Drive for Show, Putt for Dough, Cheat for Tax Deductions

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I swear every time I think I’ve met the limit of repulsion for Trump, I meet a new threshold.

You’re doubtless aware of the New York Attorney General’s Motion to Compel against The Trump Organization, Inc.; Seven Springs LLC; Allen Weisselberg; Eric Trump; Charles Martabano; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP (MLB); Sheri Dillon; Donald J. Trump; Ivanka Trump; and Donald Trump, Jr. in relation to investigation of “fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”

Martabano is a real estate attorney; MLB is a tax attorneys practice which sought to cut ties with Trump; Sheri Dillon has been a partner at MLB working on the Trump account. The rest of the named you are likely familiar with from previous news and posts.

This motion is only in relation to a civil action by NYAG Letitia James; the District Attorney of the County of New York (DANY) Alvin Bragg is conducting a parallel criminal investigation.

I’ve written before about Trump National Golf Club Westchester and the generally scammy and scummy way Trump and Trump org treated the community of Briarcliff where the course is located.

NYAG’s motion opened up a new can of angry bees from a location I haven’t looked at previously because it wasn’t a Trump golf course resort.

Seven Springs is an example of a golf course which didn’t happen, and what Trump did to try and keep the property while paying out as little as possible to do so.

This sounds relatively harmless; who doesn’t try to keep their expenses down?

Except Seven Springs is yet another example of Trump’s lousy judgment and his externalizing his failures onto others.

~ ~ ~

This is Seven Springs as it was back when it was owned by Eugene and Agnes Meyer (also known as the parents of Washington Post’s former publisher Katharine Graham née Meyer). It was built for the Meyers in 1915 for what then was an unfathomable amount of money – $2 million for a little over 28,000 square feet. (Note the rows of young trees planted at the top of the photo as well as the trees to the right side which follow the embankment to the Byram Lake Reservoir.)

(source: Histree.com)

Agnes Meyer died in 1970; under the successor Meyer Foundation, Seven Springs was then used as a conference center by Yale University. In 1984 the foundation cut its ties with Yale and gifted the property to Rockefeller University.

In 1995 – three years after his divorce from his first wife Ivana and a year before he bought the former Briar Hall Golf and Country Club in Westchester – Trump bought Seven Springs from Rockefeller University

Trump originally planned to develop the property into a golf course. A number of architectural design firms worked competitively on plans over a handful of years.

But nothing came of the effort for a number of reasons, the biggest barrier being the approval of the local community and his neighbors.

This is Seven Springs as it appears on Google Maps in satellite view. It is located almost half way between two golf courses – the Mt. Kisco Country Club (opened in 1928) and the Summit at Armonk (opened in 1961).

Mt. Kisco Country Club at upper left; the Summit at Armonk at lower right; Seven Springs in center to left of Byram Lake Reservoir. (source: Google Maps)

The addition of a Trump course at Seven Springs would mean three golf courses inside less than a 10-mile radius. Seven Springs is located on undulating terrain with granite underneath and wetlands on the property, making development extremely complicated and pricey.

Surface water from Seven Springs acreage drains into the Byram Lake Reservoir which provides drinking water for the Mt. Kisco community; a new golf course with all its lawn chemicals and additional automobile traffic dropping gasoline, oil, and more would increase pollutants in the reservoir. One can understand the community’s reluctance to approve a Trump course when there has already been one nearby for decades; the community knows just how much a golf course can affect the reservoir.

The property also abuts the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Nature Preserve immediately to the south which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It is undeveloped woodlands overlooked by the 28,000 square foot house at Seven Springs.

~ ~ ~

This is what pissed me off.

Trump had to have known when he bought Seven Springs that the nature preserve which had once been part of the Meyers’ 1000-acre holding was next door to the immediate south of the estate. One of the tentative plans for a golf course snugged up to the north boundary of the preserve.

Once Trump finally gave up on this course after stringing along star-struck course developers for years, he decided he would pursue real estate development, tentatively subdividing Seven Springs to build up to 14 McMansion-sized homes.

But he apparently wanted or needed a through way across the 213 acres for both the purposes of development and for the future home owners.

He sued The Nature Conservancy and the community for an easement to build a road — extending Oregon Road which leads to Seven Springs along the drive on the property and then through the nature preserve over an unpaved path to where Oregon Road begins again south of the preserve.

Again, Trump had to have known when he bought the 213-acre parcel that it did not include an easement into/through the nature preserve. An unpaved path from Seven Springs into the preserve once existed, but a gate had been installed in 1990 between Seven Springs and the preserve. Rockefeller University had known about a previous easement but allowed it to expire during its ownership of Seven Springs.

The easement was extinct, demised, non-extant, and even more dead because Trump had allowed more than 10 years to pass between purchasing Seven Springs and suing for an easement.

And yet in August 2006 Trump went to court to get his way, costing The Nature Conservancy and the community time and money to fight off his demand for an easement and road through pristine woodlands because he didn’t have the goddamned foresight to see the Seven Springs property was problematic as golf course and residential development when he bought it in 1995.

Never mind the fact the course would be in competition with two well-established courses.

~ ~ ~

Now it gets messy.

Because he can’t develop the property at all without some accommodation for a road and the neighbors and community aren’t happy but he wants to hang onto the property for his family’s use, Trump pursued tax deductions.

It’s not clear from the NYAG’s motion when Trump began pursuit of a tax deduction for a 150-acre conservation easement on Seven Springs property. In exchange for promising not to develop property, Trump’s organization obtained a $5 million tax credit from 2014 to 2018 for Seven Springs and Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles combined.

He also pursued a very similar conservation easement tax deduction at Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles worth multiple millions in tax credits. The land set aside from development was used as a driving range – no buildings constructed, no fairways or greens, just a patch of mowed lawn for practice shots but still part of the golf course business, and surely not open to the public for free. This tax deduction, too, is being examined by NYAG.

Which part of the 213-acre Seven Springs property did he set aside to conserve?

The part which had been cleared of trees planted by the Meyers?

The part which has been cleared of trees and brushed out down the slope to the Byram Lake Reservoir, which realistically can’t be developed anyhow because of that slope?

The part which couldn’t be developed because of the lack of local approvals and the road he couldn’t add?

MOUNT KISCO, NY – SEPTEMBER 30 2020: President Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Mount Kisco, New York, seen here Sept. 30, 2020.
(Johnny Milano for The Washington Post)

Which is the question at the heart of NYAG’s investigation into Seven Springs: how can Trump place a value on the 150-acre conservation easement for a tax deduction based on high-end residential development, when it couldn’t be developed?

How can a permanent swath of lawn punctuated with trees be the same value as new McMansion construction?

It’s not worth roughly $2-3 million a year in tax deductions on the face of it.

~ ~ ~

Another really irritating part of this beyond the pudgy orange weasel himself is the absence of the Internal Revenue Service and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. How did this scofflaw get away with millions of dollars in sketchy tax deductions all this time?

This situation should never have gotten this far out of hand; the first time a taxpayer, human or corporate, takes multi-million tax deductions on conservation easements, that’s the time an agent from either the IRS or the state tax authority physically inspects the property and investigates its backstory to ensure it’s a legitimate conservation easement.

But like everything else Trump has gotten away with so far, the right authorities to deal with him at the time he violated a law or regulation failed to do their duty and the public has no idea why.

If I took a multi-million tax deduction on a conservation easement this year, you can bet I’d be sucked into an audit as fast as you can blink.

Once NYAG and DANY are done with their investigations, local, state, and federal governments need to look at what triggers should set off audits and investigations because whatever they’re currently relying on isn’t working.

$2-3 million is one hell of a lot of tax revenue which could have paid for many public services in New York State and beyond.

And I haven’t even mentioned the other Trump properties in New York though I’ve written about them before.

Nor have I mentioned the easement lawsuit and the creation of conservation easements for tax purposes occurred while Trump was appearing in The Apprentice, kitted out and scripted to look as if he was a successful, honest businessman and real estate developer season after season.

~ ~ ~

Eric Trump, he of 500-plus invocations of the Fifth Amendment under questioning by NYAG, said of Seven Springs, “It was home base for us for a long, long time…

Yeah? Well, all your base are belong to us if Seven Springs ends up seized for taxes.

Seriously, fuck this base.

The post Drive for Show, Putt for Dough, Cheat for Tax Deductions appeared first on emptywheel.

Guest Post: The Tie that Binds the Conspiracies

[This is a guest post by long-time community member WilliamOckham. /~Rayne]

This post began as an attempt to figure out who developed the “fake elector vote count in a box” package Republicans in seven states used to create “alternate” elector vote certifications.

It ended up helping me understand the “bigger conspiracy” to which Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel referred. What follows is not an indictment and nothing in it is particularly new. Most of what I describe can be found in various comments here at emptywheel.

I’ve laid out how I think the “alternate” elector scheme played a central role in the coup. I think I understand why it was important for Nessel to refer this to the Department of Justice. Because some of these activities violated multiple states’ laws, it’s easier to show the entire scheme was corrupt.

The Contingency Plan

The key to understanding the conspiracy to overthrow the election of the President of the United States is in Barton Gellman’s article, The Election That Could Break America published September 23, 2020 in The Atlantic:

“… According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. …”

That’s it. That’s the core of the coup plan. “Bypass election results” means preventing the peaceful transfer of power. Every part of the effort, including the violence on January 6, depended on using Republican state legislatures to provide a façade of legitimacy to a brazen attempt to overthrow the government.

The “alternate” electors weren’t just some goofy outpouring of grassroots Trump support. They were absolutely essential to the plot. To understand the coup, we need to understand how the “alternate” electors scheme was carried out.

The Plan Realized

After a look at Michigan’s “alternate” electors, I noticed the formatting and textual similarities between the various states’ “Electoral Vote Certifications”; they show this was a nationally-coordinated effort.

One of the fake electoral vote count certifications (Nevada’s) was broadcast live. Go to the 7:08 mark and listen as they call the roll. You can verify that the names match the ones on the Nevada fake certification paperwork. At 12:53, they read their certification which matches word for word the one submitted to the National Archives. And at 14:15, two “electors” (Rice and Hindle) are shown using different pens. Sure enough, this difference shows up in the documents.

I think there’s a reason this particular event was the one live streamed. All of Nevada’s fake electors were selected by the Nevada Republican Party to serve in the event of a Trump win. There were no messy substitutions. Well, and maybe because they had a dude who could do a fairly decent acapella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which to be fair, I would show that off too.

As folks here have already noted, key figures in Trump World were well aware of this effort in real-time: Stephen Miller (imagine me turning and spitting on the ground every time I type that name) talked about it on December 14; Kayleigh McEnany talked it up on December 17.

However, I believe the foot soldiers for this aspect of the coup were from The Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society (not to be confused with Project Amistad or Amistad Law Project which are totally different, legitimate organizations).

The Amistad Project has been connected to a variety of shady pro-Trump “election integrity” groups, like Got Freedom? or Election Integrity Project, or American Voter’s Alliance (to which Got Freedom? now redirects its internet traffic).

These organizations are all basically the same thing: a bunch of right-wing lawyers and political operatives committed to a lawfare strategy against American democracy.

The headliner for The Amistad Project is Phill Kline, an attorney with an indefinitely suspended license due to illegally accessing and disclosing private medical records for political purposes. The organization hosted the 2-hour-long January 2, 2021 Zoom conference with state legislators which Trump joined, right after he got off the phone with Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensberger.

Trump called into the meeting and told the legislators, “You are the real power…The most important people are you. You’re more important than the courts. You’re more important than anything because the courts keep referring to you, and you’re the ones that are going to make the decision,” in a 14-minute call into the session.

