For all of his preaching about the supposed need to transform the U.S. tax system to make it more appropriate for middle class Americans, Donald Trump remains someone who has engaged in deeply questionable business practices when it comes to his own taxes — to put it lightly.
A new report from the Palm Beach Post has revealed that Trump used a deceptive scheme connected to his infamous Florida Mar-A-Lago resort to get out of paying potentially large tax sums.
The issue arose when Trump was first seeking to turn the Mar-A-Lago estate into something profitable in the early 1990s. After an initial proposal to build private homes on the property was rejected by the town council, Trump and his team came up with a new idea — turning the property into a private club with steep initiation fees.
At the time, when Trump’s attorney Paul Rampell filed the request with the town council for his boss to have permission to turn the property into a private club, he revealed to the town council that Trump would be making what was billed at the time as a legitimately tax deductible donation as a part of his “preservation plan” for the historic mansion on the site. The mansion had been constructed in the 1920s at the behest of Marjorie Merriweather Post.
The “donation” constituted Trump turning over control of the interior of the Mar-A-Lago mansion to a charity. Trump, as the Palm Beach Post reports, chose the National Trust for Historic Preservation for his “donation.”
Rampell insisted to the town council that by keeping the deal verbal and not written, there would be no violation of the law against someone getting something in return for a charitable donation they deducted on their tax returns.
That assertion, as experts speaking to the Palm Beach Post note, is false. Vermont Law School professor and former general counsel for the Audubon Society John Echeverria commented that what went down was “plainly a quid pro quo,” meaning that Trump got something in return for his “donation” — permission to make Mar-A-Lago profitable — and the “donation” was thus not what the Trump team made it out to be.
Trump, at the time, got an appraisal of the property from an entity known as Clarion Associates, which estimated that with the “easement” in place, the value of the property would decrease by $5.75 million, meaning that Trump could — in their theory — deduct that from his personal income taxes.
The highly questionable tax deduction that Trump got from his Mar-A-Lago resort is far from the only time that he has done such a thing. Participating in a practice that the IRS has often come down hard upon, Trump has claimed over $100 million in easements since 2005.
Trump claimed at one point that he would eventually release his tax returns, which would allow Americans to more fully scrutinize the breakdown of the various easements he’s claimed and how they played into his tax payments, but he has declined to actually do so.
Trump has utilized his Mar-A-Lago estate over and over again since taking office, spending most of the many days he takes on vacation at the premises.
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