The Slatest

There’s Nothing Like Seeing a Headline About the President Inheriting a Fortune via Fraud and Knowing He’ll Definitely Get Away With It

A young Trump wearing a suit and seated in front of a window in skyscraper.
Donald Trump in 1976.
Bettmann/Getty Images

The New York Times has a huge investigative report out about the money Donald Trump inherited over the course of his life from his father, Fred. While the younger Trump has claimed that all he ever got from his father was a “very small loan in 1975,” the Times finds that Fred Trump actually funneled Donald a total of $413 million (!) in today’s dollars over the course of his life via gifts, “dubious tax schemes,” and “outright fraud.” The Times’ investigation appears to have been astoundingly methodical—the paper says it “documented 295 distinct streams of revenue Fred Trump created over five decades to channel wealth to his son”—and is so long that a summary of its findings runs 2,000 words. This paragraph, which debunks claims that the younger Trump made to the Times in 1976, gives you a flavor for the way the (new) Times piece takes apart the current POTUS’s delusions of being a self-made man:

In the chauffeured Cadillac, Donald Trump took The Times’s reporter on a tour of what he called his “jobs.” He told her about the Manhattan hotel he planned to convert into a Grand Hyatt (his father guaranteed the construction loan), and the Hudson River railroad yards he planned to develop (the rights were purchased by his father’s company). He showed her “our philanthropic endeavor,” the high-rise for the elderly in East Orange (bankrolled by his father), and an apartment complex on Staten Island (owned by his father), and their “flagship,” Trump Village, in Brooklyn (owned by his father), and finally Beach Haven Apartments (owned by his father). Even the Cadillac was leased by his father.

As someone who is about to be priced out of New York City by its absurdly high housing prices, I also appreciated the Times piece’s explanation of how the Trumps used a shell company called All County Building Supply & Maintenance, which was owned by Fred Trump’s children, to simultaneously 1) pass money from Fred Trump to his kids without paying gift or estate taxes and 2) provide justification for bogus rent increases. The gist was basically this: If a building needed $1,000 in repairs, All County Building Supply & Maintenance would pay the $1,000, then charge Fred Trump $2,000. The extra $1,000 went into the kids’ bank accounts without being subject to gift and estate taxes—and Fred Trump could now take an essentially phony receipt for $2,000 in repairs to state authorities to justify raising rents by a commensurate amount when in fact he’d only improved the value of his tenants’ building by half that.

State records show that after All County’s creation, the Trumps got approval to raise rents on thousands of apartments by claiming more than $30 million in major capital improvements. Tenants repeatedly protested the increases, almost always to no avail, the records show. …

“All of this smells like a crime,” said Adam S. Kaufmann, a former chief of investigations for the Manhattan district attorney’s office who is now a partner at the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss.

For all the piece’s damning detail about specific acts of malfeasance, though, its meta-message is ultimately that details don’t really matter: People as wealthy and connected as Fred and Donald Trump have too much financial and political inertia to ever fully suffer the consequences of their misbehavior, no matter how well-documented. Fred Trump, who was arrested at a violent KKK rally in 1927 and sued by the Nixon administration for discriminating against black tenants in 1973, certainly never faced anything like justice; his son has spent decades evading the consequences of his own financial ineptitude through legal stall tactics, loophole exploitation, and public-relations B.S. Meanwhile, New York state government, one of the authorities that’s ostensibly responsible for making sure the kind of stuff the Trumps pulled with their real-estate money doesn’t happen, is run by a Democrat who sells himself as a hero of the anti-Trump resistance … but whose campaigns have famously long been funded by wealthy real estate developers. Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated?