The Pardu

The Pardu
Watchful eyes and ears feed the brain, thus nourishing the brain cells.
Showing posts with label ProPublica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ProPublica. Show all posts

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Trump Tax Documents?





ProPublica Repost

Never-Before-Seen Trump Tax Documents Show Major Inconsistencies

The president’s businesses made themselves appear more profitable to lenders and less profitable to tax officials. One expert calls the differing numbers “versions of fraud.”


Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street.

Lenders like to see a rising occupancy level as a sign of what they call “leasing momentum.” Sure enough, the company told a lender that 40 Wall Street had been 58.9% leased on Dec. 31, 2012, and then rose to 95% a few years later. The company told tax officials the building was 81% rented as of Jan. 5, 2013.

A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

New York City’s property tax forms state that the person signing them “affirms the truth of the statements made” and that “false filings are subject to all applicable civil and criminal penalties.”

The punishments for lying to tax officials, or to lenders, can be significant, ranging from fines to criminal fraud charges. Two former Trump associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are serving prison time for offenses that include falsifying tax and bank records, some of them related to real estate.

“Certainly, if I were sitting in a prosecutor’s office, I would want to ask a lot more questions,” said Anne Milgram, a former attorney general for New Jersey who is now a professor at New York University School of Law.
Trump has previously been accused of manipulating numbers on his tax and loan documents, including by his former lawyer, Cohen. But Trump’s business is notoriously opaque, with records rarely surfacing, and up till now there’s been little documentary evidence supporting those claims.

That’s one reason that multiple governmental entities, including two congressional committees and the office of the Manhattan district attorney, have subpoenaed Donald Trump’s tax returns. Trump has resisted, taking his battles to federal courts in Washington and New York. And so the question of whether different parts of the government can see the president’s financial information is now playing out in two appeals courts and seems destined to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Add to that a Washington Post account of an IRS whistleblower claiming political interference in the handling of the president’s audit, and the result is what amounts to frenetic interest in one person’s tax returns.

ProPublica obtained the property tax documents using New York’s Freedom of Information Law. The documents were public because Trump appealed his property tax bill for the buildings every year for nine years in a row, the extent of the available records. We compared the tax records with loan records that became public when Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities.

ProPublica reviewed records for four properties: 40 Wall Street, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas and Trump Tower. Discrepancies involving two of them — 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower — stood out.

There can be legitimate reasons for numbers to diverge between tax and loan documents, the experts noted, but some of the gaps seemed to have no reasonable justification. “It really feels like there’s two sets of books — it feels like a set of books for the tax guy and a set for the lender,” said Kevin Riordan, a financing expert and real estate professor at Montclair State University who reviewed the records. “It’s hard to argue numbers. That’s black and white.”

The Trump Organization did not respond on the record to detailed questions provided by ProPublica. Robert Pollack, a lawyer whose firm, Marcus & Pollack, handles Trump’s property tax appeal filings with the city, said he was not authorized to discuss the documents. A spokeswoman for Mazars USA, the accounting firm that signed off on the two properties’ expense and income statements, said the firm does not comment on its work for clients. Executives with Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, declined to be quoted for the story.

In response to ProPublica’s questions about the disparities, Laura Feyer, deputy press secretary for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, said of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, “The city is looking into this property, and if there has been any underreporting, we will take appropriate action.”

Taxes have long been a third rail for Trump. Long before he famously declined to make his personal returns public, a New York Times investigation concluded, Trump participated in tax schemes that involved “outright fraud,” and that he had formulated “a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns.” Trump’s former partners in Panama claimed in a lawsuit, which is ongoing, that Trump’s hotel management company failed to pay taxes on millions in fees it received. Spokespeople for Trump and his company have denied any tax improprieties in the past.

In February, Cohen told Congress that Trump had adjusted figures up or down, as necessary, to obtain loans and avoid taxes. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen testified, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

The two Trump buildings with the most notable discrepancies shared a financial trait: Both were refinanced in 2015 and 2016 while Trump was campaigning for president. The loan for 40 Wall Street — $160 million — was then the Trump Organization’s biggest debt.

The fortunes of 40 Wall Street have risen and fallen repeatedly since it was constructed in 1930. Once briefly in the running to become the world’s tallest skyscraper (before being eclipsed by the Chrysler Building and then others), the 71-story landmark had an illustrious history before falling into disrepair as it changed hands multiple times.

Trump says in his book “Never Give Up” that he took over 40 Wall Street for $1 million during a down market in 1995. Others have reported the price as $10 million. Trump gave the property his signature treatment, decking out the lobby in Italian marble and bronze and christening it “The Trump Building.” Tenants such as American Express moved in.

But the rent rolls suffered when big-name tenants fled to Midtown in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Less blue-chip operations replaced them. In recent years, there were more setbacks. About two years ago, for example, high-end food purveyor Dean & Deluca canceled plans to locate an 18,500-square-foot emporium on the higher-priced first floor. The space remains empty.

The building at 40 Wall was underperforming, charging below-market rents, according to credit-rating agency Moody’s. Its profits were lagging.
Trump’s company, which has sometimes struggled to obtain credit because of his history of bankruptcies and defaults, turned for relief to a financial institution where Donald Trump had a connection: Ladder Capital, which employs Jack Weisselberg, the son of the Trump Organization’s longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg. Ladder is a publicly traded commercial real estate investment trust that reports more than $6 billion in assets. In 2015, and still today, Jack Weisselberg was an executive director whose job was to make loans.

Trump and Jack Weisselberg had history together. Jack was at UBS, in its loan origination department, in 2006, when the Swiss bank loaned Trump $7 million for his piece of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Allen Weisselberg had bought a condo from Trump in one of his buildings for a below-market price of $152,500 in 2000. He deeded it to Jack three years later for about $148,000. Jack sold the unit for more than three times as much in 2006. (Jack Weisselberg declined to comment on Ladder’s loans or his relationship with the Trump Organization.)

Even with a sympathetic lender, the struggles at 40 Wall Street would normally raise questions. Trump’s representatives needed to demonstrate signs of the building’s financial health if they wanted a new loan with a lower interest rate.

They had a compelling piece of data, it seemed. Trump’s team told Ladder that occupancy was rebounding after registering a lackluster 58.9% on Dec. 31, 2012. Since then, Trump representatives reported, the building had signed new tenants. Income from them hadn’t fully been realized yet, largely because of free-rent deals, they said. But after 2015, they predicted, revenues would surge.

“That’s a selling point for people in the business,” said Riordan, who was previously the executive director of the Rutgers Center for Real Estate. Borrowers “want to show tremendous leasing momentum.” The steepness of such a rise in occupancy at the Trump building was unusual, Riordan and other experts said.

Documents submitted to city property tax officials show no such run-up. Trump representatives reported to the tax authorities that the building was already 81% leased in 2012.

“What is bizarre is that you have these tax filings that are totally different,” Riordan said. A gap of at least 10 percentage points between the two occupancy reports persisted for the next two years, before the figures in the tax and loan reports synced in January 2016.

The portrayal of a rapid rise in occupancy, and the explanation that income would soon follow, were critical for the refinancing. Indeed, Ladder’s underwriters were predicting that 40 Wall Street’s profits would more than double after 2015. Having reviewed Trump’s financial statements and rent roll, they estimated the building would clear $22.6 million a year in net operating income.

Ladder needed credit ratings agencies like Moody’s and Fitch to endorse its income expectations and give the loan a favorable rating, which would in turn make it easier for the next step of the plan: to package the loan as part of a bond, a so-called commercial mortgage-backed security, and sell it to investors. Without the expected rise in income, Riordan said, the loan size or terms would likely have needed to be renegotiated to satisfy the ratings agencies and investors, which would mean less favorable terms for Trump and Ladder. “There was a story crafted here,” Riordan said. “It’s contradicted by what we see in the tax filings.”

Wallace, the University of California professor, added: “Especially in underwriting loans, you are supposed to truthfully report.” Both the lender and the borrower are required to supply accurate information, she said.

Moody’s and Fitch analysts found the underwriter’s projections slightly too rosy, but Fitch conferred an investment-grade rating on the loan, allowing it to proceed as planned. Trump ultimately received a 10-year loan with a lower interest rate than the building previously had as well as terms that would allow him to defer paying off much of the principal until the end of the loan.

Once granted, the loan to 40 Wall Street ran into trouble: The year after it went through, the loan servicer put it on a “watch list” because of concerns that the building wasn’t making sufficient profit to pay the debt service with enough of a margin. It stayed on the list for three months. (Trump’s company has continued making payments.)

As of 2018, the most recent year available, the building had never met the underwriters’ profit expectations, trailing by more than 8%, according to data from commercial real estate research service Trepp. Experts say that, given the amount of research underwriters do, a property typically meets their expectations fairly quickly.

The 40 Wall Street documents contain discrepancies related to costs as well as to occupancy. Generally, there are “more opportunities to play games on the expense side,” said Ron Shapiro, an assistant professor at Rutgers Business School and a former bank senior vice president, “particularly because there are many more kinds of expenses.”

Comparing specific expense items in both sets of records is challenging, because accountants may group categories differently in reports to tax and loan officials. But some differences on 40 Wall Street documents elicit head-scratching.

For example, insurance costs in 2017 were listed as $744,521 in tax documents and $457,414 in loan records.

Then there was the underlying lease. Trump technically doesn’t own 40 Wall Street. He pays the wealthy German family that owns the property for the right to rent the building to tenants. In 2015, both Trump’s report to tax authorities and a key loan disclosure document asserted that Trump’s company paid $1.65 million for these rights that year. But a line-by-line income and expense statement, which Trepp gathered from what the company reported to the loan servicer, reported the company paid about $1.24 million that year.

“I don’t know why that would be off,” said Jason Hoffman, who is chair of the real estate committee for a professional association of certified public accountants in New York state. Like other experts, he said there are legitimate reasons why tax and loan filings might not line up perfectly. But Hoffman said the firm where he works makes sure the numbers match when it prepares both tax and loan documents for a client — or that it can explain why if they don’t.
Financial information for the Trump International Hotel and Tower raises similar questions. Trump owns only a small portion of the building, which is located on Columbus Circle: two commercial spaces, which he rents out to a restaurant and a parking garage. Trump’s company told New York City tax officials it made about $822,000 renting space to commercial tenants there in 2017, records show. The company told loan officials it took in $1.67 million that year — more than twice as much. In eight years of data ProPublica examined for the Columbus Circle property, Trump’s company reported gross income to tax authorities that was typically only about 81% of what it reported to the lender.

Trump appeared to omit from tax documents income his company received from leasing space on the roof for television antennas, a ProPublica review found. The line on tax appeal forms for income from such communications equipment is blank on nine years of tax filings, even as loan documents listed the antennas as major sources of income.
Trump has an easement to lease the roof space; he doesn’t own it. But three tax experts, including Melanie Brock, an appraiser and paralegal who has worked on hundreds of New York City tax cases, told ProPublica that the income should still be reported on the tax appeals forms.

It’s hard to guess what might explain every inconsistency, said David Wilkes, a New York City tax lawyer who is chair of the National Association of Property Tax Attorneys. But, he added, “My gut reaction is it seems like there’s something amiss there.”

Tax records for Trump personally and for his business continue to be subjects of contention in multiple investigations. The Justice Department has intervened in the investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, whose office has sought Trump’s personal tax returns. Congressional lawmakers investigating his business dealings have sought documents from his longtime accountant, Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars. Trump is fighting the subpoenas in court. (Bender did not respond to requests for comment.)

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has said the committee is seeking to determine if Cohen’s testimony about Trump inflating and deflating his assets was accurate. Cummings asked for Mazars’ records related to Trump entities, as well as communications between Bender and Trump or Trump employees since 2009.

Such communications, the subpoena stated, should include any related to potential concerns that information Trump or his representatives provided his accountants was “incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise unsatisfactory.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

StumbleUpon

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

ProPublica: Hate In America






Happy Holidays...... But hate doesn't take a holiday.

