GOP standard bearer caught valuing property at least 90% below its original value, and attorneys are forced to revise mid-day.
Donald Trump, the Republican nomination for president and billionaire businessman, has to date successfully deflected all consideration that he should publicly release his tax returns before the general election in November, insisting that he is under audit and that it is not recommended that one do so until the investigation is completed.
Despite an official statement issued from the IRS debunking this claim, the combative standard bearer for the GOP has continued to cling to this justification, which notably intensified last week when he told a reporter that his tax rate is “none of your business.”
Should he fail to release his tax returns before November, it would make him the first presidential candidate of a major political party since 1976 not to do so, a fact that becomes even more troubling when considered against the reality that he is also the first two-party candidate to have zero public experience in politics, cabinet/agency administration, or the military.
If yesterday’s behavior offers any indication, there is good reason to believe that his financials are less than clean.
Monday morning, it was revealed that Trump National Golf Course in Westchester County, NY – a property he has described on a candidate disclosure form as being worth “more than $50 million” – was listed for tax purposes with the City of Ossining for only $1.35 million.
The proposed decrease in tax valuation would have cut Trump’s taxes in the city by more than 90%.
“Trump says he represents the little guy,” said Ossining town supervisor Dana Levenberg, “but the little guy is going to have to pay his taxes for him here in Ossining.”
Could this have been an honest mistake of not realizing the true value of the property, given the amount of real estate Trump owns? Possible, but extremely unlikely, considering town records show Trump purchasing the property for $8 million and then spent an additional $45 million to build the 18-hole course and its associated clubhouse, all at no increase in the previous tax assessment.
In fact, as Levenberg notes, the golf course had already received a 55% reduction in property taxes in 2008, from $38 million to $16 million.
“Look, everybody is looking to pay less in taxes,” Levenberg said, “Personally, I would hope that anybody that is representing our country as president of the United States would also be willing to pay their own fair share of taxes on properties and on whatever it is on their income. That’s really, in my opinion, what makes America great.”
The new estimate moves Trump closer to — but still well short of — the town’s 2014 estimate that the property was worth at least $14.3 million. Levenberg said property values have since been reviewed and have gone up. She said the small town could be forced to spend more than $25,000 in taxpayer funds fighting Trump’s team.
“That’s going to be the taxpayers who have to pay that,” said Levenberg, a Democrat. “Certainly $1.3 million is ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And really taking advantage of people who are hardworking and work for their homes, and work to stay in their homes.”
Trump’s organization is no stranger to shorting the value of its properties; it is a time-honored tactic from the company dating back more than 30 years, one of the many reasons tax experts and financial managers have difficulty valuating his net worth.
The fight is one of several Trump is waging around the country to lower the taxable value of the property he owns. And though little is known about Trump’s taxes because of his decision to keep his personal tax filings secret, the small town battle is consistent with an aggressive approach to lowering his tax bill that has surrounded a number of high-profile Trump deals.
In 1986, for instance, when Trump purchased one of the most expensive luxury yachts in the world from the Sultan of Brunei, “The Princess,” he used a lease-back arrangement involving an out-of-state company to avoid having to pay $1.75 million in sales tax to the state of New Jersey for the purchase of the yacht.
And when Trump struck a deal with New York City to build the Grand Hyatt Hotel, it required that his partnership team return a portion of the hotel profits to the city. But a 1989 audit found that his ownership team “understated its net profit” by more than $5 million and deprived the city of its nearly $3 million in unreported proceeds. Karen Burstein, the city auditor who reviewed the Grand Hyatt financial books, said Trump approved the decision to use different accounting rules to determine the money owed to the city.
“He cheated the city of a substantial amount of money,” Burstein told ABC News. “This wasn’t just a good business deal. This wasn’t just business thinking. This was manipulation… It was an example of extraordinary flim-flammery.”
Nonetheless, despite the mounting questions and continued suspicions, it appears that Trump has no plans to release any tax return until the audit is over, telling George Stephanopoulos, “You’ll see it when I release but I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible,” in an interview on “Good Morning America” last week.
It is clear from Monday’s valuation that he does, indeed, fight to pay as little tax as possible, regardless of the legality.
The Trump Organization has not yet commented publicly specifically with regards to the ongoing controversy over the Westchester golf course.