often stands in effect for Really Implausible Conceptual Overreach. If emptywheel had a FAQ list in the style of the old Usenet, I’d imagine that this might be one of the standard cautions for newcomers.

  24. Cathy says:

    Taking a break from the document requests (from 3/4/19) for some observations during a lull in border wall coverage.

    Although the URL refers to gov’t shutdown, this WSJ piece has been repurposed to keep up to date on border wall happenings:

    Includes a write-up from Feb 15 about a lawsuit to block the nat’l emergency declaration, which includes the Frontera Audobon Society (@fronteraaudobon) iin Weslaco, Tx, as a plaintiff. You go, Frontera Audobon!!

  25. Cathy says:

    Best representation I’ve found so far of Rep. Henry Cuellar’s exemptions written into the February 2019 spending bill. Nifty graphics:

    The WaPo article cites Texas Observer magazine as a source for material on potential border wall Texas locations (following article from Nov 2017):

    Includes a spreadsheet of proposed land grabs (Real Estate “Projects”); Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park & Nat’l Butterfly Center are part of Project RGV-004

    • earlofhuntingon says:

      Using compulsory government purchase authority to enrich private landowners? I thought that only happened after hurricanes and for clients of Haley Barbour.

  26. Cathy says:

    LA Times has a recent piece on the current border-wall limbo left by the clash between the spending bill exemptions & nat’l emergency declaration, filed from Mission, TX:

    Nice coverage of a gathering of landowners in Roma, TX (some miles west of Mission) strategizing on how to take advantage of the public comment provision Rep. Cuellar inserted into the February 2019 spending bill. *All politics are local, y’all*

    Just to be clear, we use our local golf courses for wildlife viewing (and avoiding in the case of the gators). I wouldn’t be opposed to a provision seeking imminent domain on certain golf resorts & turning the management and income over to Nat’l Parks Svc ( :-)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The use of eminent domain in Texas might be imminent, but it would be eminently unfair to wildlife and most landowners. :-)

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The principal principle is all things in moderation, including moderation. Also, pedantry is the fine art of being full of shite.

          • Cathy says:

            And yet I would submit that the world would be a poorer place without a love of, and sometimes an overcultivation of, language.

            And may I add, apropos of not much, that auto-correct, if not a root of evil, is certainly a recent offshoot.

      • Cathy says:

        Sorry – it’s taken me this long to stop laughing at myself (puleeeze don’t tell my mother)

        Rolls me into another question of timely word usage…

        Laissez les bon temps rouler!

        (Should this be “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” ou “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” or does New Orleans have a TM on the hybrid? I suppose after a bit of Mardi Gras celebration no one pays much mind)

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I’ve always preferred “les bons temps,” but after a few Long Island Ice Teas and because no other francophones use the phrase, I can be persuaded either way.

  27. what-ever says:

    And, remember how he tried to escape/leave the country after being indited (arson, murder and fraud, if memory serves me) and his private jet couldn’t land anywhere? I think he was rejected by 20 something countries…it wasn’t about his “belief”, it was all about the “behavior” (imagine that!).

    • bmaz says:

      When you say “he”, maybe you could identify who you are talking about. Otherwise nobody knows, and are left to guess as to your cryptic comment.

  28. Dee Na Go-Go says:

    Hi everyone! It’s my first post to emptywheel after lurking for over a year. Y’all are an intimidating bunch, so I hope I don’t embarrass myself too badly.

    Rayne – this post is fantastic! I will probably end up reading both it and the comments 2 or 3 times to take it all in.

    You asked about typos. There are 2 that really stand out to me:
    Alexandria Ocasio Cortes (should be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and Deustche Bank (should be Deutsche Bank).

    Hope that helps. :)

Comments are closed.