Exhibit

_____________________
Repost From ProPublica
Documenting Hate in America: What We Found in 2018
Swastikas drawn on the office of a Jewish Ivy League professor. Latinos harassed for speaking Spanish in public. Hijab-wearing women targeted in road rage incidents. Neo-Nazis bragging online about a murder. These are just some of the incidents that we and our partners have reported in our second year of Documenting Hate, a collaborative project investigating hate with more than 160 newsrooms around the country. 
Since we launched the project in January 2017, victims and witnesses of hate incidents have sent us more than 5,400 reports from all 50 states. We've verified nearly 1,200 reports, either via independent reporting or through corroborating news coverage. We've also collected thousands of pages of hate crime data and incident reports from hundreds of police departments across the country.
Here are some of the highlights from the project this year, including ProPublica's work and reporting by partners using our tips and resources. (Read all our reporting from the past year here.)
Dozens of Hate-Fueled Attacks Reported at Walmart Stores Nationwide, UnivisionUnivision’s Jessica Weiss identified dozens of harassment incidents at Walmarts and other superstores. Walmarts often act as “de facto ‘town centers,’” and people of color end up getting targeted, such as being told to go back to their country or to speak English. Just this month, two men in Louisiana were arrested for allegedly yelling racial slurs at a black woman leaving a Walmart and smashing a shopping cart into her car.
They Spewed Hate. Then They Punctuated It With the President’s Name, Reveal from the Center for Investigative ReportingReveal went through hundreds of tips in which President Donald Trump’s name was mentioned, identifying incidents all over the country ranging from harassment to assault. Reporter Will Carless spoke to 80 people who reported these tips, and he found an additional 70 cases reported in the media or confirmed with documentation. 
“Dozens of people across the country said the same thing: What hurts most in these attacks is being told that you don’t belong in America,” Carless wrote. “That you’re not welcome. That since Trump was elected, the country has been reserved for a certain group — a group that doesn’t look like you or dress like you or practice the same religion as you.”
A Killing at Donkey Creek, ProPublicaProPublica’s Rahima Nasa reported on potentially bias-motivated crimes that weren’t prosecuted as hate crimes, including the killing of a Native American man in Washington state. Even though there were indications he was targeted and run over because of his ethnicity, prosecutors didn’t bring bias crime charges. The man convicted of the homicide received only 7 ½ years in prison.
Police Are Mislabeling Anti-LGBTQ and Other Crimes as Anti-Heterosexual, ProPublica
ProPublica’s Rahima Nasa and I discovered that some police officers were marking some crimes as anti-heterosexual, including anti-LGBTQ bias crimes and offenses that weren’t even bias-related. Those crimes were then reflected erroneously in the FBI’s national hate crime data. Some of the police departments we contacted said they’d fix the errors. “Thank you for bringing it to our attention, because we never would have known,” one records officer told us. 
Hate in Schools, Education WeekEducation Week’s Francisco Vara-Orta examined hate incidents in schools, which affect black, Latino, Muslim and Jewish students. He built on previous reporting our partners had done to analyze patterns, finding that hate speech, both written and spoken, was the most common occurrence, while the largest number of reports happened the day after the 2016 election. Swastikas were the most common hate symbol; the most common words were the n-word, various versions of “build the wall” and “go back to [foreign country].” 
Hate in America, Education Week
This year, we partnered with News 21, a project of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. A team of News21 reporters did a deep dive into how hate crimes are investigated and tracked, how laws are enforced, and what groups are targeted. They found that more than 2.4 million suspected bias crimes were committed between 2012 and 2016, based on an analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey, but only 12 percent of the nation’s police departments reported any hate crimes to the FBI during this period. They also found that only about 4 percent of hate crime victims who reported to police had those crimes verified by law enforcement, and that only 100 hate crimes were prosecuted at the federal level from January 2010 to July 2018. 
In The Name Of Hate, Muslim Women Face Road Rage Behind The Wheel, HuffPost
HuffPost’s Rowaida Abdelaziz identified road rage incidents affecting Muslims and people of Arab descent. Hijab-wearing women reported hearing slurs or seeing threatening gestures from drivers, or even nearly getting driven off the road. Those interviewed said it happens so often that they don’t see a point in reporting it, especially since it’s hard to gather evidence while driving. Abdelaziz also wrote about a road rage incident recorded by a college student in Texas, which prompted an open letter from the local mayor. 
Hate in Maryland: From Racist Taunts to Swastikas to a Campus Stabbing, Bias Reports Up Sharply in State, The Baltimore SunThe Baltimore Sun’s Catherine Rentz gathered and analyzed two years worth of hate crime data from Maryland police departments, and she found that police categorized more than half of reported hate crimes as inconclusive. Law enforcement only forwarded verified reports to the FBI to include in their annual data, leaving out potential bias crimes in which a perpetrator wasn’t identified. Ten of the state’s counties reported zero hate crimes.
Documenting Hate: New American Nazis, ProPublica and Frontline 
In a two-part documentary, ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson and Frontline investigated white supremacist groups the Rise Above Movement and Atomwaffen, discovering members and associates’ involvement in violence and even murder. Reporters identified neo-Nazis who were active-duty members of the military, and one white supremacist with a government security clearance. The project had major impact. It led to indictments and arrests, a firing, a prison sentence and a change in Marine Corps policy. 
Jewish Professor Finds Swastikas Outside Her Office at Columbia Teachers College, Gothamist/WNYCWhile overall crime is down in New York City, hate crimes are on the rise, and our partner WNYC has been reporting on many of the incidents happening around the city. 
We’ve received hundreds of reports about swastikas, and one report ended up going national after WNYC’s Arun Venugopal broke the story of anti-Semitic vandalism in a Columbia University professor’s office. The professor, who researches the Holocaust, said it was the second time her office had been vandalized. WNYC also reported that one of New York City’s top civil rights officials was targeted in a hate incident, but when she reported it to police, they allegedly discouraged her from making a report. 
The Cities Where the Cops See No Hate, BuzzFeed NewsNearly 90 percent of law enforcement agencies that voluntarily submit data to the FBI claim to have no hate crimes. So Peter Aldhous of BuzzFeed News reviewed more than 2,400 incident reports of assaults from 10 police departments that reported zero hate crimes in 2016. In the process, he identified assaults that should have been classified as potential bias crimes but weren’t. 
We’re still figuring out where the Documenting Hate project goes from here, but we’re proud of the work it has produced, both by our newsroom and by our partners. It’s a topic that, unfortunately, retains its relevance and its urgency. 
Have you been a victim or witness of a hate incident? Please tell us your story. 
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
StumbleUpon