Several #StopTheSteal movement leaders were on the call. Other attendees included Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who got Trump on the phone; law professor John Eastman; Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade czar who recently authored a book on the election; and John R. Lott Jr., a Justice Department official who also separately authored a report suggesting some 300,000 “excess” ballots were counted, giving Biden his win.

During this call, Trump repeated the contingency plan. The “alternate electors” scheme is the tie that binds the conspiracies together. As it got closer and closer to January 6, all of the different threads of the insurrection tapestry began to converge on the need to obstruct the Congressional certification of Biden’s win.

In fact, Mark Meadows missed the January 2 Zoom meeting with state legislators because he was coordinating the Congressional end of the insurrection with Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, and about 50 Republican U.S. House members. This eventually led to the violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Let’s return to the question which started this essay. Who is responsible for the “fake elector vote count in a box” package? Two lawyers from the Amistad Project seem to be very closely tied operationally to the “alternate electors” scheme: Ian Northon and Erick Kaardal.

Ian Northon implicated himself in the Michigan stunt confrontation on December 14, 2020 at the state capitol building with Michigan State Police. At the 5:20 mark in this video, he says (and spells) his name and announces that he’s with The Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society. That’s pretty clear cut.

Kaardal’s complicity is a little murkier. Kaardal was previously most known for filing the dumbest pro-Trump election lawsuit. No, really – he outdid the Kraken lawyers, at least according to one Twitter lawyer.

Kaardal’s behavior in this case was so bad U.S. District Judge for D.C. District James Boasberg actually referred him to the U.S. District Court’s Committee on Grievances. It’s that very lawsuit, filed on December 22, 2020 which implicates Kaardal in the “alternate electors” scheme. You can find some of the documentation for this case on courtlistener.com.

However, the interesting part is Appendix 12 and, if like me, you don’t have or want a PACER account, you can find it via the Wayback Machine looking through the now-missing Got Freedom? website. Buried almost 1500 pages into Kaardal’s “evidence” are photocopies of two of the fake election certifications (Michigan and Wisconsin).

Recall these false certifications were signed on December 14, 2020; eight days later, Kaardal has copies of them. But, wait, that’s not all. The “alternate” electors have to send off multiple originals to the National Archives, Vice President Mike Pence, so on. In the video of the Nevada signing you will see the “alternate electors” signing six copies of all the documents.

It’s very interesting that Kaardal’s photocopies aren’t copies of the originals sent to the National Archives. He’s got photocopies of different originals. I compared the signatures on the documents from the National Archives with the ones that Kaardal had, on or before December 22, 2020, and realized they’re signed by the same people, but there are minor variations in the signatures, as you would expect when people sign multiple copies at the same time. He had photocopies of originals from two different states – states in which Kaardal doesn’t live.

Would you like to guess what Kaardal’s favorite font is? Baskerville Old Face. Check out the documents he submitted in this dumbest pro-Trump election lawsuit. The “fake elector vote count in a box” package uses the same font and the same margins that Kaardal’s other documents use. He had access to the completed versions well before they were in the public domain.

One More Thing

(Imagine that in Peter Falk’s Columbo voice.) In the course of tracking all this down, I actually read the dumbest pro-Trump lawsuit which Kaardal wrote. Some of it – the not-quite-completely-unhinged parts – seemed familiar. I knew I had read some of these paragraphs before.

I went searching through my OCR’d versions of various documents I had come across – and I found it. You might remember the DOJ coughed up a bunch of documents to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. One of those documents was a draft lawsuit Trump’s assistant sent to Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue which Trump wanted the DOJ to file to overturn the election.

Lo and behold, significant chunks of that lawsuit were copied from Kaardal’s lawsuit. There’s no ethical issue with the copying. It’s just one more indication how closely the The Amistad Project folks were working with key Trump conspirators.

The post Guest Post: The Tie that Binds the Conspiracies appeared first on emptywheel.