I want to thank the New York Times for their bombshell reporting on the family and finances of President Trump. What they’ve done is a vital public service. I’m particularly pleased because they’re making me look pretty good right now.
It was sometime about, oh, two years ago, that I got a funny question in my head. ‘Where did Donald Trump get all that money?’ I get questions like this in my head all the time and they don’t amount to much. But this one stayed with me, and it turns out for good reason. Because it made no sense that ‘businessman’ Donald Trump was any big deal.
He was the son of Fred Trump, a New York housing and rental property builder. Fred had done pretty good for himself over his long life, erecting thousands of units and amassing a fortune of reportedly in excess of $200 million. You could certainly call him a success, in strictly business terms (for now we’ll avoid the apparent racism of the man in his personal and professional doings).
What seemed strange to me was: How did his son become so rich so fast? The press were passing along the idea that Donald was a billionaire as early as the eighties. Donnie was born in 1946 – how did he get there so quickly? It’s not like he dropped out of high school to sell timeshares in Key Largo and became the Vacation King by the time he was 30.
He was in the New York Military Academy until 1964. He went on to to college at Fordham and then Penn, graduating in 1968. After that he began to work for his father, managing his real estate interests. So he’s pulling down a solid six-figure salary, throughout the late sixties and early seventies. How in the world does that translate to a billion dollar empire only 10 or 20 years later?
That’s the problem. You can’t do it. No one can do it, it can’t be done.
Here would be the time to get into the moneybags-to-riches story Donald loves so well. Let him tell the tale:
“My father gave me a very small loan in 1975, and I built it into a company that’s worth many, many billions of dollars.”
This is his precious personal, business and family history. The man made himself a preening billionaire out of pretty much nothing.
“My whole life really has been a ‘no’ and I fought through it,” Trump said Monday at an NBC-sponsored town hall here. “It has not been easy for me, it has not been easy for me. And you know I started off in Brooklyn, my father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”
Umm, huh? Born into one of the richest families in a rich country, in a rich town…it hasn’t been easy for this poor guy. Folks, you have no idea. And the timing of the genesis tale is comical – he’d only been drawing a salary until 1975. But err something while the world was mean to me, then something something and I got a “small” million dollar loan. That’s when the whole thing began? After that he struck out on his own and he’d made a billion dollars by 1988. Sure, why not? That’s what the media were reporting back then.
…Even financial reporters have found it difficult to figure out how much The Donald owns–and he’s harassed at least one who’s tried. So, following on our political history of Donald Trump’s publicity, here is a history of the press’s best guesstimates.
March 1988: The New York Times says Trump is worth $3 billion when he buys the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for $390 million.
October 1988: Trump estimated to be worth $1 billion by Forbes magazine.
July 1989: Trump’s net worth estimated to be $1.5 billion–and increase of $500 million in 10 months. He makes Forbes’ World Billionaires list for the first time.
Those are pretty reliable sources. Donald Trump had taken a million dollars and multiplied it a thousand times in only thirteen years. How did he do it? Or, more accurately – how did this happen?
Well, I roughly knew, or so I thought: Crime. That’s the only way you keep doubling your ‘investment’ every year for over a decade. I never thought the teetotaler was into cocaine or heroin smuggling, so it had to be something else. I looked into how he might have had access to vast wealth and then it hit me: Fred. He was stealing from Fred. It made all the sense in the world.
Fred had made him CEO of much of his enterprise when Donald was only in his 20s. Given his narcissism and endless greed, he just familiarized himself with all the inner workings of the business and then started taking huge chunks of Dad’s fortune with both hands. The sordid truth would turn out to be 1.) Fred was worth waaay more than people ever knew. And 2.) Donald was thieving him blind. Like parts of a puzzle, it all seemed to fit. You throw in the fact that Fred suffered from Alzheimer’s later in life, and it’s a slam dunk. Trump the fake business titan had simply robbed his titanic father.
Or so I thought, until today. Thank you New York Times:
The president has long sold himself as a self-made billionaire, but a Times investigation found that he received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s.
There it was. Exactly the sort of numbers that would have had to magically appear in the future president’s bank accounts to make him “a billionaire”.
President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found…
Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.
These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances. The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show.
It turns out Fred Trump was a stealth mammon. He was the opposite of Donald, he was a bona fide business magnate. And if he hadn’t been obsessed with denying the government – and American citizens – their due who knows if we would have ever heard of his son Donald. The idea that Fred was only worth $200 or $300 million dollars at the end of his life was laughable: he’d diverted over a billion dollars in personal wealth to his kids to avoid the taxes. Fred was a tax-fraud business behemoth.
Donald was a spoiled brat.
By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.
As president, Donald Trump is currently getting paid $400,000 a year. He was pulling down half that salary when he was three years old. He was making way more than you or I make right now while he was learning to bend over without falling, or kick and throw a ball.
Four decades later, while he was dotting the celebrity New York social scene as a shaper of downtown skylines and a king capitalist, he was still getting seven-figure welfare checks from Daddy. $5 million a year, all the way through his forties and fifties. There’s almost no way to overestimate the shocking amount of money Fred dumped on his son, much as the Times tried.
All told, The Times documented 295 streams of revenue that Fred Trump created over five decades to enrich his son. In most cases his four other children benefited equally. But over time, as Donald Trump careened from one financial disaster to the next, his father found ways to give him substantially more money, records show.
This culminated in the legendary chips fraud:
On Dec. 17, 1990, Fred Trump dispatched Howard Snyder, a trusted bookkeeper, to Atlantic City with a $3.35 million check. Mr. Snyder bought $3.35 million worth of casino chips and left without placing a bet. Apparently, even this infusion wasn’t sufficient, because that same day Fred Trump wrote a second check to Trump’s Castle, for $150,000, bank records show.
Fred kept the casino out of hawk for another year, but that was all. His son’s gambling businesses inevitably collapsed. New Jersey regulators caught on to the crime and rendered Fred “ineligible for licensing.” This would have been troubling if Fred weren’t already ancient or richer than God.
And what does Donald think about his good fortune? How does he view the man who created all his wealth, and therein his fame, thereby his pop culture status as a “billionaire businessman”? Reportedly he thought Fred was something of a middling success. The old man, he didn’t do too bad. Donald’s never been openly or particularly impressed by the astonishing $400 million bone Fred threw his way. But then I suppose that’s understandable given the massive fraud the two of them engaged in to make that possible.
However we do know that Donald, as Fred declined in old age, and Alzheimer’s took its toll, at one point schemed with his many lawyers to re-engineer Fred’s sizable estate.
Fred Trump had given careful thought to what would become of his empire after he died, and had hired one of the nation’s top estate lawyers to draft his will. But in December 1990, Donald Trump sent his father a document, drafted by one of his own lawyers, that sought to make significant changes to that will.
Fred Trump, then 85, had never before set eyes on the document, 12 pages of dense legalese. Nor had he authorized its preparation. Nor had he met the lawyer who drafted it.
Yet his son sent instructions that he needed to sign it immediately.
Which is a helluva way to thank your old man. What a guy.