No wonder Donald Trump calls himself an ardent philanthropist.
He has likely made millions off it.
He does not simply avoid giving.
Maybe his book should have been called The Art of the Hustle.
His biggest score appears to have come in 2006, and if he ever releases his tax return for that year, we will learn if he is a felon or just a liar.
Either way, the self-proclaimed “ardent philanthropist” seems to give precious little money to charity while receiving millions in deductions by donating land he valued at somewhere between 13 and 50 times what he paid for it.
Back in the 1990s, Trump paid $2 million for two parcels of land totaling 436 acres north of New York City with the hope of building a pair of golf courses.
He initially sought to overcome various environmental obstacles and permitting hurdles by applying his self-described mastery of deal making. He placed a phone call to the then supervisor of the Westchester County village of Yorktown, Linda Cooper.
“Linda, just let me build the golf course—I’m rich, you’ll like it,’” Trump said, by her recollection.
Cooper would tell the press that Trump “just didn’t want to go through the rules.”
She offered the same description of Trump that others would later offer during his present presidential campaign.
“He’s like the bully on the playground,” Cooper told the Journal News. “Whether you are a big person or a little person, you have to follow the same rules. If he chooses to stop the process, so be it.”
The rules remained the rules, and Trump did indeed choose to stop the process in 2002.
“You have done a terrible disservice to your constituents who have sadly lost out on a tremendous opportunity,” Trump said in a letter to Cooper.
Trump suggested to reporters that he had been making a sacrifice to begin with.
“My problem is that I can make much more money with housing than I can with a golf course,” he said.
He announced, “I have put a ‘For Sale’ sign out,” and said it was sure to attract “every developer in Westchester.”
He had yet to sell the land four years later, when he donated it to New York State for a park.
“You know me,” he said. “I never throw up my hands. I fight back. I could have sold the property to a developer, because it’s zoned for houses. Instead, I’m giving it to the state, which is the best thing to do.”
The park would of course be named after himself. The gift came with a further condition.
“The name will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to the park,” read a letter from his attorney to the state.
A press conference was held at the new Donald J. Trump State Park. Trump was joined by his wife, Melania, and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka.
“This is so beautiful, am I allowed to change my mind?” he joked to his wife.
He said his children had suggested donation as a way “to do something spectacular.”
“I have always loved the city and state of New York and this is my way of trying to give something back,” Trump said, as then-Gov. George Pataki stood beside him, beaming approvingly. “I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”
A reporter asked the value of the land in question.
“People have told me about $100 million,” Trump said.
The press took that to mean the donation was worth $100 million, an impression Trump made no effort to dispel.
A town planning official would later suggest that the land was more likely worth in the vicinity of $15 million.
The question now is whether Trump claimed the $100 million valuation as a charitable deduction in his income tax return for 2006. That would seem to constitute tax fraud, a felony.
But a list of Trump’s supposed charitable donations compiled by his campaign and given to the Associated Press is topped by this entry:
“LAND DONATED TO NYS OFFICE OF PARKS—YORKTOWN, NY—436 ACRES…$26,100,000”
That appraisal would be more in keeping with reality and on the honest side of outright fraud if he used it in his tax return. He would not be a felon after all, just a liar who exaggerated the value of the land by some $73,900,000.
He has said, “I fight like hell not to pay a lot of tax,” so he almost certainly sought a big-time tax break from the donation.
Even the much smaller deduction resulting from the $26.1 million valuation would likely still be worth millions more than the $2 million he paid for the land.
Talk about ardent philanthropy!
Trump also remains that rare soul who made money off the 9/11 attacks. He gave little if any of his own money in the aftermath when the whole world was offering to help, but he accepted $150,000 to offset supposed business losses at his building several blocks from Ground Zero.
By contrast, Rosie O’Donnell gave $1 million the day after the attacks. Trump has called her a fat pig.
On Saturday, Trump seemed to reduce his 9/11 net profit by presenting the September 11 Memorial with a check for $100,000 while making his first visit there.
But The Washington Post reported that the check was actually drawn on the Trump Foundation. And Trump does not seem to have given anything to the foundation that bears his name since 2008. The funds handed out in his name have actually come from such various sources as a World Wrestling Federation, a Queens carpet wholesaler, and a prominent ticket scalper known as The Ticket Man.
On Monday, a spokesman for the September 11 Memorial was unable to confirm that Trump’s check had indeed come from the foundation rather than The Donald himself. Should the money prove to have come out of his pocket, he will remain $50,000 ahead from 9/11.
Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump State Park was closed in 2010 as a result of budget cuts. Signs prominently bearing his name are still posted not only at the entrances, as required by the agreement, but on nearby parkway exits.
Only his 2006 tax return will show if Trump is a felon or a liar.
Only that return will document if he was not a big-time giver but a big-time getter.
Only all his tax returns—which the IRS says he has no reason not to release despite his talk about audits —will tell the full story of The Art of the Hustle.