An article published in USA Today reveals that President Trump’s companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017. The report states that many buyers are actually shell companies that obscure their identities; a trend that began during the election.
According to USA Today, Trump sold 41 luxury Las Vegas condo units in 2017, “the majority of which used limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names.”
The article goes on to cite analysis of every domestic real estate sale by one of Trump’s companies to describe how this “trend” began around the time Trump won the Republican nomination, midway through 2016.
“In the two years before the nomination, 4% of Trump buyers utilized the tactic. In the year after, the rate skyrocketed to about 70%,” according to USA Today’s tracking of sales, which shows “the trend held firm through Trump’s first year in office.”
The report notes that “profits from sales of those properties flow through a trust run by Trump’s sons. The president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and he can withdraw cash at any time.”
Trump appointed an independent ethics advisor, attorney Bobby Burchfield, to review new deals. He described how he uses a four-part test to evaluating whether or not they should be pursued.
- Is it at fair market value or in the ordinary course of business;
- Is it an appropriate counterparty;
- Is there any indication the deal is intended to curry favor with the President;
- Is there any likelihood the deal could compromise or diminish the Office of the President?
“If someone wants to do business with the Trump entities in the form of an LLC, we look behind the LLC to see who the owner of it is and where the funding is coming from,” Burchfield told USA Today. “If we can’t determine that, we won’t sign off on it.”
Journalists researched new buyers, finding that they ranged from real estate investment funds to wealthy individuals seeking an investment and vacation property, and proceeded to publicly call them out. One Chicago doctor who purchased a condo in Trump’s Vegas property in late December using an LLC said he did so in order to protect his identity and on the advice of a financial consultant.
“Was I nervous my name could be associated with him? Sure, you’re always concerned with the politics and media, but for me the positives of the property outweighed the negatives,” said Dr. Ramsis Ghaly. “A lot of my doctor friends buy in Trump Chicago—I was a little hesitant, but I believe in the guy and it wasn’t about politics.”
Jason Feldman, a real estate investor in Florida, was another buyer named in the article who purchased a Trump condo in Las Vegas using an LLC.
“The Trump family involvement in the Vegas project played zero role in the purchase decision at all,” Feldman told the paper in an email. “The deal was purely an economic decision. In my opinion, I think these are underpriced given the growth of the Las Vegas market and likely will buy more units.”
Another buyer, Georgia Attorney Robert Goldberg, acknowledged, “Using an LLC is standard procedure.”
USA Today, however, didn’t want to hear that. “It wasn’t standard procedure for Trump buyers prior to his presidential bid, when fewer than 1 in 20 of Trump companies’ real estate buyers was an LLC,” the newpaper insisted.
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