NEW YORK (AP) – It’s sleepy by Donald Trump’s standards, but the former Westchester County president’s mansion in New York County could be one of his biggest legal nightmares.
Seven Springs, a 213-acre wildlife surrounding a Georgian-style mansion, is the subject of two state investigations: a criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and a civil investigation by New York Attorney Leticia James.
Both investigations are focusing on whether Trump manipulated the value of the property to reap greater tax benefits from the environmental deal he made in late 201
Bought by Trump in 1995 for $ 7.5 million, Seven Springs regained new control as he prepared to step down and was on top of the loss of legal protection he had as president. Vance issued new subpoenas in mid-December, and a judge ordered evidence handed over to James’ office nine days after Trump left Washington.
Other legal issues of Trump, with investigations into his attempts to influence election officials and payments made on his behalf to women alleging scandals dominating the headlines. But former Manhattan prosecutor Duncan Levin said white-collar investigators go wherever the paper trail leads.
“While a tax issue related to a conservation agreement may not be as sexy as paying with money, prosecutors are likely to focus on any violations of the law they find,” Levin said. “Remember that the authorities forced Al Capone to evade taxes.”
Seven Springs is an exception in Trump’s real estate portfolio, filled with sleek tall buildings and gilded amenities. His website is listed as a family apostasy, although Trump has not been there for more than four years.
At the base of the mansion is the mansion, built as a summer getaway in 1919 by Eugene Meyer, who became chairman of the Federal Reserve and owner of The Washington Post. In 2006, while pushing for a plan to build luxury homes on the property, Trump put forward the idea that he and his family would move into the mansion, but that never happened.
Brand new, the 28,322-square-foot apartment features more than a dozen bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and a tennis court. Mayer’s daughter, the late Washington Post publisher Catherine Graham, married in Seven Springs in 1940.
In his memoir, Personal History, Graham describes the ambiguous emotions of going there, writing: “The older I got, the more I disliked the loneliness of the farm, but in my childhood it was like I wrote to my father when I was 10. “Great old place.” “
At one time, Meyer owned about 700 acres. A philanthropic foundation he and his wife, Agnes, donated 247 acres to the Conservation Park and the rest of the land and buildings that made up Seven Springs at Yale University in 1973, following the death of Agnes Meyer.
The mansion changed hands again when the foundation took it back from Yale and ran a conference center there before handing over the property to Rockefeller University, which eventually sold it to Trump.
Trump paid about $ 2.25 million under the price list for Seven Springs, acquiring the land as part of efforts to speed up his fortune after a series of failures in the early 1990s, including casino bankruptcies and the sale of Trump Shuttle. which loses money.
Trump planned to transform it into his first caliber golf course with an exceptional clientele and high membership fees.
He hired an architectural firm to draw fairways and green spaces, but abandoned efforts when residents expressed fears that grass chemicals would contaminate nearby Lake Bajram, a local source of drinking water.
Then Trump tried to build houses. He proposed the construction of 46 single-family homes, and after that plan also met with community opposition, 15 homes with large mansions, which he described in 2004 as “super-high-end homes like never seen before on the East Coast. . “The project has been delayed for years in litigation and no homes have ever been built.
In 2009, Trump caused a stir by allowing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to pitch his Bedouin-style tent at the Seven Springs property north of New York because he had nowhere to stay to visit the United Nations.
Trump initially assumed he did not know Gaddafi was involved, but later admitted that he “earned a lot of money” by renting the land to the Libyan leader. Local authorities stopped work on the tent, and Gaddafi never stayed there.
His development plans fell through, and Trump chose a strategy that would allow him to keep his property but reduce his taxes. He provided an easement to a land conservation trust to preserve 158 acres (60 hectares) of meadows and mature forest.
Trump received a $ 21 million income tax deduction equal to the value of the reserved land, according to property and court records. The amount is based on a professional appraisal that values the entire Seven Springs property at $ 56.5 million as of December 1, 2015.
This was a much higher amount than the appraisal of local authorities, who said the entire mansion was worth $ 20 million.
Michael Colangelo, a lawyer with the New York Attorney’s Office, outlined the central issue involving the Seven Springs easement during last year’s hearing on an evidence dispute.
“If the value of the easement was improperly inflated, who took advantage of this improper inflation and in what amounts?” Said Collangelo. “It goes without saying that the Attorney General must see the documents that reflect the value of this deduction, as it has reached intermediate entities and ultimately personally to Mr. Trump.”
A message to seek comment was left by Trump’s spokesman. In the past, the former Republican president has dismissed investigations as part of a “witch hunt.”
Seven Sources caught the attention of investigators after Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixing agent told a congressional committee in 2019 that Trump has a habit of manipulating property values - in some cases inflating them and in others minimized to gain favorable loan terms and tax breaks.
Cohen testified that Trump had financial statements saying the Seven Springs was worth $ 291 million as of 2012. He provided copies of three of Trump’s financial statements to Parliament’s Oversight and Reform Committee during of his testimony.
Cohen said the statements from 2011, 2012 and 2013 were the kind that Trump gave to his main lender Deutsche Bank to ask for a loan to buy the buffalo accounts of the NFL and Forbes magazine to justify your claim to a place on your list of the richest people in the world.
Trump in his annual financial disclosure forms while he was president said the property was worth between $ 25 million and $ 50 million.
The New York prosecutor is the first to act. James issues subpoenas to real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield for records related to her valuation on behalf of Trump; of law firms that have worked on the Seven Springs project; and Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, for records related to its annual financial statements and conservation easements.
James is also calling for zoning and planning records in 2019 from the three cities of Seven Springs. Vance followed with his own summonses in December. One city official said investigators were given “boxes and boxes of documents” in response. These included tax returns, surveying maps, environmental studies and minutes of planning board meetings.
Investigators have interviewed Trump’s son, Eric Trump, Trump’s executive vice president and president of the limited liability company that owns Seven Springs; Trump’s chief financial officer, Alan Weisberg; and Trump attorneys hired for the Seven Springs project, which specialize in land use and federal tax disputes.
Investigators are yet to determine whether any law has been violated.
Vance, who, like James, is a Democrat, did not reveal much about his criminal investigation, in part because of the grand jury’s rules of secrecy. The district attorney said in court documents that he was focusing on public reports of “widespread and prolonged criminal behavior in the Trump organization.”
Documents submitted in connection with the criminal investigation – supported by a decision of the US Supreme Court last month, giving Vance access to Trump’s tax records – have listed Seven springs among the possible goals.
Along with the mansion, Seven Springs has a Tudor-style home once owned by ketchup mogul HJ Heinz, and smaller carriage houses that Trump’s older sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, said served as a “home base.” when visiting the mansion to hike and ride the ATV.
During his presidency, Trump himself chose higher-profile properties such as his Bedminster Golf Course, New Jersey, and his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he has lived since leaving the White House.
The New York Times reported last year that Trump’s tax records show he classifies the property not as private home but as investment property, allowing him to write off more than $ 2 million in property taxes since 2014.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak