Thanks to some inspired digging from ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell, it appears the Trump Organization has been massaging reported profits, expenses and occupancy rates at a pair of its Manhattan properties to make them look robust to lenders, but much less so to authorities who assess property taxes.
If this means that President Donald Trump’s company keeps two sets of books, it may be an attempt to secure lower interest rates on borrowings while keeping tax expenses down. A dozen real estate experts Vogell contacted couldn’t explain “multiple inconsistencies” in Trump Organization documents she showed them. The variations are “versions of fraud,” Nancy Wallace, a finance and real estate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, told Vogell. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”
No, it’s not. It may amount to the same kind of financial fraud that sent two former Trump advisers, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, to prison. Cohen, in congressional testimony in February, accused Trump of falsifying records he provided to banks in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce to real estate taxes,” Cohen said, essentially portraying the president as a serial grifter.
The problems Vogell uncovered pertain to two signature Trump properties in Manhattan — 40 Wall Street and Trump International Hotel and Tower — and involve transactions and records she examined dated from 2012 to 2018. The Trump Organization, its lawyers and its accountants declined to respond on the record to Vogell’s detailed questions about the irregularities.
The Trump Organization has been at this game for a long time. When I interviewed its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, in 2005 for a biography I wrote,financial fraud he told me that Trump valued 40 Wall Street at $400 million — at a time when it was assessed for property tax purposes at only $90 million.
Trump unsuccessfully sued me in 2006 for libel, arguing that “TrumpNation” damaged his reputation by including unflattering assessments of his business record and unfair speculation that he had spent decades inflating his wealth. Trump lost the suit in 2011, and during the litigation was forced to turn over his tax returns to my lawyers.