Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father
A FAMILY RECKONING
Donald Trump tried to change his ailing father’s will, prompting a backlash — but also a recognition that plans had to be set in motion before Fred Trump died.
Fred Trump had given careful thought to what would become of his empire after he died, and had hired one of the nation’s top estate lawyers to draft his will. But in December 1990, Donald Trump sent his father a document, drafted by one of his own lawyers, that sought to make significant changes to that will.
Fred Trump, then 85, had never before set eyes on the document, 12 pages of dense legalese. Nor had he authorized its preparation. Nor had he met the lawyer who drafted it.
Yet his son sent instructions that he needed to sign it immediately.
What happened next was described years later in sworn depositions by members of the Trump family during a dispute, later settled, over the inheritance Fred Trump left to Fred Jr.’s children. These depositions, obtained by The Times, reveal something startling: Fred Trump believed that the document potentially put his life’s work at risk.
The document, known as a codicil, did many things. It protected Donald Trump’s portion of the inheritance from his creditors and from his impending divorce settlement with his first wife, Ivana Trump. It strengthened provisions in the existing will making him the sole executor of his father’s estate. But more than any of the particulars, it was the entirety of the codicil and its presentation as a fait accompli that alarmed Fred Trump, the depositions show. He confided to family members that he viewed the codicil as an attempt to go behind his back and give his son total control over his affairs. He said he feared that it could let Donald Trump denude his empire, even using it as collateral to rescue his failing businesses. (It was, in fact, the very month of the $3.5 million casino rescue.)
As close as they were — or perhaps because they were so close — Fred Trump did not immediately confront his son. Instead he turned to his daughter Maryanne Trump Barry, then a federal judge whom he often consulted on legal matters. “This doesn’t pass the smell test,” he told her, she recalled during her deposition. When Judge Barry read the codicil, she reached the same conclusion. “Donald was in precarious financial straits by his own admission,” she said, “and Dad was very concerned as a man who worked hard for his money and never wanted any of it to leave the family.” (In a brief telephone interview, Judge Barry declined to comment.)
弗雷德·特朗普与儿子的关系如此亲密——或许正是因为他们如此亲密——他并没有当即与儿子对质，而是向女儿玛丽安·特朗普·巴里(Maryanne Trump Barry)求助，女儿当时是一名联邦法官，弗雷德经常向女儿咨询法律事务。据女儿在证词中回忆，弗雷德对女儿说，“这东西有点不对头。”当巴里读了遗嘱修改附录后，她得出了同样的结论。“唐纳德自己承认，他的经济状况非常糟糕，”她说。“而爸爸是一个为挣这些钱拼命工作了一辈子的人，他从来都不希望他挣来的钱离开这个家，所以他对此非常担心。”（在一次简短的电话采访中，巴里拒绝置评。）
Fred Trump took prompt action to thwart his son. He dispatched his daughter to find new estate lawyers. One of them took notes on the instructions she passed on from her father: “Protect assets from DJT, Donald’s creditors.” The lawyers quickly drafted a new codicil stripping Donald Trump of sole control over his father’s estate. Fred Trump signed it immediately.
Clumsy as it was, Donald Trump’s failed attempt to change his father’s will brought a family reckoning about two related issues: Fred Trump’s declining health and his reluctance to relinquish ownership of his empire. Surgeons had removed a neck tumor a few years earlier, and he would soon endure hip replacement surgery and be found to have mild senile dementia. Yet for all the financial support he had lavished on his children, for all his abhorrence of taxes, Fred Trump had stubbornly resisted his advisers’ recommendations to transfer ownership of his empire to the children to minimize estate taxes.
With every passing year, the actuarial odds increased that Fred Trump would die owning apartment buildings worth many hundreds of millions of dollars, all of it exposed to the 55 percent estate tax. Just as exposed was the mountain of cash he was sitting on. His buildings, well maintained and carrying little debt, consistently produced millions of dollars a year in profits. Even after he paid himself $109.7 million from 1988 through 1993, his companies were holding $50 million in cash and investments, financial records show. Tens of millions of dollars more passed each month through a maze of personal accounts at Chase Manhattan Bank, Chemical Bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, UBS, Bowery Savings and United Mizrahi, an Israeli bank.
随着时间一年一年地过去，一种可能性也变得越来越大，那就是，弗雷德·特朗普去世时仍拥有价值数亿美元的公寓楼，所有这些楼都将面临55%的遗产税。同样面临高遗产税的是他坐拥的巨额现金。他的大楼都维修得很好，债务也很少，每年都给他带来数百万美元的利润。财务记录显示，即使他在1988年至1993年间给自己支付了1.097亿美元的薪酬之后，他的公司仍持有5000万美元的现金和投资。每个月还有数千万美元的现金从他在大通曼哈顿银行(Chase Manhattan Bank)、化工银行(Chemical Bank)、制造商汉诺威信托(Manufacturers Hanover Trust)、瑞银(UBS)、宝威利储蓄银行(Bowery Savings)，以及以色列的联合东方银行(United Mizrahi)的错综复杂的个人账户中转来转去。
Simply put, without immediate action, Fred Trump’s heirs faced the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars to estate taxes.
Whatever their differences, the Trumps formulated a plan to avoid this fate. How they did it is a story never before told.
It is also a story in which Donald Trump played a central role. He took the lead in strategy sessions where the plan was devised with the consent and participation of his father and his father’s closest advisers, people who attended the meetings told The Times. Robert Trump, the youngest sibling and the beta to Donald’s alpha, was given the task of overseeing day-to-day details. After years of working for his brother, Robert Trump went to work for his father in late 1991.
The Trumps’ plan, executed over the next decade, blended traditional techniques — such as rewriting Fred Trump’s will to maximize tax avoidance — with unorthodox strategies that tax experts told The Times were legally dubious and, in some cases, appeared to be fraudulent. As a result, the Trump children would gain ownership of virtually all of their father’s buildings without having to pay a penny of their own. They would turn the mountain of cash into a molehill of cash. And hundreds of millions of dollars that otherwise would have gone to the United States Treasury would instead go to Fred Trump’s children.
‘A DISGUISED GIFT’
A family company let Fred Trump funnel money to his children by effectively overcharging himself for repairs and improvements on his properties.
One of the first steps came on Aug. 13, 1992, when the Trumps incorporated a company named All County Building Supply & Maintenance.
All County had no corporate offices. Its address was the Manhasset, N.Y., home of John Walter, a favorite nephew of Fred Trump’s. Mr. Walter, who died in January, spent decades working for Fred Trump, primarily helping computerize his payroll and billing systems. He also was the unofficial keeper of Fred Trump’s personal and business papers, his basement crowded with boxes of old Trump financial records. John Walter and the four Trump children each owned 20 percent of All County, records show.
All County’s main purpose, The Times found, was to enable Fred Trump to make large cash gifts to his children and disguise them as legitimate business transactions, thus evading the 55 percent tax.
The way it worked was remarkably simple.
Each year Fred Trump spent millions of dollars maintaining and improving his properties. Some of the vendors who supplied his building superintendents and maintenance crews had been cashing Fred Trump’s checks for decades. Starting in August 1992, though, a different name began to appear on their checks — All County Building Supply & Maintenance.
Mr. Walter’s computer systems, meanwhile, churned out All County invoices that billed Fred Trump’s empire for those same services and supplies, with one difference: All County’s invoices were padded, marked up by 20 percent, or 50 percent, or even more, records show.
The Trump siblings split the markup, along with Mr. Walter.
The self-dealing at the heart of this arrangement was best illustrated by Robert Trump, whose father paid him a $500,000 annual salary. He approved many of the payments Fred Trump’s empire made to All County; he was also All County’s chief executive, as well as a co-owner. As for the work of All County — generating invoices — that fell to Mr. Walter, also on Fred Trump’s payroll, along with a personal assistant Mr. Walter paid to work on his side businesses.
Years later, in his deposition during the dispute over Fred Trump’s estate, Robert Trump would say that All County actually saved Fred Trump money by negotiating better deals. Given Fred Trump’s long experience expertly squeezing better prices out of contractors, it was a surprising claim. It was also not true.
The Times’s examination of thousands of pages of financial documents from Fred Trump’s buildings shows that his costs shot up once All County entered the picture.
Beach Haven Apartments illustrates how this happened: In 1991 and 1992, Fred Trump bought 78 refrigerator-stove combinations for Beach Haven from Long Island Appliance Wholesalers. The average price was $642.69. But in 1993, when he began paying All County for refrigerator-stove combinations, the price jumped by 46 percent. Likewise, the price he paid for trash-compacting services at Beach Haven increased 64 percent. Janitorial supplies went up more than 100 percent. Plumbing repairs and supplies rose 122 percent. And on it went in building after building. The more Fred Trump paid, the more All County made, which was precisely the plan.
天堂海滩公寓就说明了这种情况：在1991及1992年，弗雷德·特朗普从长岛电器批发公司(Long Island Appliance Wholesalers)为天堂海滩公寓购买了78套冰箱灶具组合。平均单价是642.69美元。但在1993年他开始付钱给奥康提采购冰箱灶具组合，价格就跃升了46%。同样，他为天堂海滩公寓垃圾压缩服务支付的费用也上涨了64%。保洁用品的费用涨了100%。管道维修及物资费用涨了122%。这种情况随后在一幢又一幢公寓接续发生。弗雷德·特朗普花得越多，奥康提挣得就越多，这就是他们的计划。
While All County systematically overcharged Fred Trump for thousands of items, the job of negotiating with vendors fell, as it always had, to Fred Trump and his staff.
Leon Eastmond can attest to this.
Mr. Eastmond is the owner of A. L. Eastmond & Sons, a Bronx company that makes industrial boilers. In 1993, he and Fred Trump met at Gargiulo’s, an old-school Italian restaurant in Coney Island that was one of Fred Trump’s favorites, to hash out the price of 60 boilers. Fred Trump, accompanied by his secretary and Robert Trump, drove a hard bargain. After negotiating a 10 percent discount, he made one last demand: “I had to pay the tab,” Mr. Eastmond recalled with a chuckle.
伊斯特蒙德是A·L·伊斯特蒙德父子公司(A. L. Eastmond & Sons)的所有人，这是布朗克斯的一家工业锅炉制造商。1993年，他与弗雷德·特朗普在康尼岛上特朗普最喜爱一家传统意大利餐厅Gargiulo’s见面，敲定60套锅炉的价钱。弗雷德·特朗普带着秘书和罗伯特·特朗普，开始了艰难的讨价还价。谈下10%的折扣之后，他又提了最后一个要求：“饭钱得我来付。”伊斯特蒙德笑着回忆道。
There was no mention of All County. Mr. Eastmond first heard of the company when its checks started rolling in. “I remember opening my mail one day and out came a check for $100,000,” he recalled. “I didn’t recognize the company. I didn’t know who the hell they were.”
But as All County paid Mr. Eastmond the price negotiated by Fred Trump, its invoices to Fred Trump were padded by 20 to 25 percent, records obtained by The Times show. This added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of the 60 boilers, money that then flowed through All County to Fred Trump’s children without incurring any gift tax.
All County’s owners devised another ruse to profit off Mr. Eastmond’s boilers. To win Fred Trump’s business, Mr. Eastmond had also agreed to provide mobile boilers for Fred Trump’s buildings free of charge while new boilers were being installed. Yet All County charged Fred Trump rent on the same mobile boilers Mr. Eastmond was providing free, along with hookup fees, disconnection fees, transportation fees and operating and maintenance fees, records show. These charges siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars more from Fred Trump’s empire.
Mr. Walter, asked during a deposition why Fred Trump chose not to make himself one of All County’s owners, replied, “He said because he would have to pay a death tax on it.”
After being briefed on All County by The Times, Mr. Tritt, the University of Florida law professor, said the Trumps’ use of the company was “highly suspicious” and could constitute criminal tax fraud. “It certainly looks like a disguised gift,” he said.
While All County was all upside for Donald Trump and his siblings, it had an insidious downside for Fred Trump’s tenants.
As an owner of rent-stabilized buildings in New York, Fred Trump needed state approval to raise rents beyond the annual increases set by a government board. One way to justify a rent increase was to make a major capital improvement. It did not take much to get approval; an invoice or canceled check would do if the expense seemed reasonable.
The Trumps used the padded All County invoices to justify higher rent increases in Fred Trump’s rent-regulated buildings. Fred Trump, according to Mr. Walter, saw All County as a way to have his cake and eat it, too. If he used his “expert negotiating ability” to buy a $350 refrigerator for $200, he could raise the rent based only on that $200, not on the $350 sticker price “a normal person” would pay, Mr. Walter explained. All County was the way around this problem. “You have to understand the thinking that went behind this,” he said.
As Robert Trump acknowledged in his deposition, “The higher the markup would be, the higher the rent that might be charged.”
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.
One of the improvements most often cited by the Trumps: new boilers.
“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. While the statute of limitations has long since lapsed, Mr. Kaufmann said the Trumps’ use of All County would have warranted investigation for defrauding tenants, tax fraud and filing false documents.
“这一切颇有犯罪之嫌，”亚当·S·考夫曼(Adam S. Kaufmann)说，他曾是曼哈顿地区检察官办公室的调查主管，现在是LBKM律师事务所(Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss)合伙人。虽然早过了诉讼时效，但考夫曼表示，特朗普家族对奥康提公司的运用已足令司法机关对其进行欺诈租户、逃税和提交虚假文件的调查。
Mr. Harder, the president’s lawyer, disputed The Times’s reporting: “Should The Times state or imply that President Trump participated in fraud, tax evasion or any other crime, it will be exposing itself to substantial liability and damages for defamation.”
All County was not the only company the Trumps set up to drain cash from Fred Trump’s empire. A lucrative income source for Fred Trump was the management fees he charged his buildings. His primary management company, Trump Management, earned $6.8 million in 1993 alone. The Trumps found a way to redirect those fees to the children, too.
On Jan. 21, 1994, they created a company called Apartment Management Associates Inc., with a mailing address at Mr. Walter’s Manhasset home. Two months later, records show, Apartment Management started collecting fees that had previously gone to Trump Management.
1994年1月21日，他们成立了公寓管理联营公司(Apartment Management Associates Inc.)，公司的邮件地址就是沃尔特在曼哈塞特的家。记录显示，两个月后，公寓管理公司就开始收取以前交给特朗普管理公司的各项费用。
The only difference was that Donald Trump and his siblings owned Apartment Management.
Between All County and Apartment Management, Fred Trump’s mountain of cash was rapidly dwindling. By 1998, records show, All County and Apartment Management were generating today’s equivalent of $2.2 million a year for each of the Trump children. Whatever income tax they owed on this money, it was considerably less than the 55 percent tax Fred Trump would have owed had he simply given each of them $2.2 million a year.
But these savings were trivial compared with those that would come when Fred Trump transferred his empire — the actual bricks and mortar — to his children.