BuzzFeed News’ months-long investigation is the first to examine sales of Trump condominiums for indicators of possible money laundering and the most comprehensive analysis to date of all 22 Trump condo towers in the US.
BuzzFeed News examined Trump condo sales using online property records to determine the original buyers of each unit and whether they obtained a mortgage or paid cash. For buyers that were legal entities and not people, BuzzFeed News analyzed them using corporation records, property records, and other online documents to determine whether they were established businesses or shell companies, which typically generate little economic value.
The investigation identified 1,326 all-cash sales – some involving more than one condo unit – to shell companies…
Secretive Trump condo sales surged initially in 1997 and 1998 as most Wall Street banks stopped lending to Trump after two of his Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy. Trump reported $916 million in business losses in 1995, according to his 1996 tax return, which was leaked to the New York Times in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
The surge occurred when Trump opened his fourth high-rise, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Manhattan in December 1996. Shell companies bought 92 of the building’s 322 units in cash – 29% – including eight of the 12 units that sold for more than $5 million, records show.
The sales amounted to $134 million – more than Trump had received in secretive sales from his three other buildings combined.
From 1999 through 2007, secretive sales leveled off at an average of $23 million a year – 11% of units sold – before rising starting in 2008 during a crucial period for Trump. BuzzFeed News found that in the five years from 2008 through 2012, shell companies spent $890 million buying 823 Trump condos in cash – 25% of units sold. That’s $178 million a year on average. More than 87% of those sales were in Trump-licensed buildings.
In 2008, as the Great Recession cooled real-estate markets, Trump could not make a payment on a bank loan that he had guaranteed personally for $40 million. Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owned the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, faced a $53-million payment to bondholders. Trump forestalled the bank payment by suing the lender, Deutsche Bank. The casino filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
At the same time, Trump became financially entwined with Russians. In March 2008, a Russian billionaire paid Trump $95 million for a Palm Beach, Florida, estate that Trump had bought four years earlier for $41 million. Donald Trump Jr. told a Moscow real-estate conference in June 2008 that his father’s company, the Trump Organization, was planning to build condos and hotels in Russia. And he told a New York conference in September 2008, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump Jr. was executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, which opened two major condo towers in early 2008 after a four-year lull. By the time Trump Jr. made his now-famous comment in September 2008, cash-paying shell companies had bought $43 million worth of condos at the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago and at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.
At a Trump-licensed condo building in Miami-Dade, cash-paying shell companies had bought $32 million worth of condos.
During this time, the future president and his children also were heavily promoting the Trump SoHo, a lower Manhattan high-rise that has been mired in controversy. In his September 2008 remarks, Donald Jr. cited the project: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York.”
…Trump condo sales reportedly are under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose team includes Justice Department prosecutor Kyle Freeny, a money-laundering expert. Mueller is investigating Trump’s connections to Russia and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. He charged former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in October with laundering millions of dollars he received for work in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign…
Trump-Russia investigators in Congress also are interested in the timing of any money laundering and whether it coincided with periods when Trump could not get conventional loans….
Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee’s ranking Democrat, said BuzzFeed News’ findings “concern me a great deal.” The committee should investigate whether “financial entanglement was one of the active measures the Russians used in the United States,” Schiff said. “It was one of the measures they’ve used in other countries.”
The irony is that, had Trump lost, nobody would care about any of this. This is what scares the hell out of him: he has to realize this will be bad–and this is one situation he can’t talk or bribe his way out of either. He has to know that much of the money came from really shady, if not illegal, sources. Furthermore, this is a blow to his ego: people bought his properties to launder money, not because he’s a genius builder.
That is to say, Trump is a bag man. And no one trusts a bag man.