Friday, December 14, 2018

ProPublica: Trump’s Inauguration





ProPublica

Trump’s Inauguration Paid Trump’s Company — With Ivanka in the Middle

When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.

It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.

The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee’s payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump’s role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.

“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.

Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.

The revelations about the inauguration’s finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether the inaugural committee misspent money and whether donors gave in return for political favors, citing people familiar with the matter. In addition, The New York Times reported that prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funnelled money to the inauguration.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, said: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”

Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said it “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.” The White House and a lawyer for Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not comment.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday night, when asked about the story in the Journal.

President-elect Trump was repeatedly briefed on inaugural planning and specific events, according to one committee worker with direct knowledge. WNYC and ProPublica have seen presentations that were shown to the president-elect, complete with renderings and floor plans.

Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee, which was chaired by his friend the businessman Tom Barrack, raised nearly $107 million from donors including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AT&T. The January 2017 festivities cost almost twice President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, previously the most expensive. The nonprofit that planned Trump’s inauguration booked many spaces in the Trump International Hotel, located in the Old Post Office building near the White House, including a ballroom, hotel rooms and work spaces, as well as paying for meals there, according to several people who worked on the inauguration.

How the inaugural committee managed to spend all the money it raised remains a mystery, nearly two years after the event. While groups that support political candidates or issues must publicly detail their spending, an inaugural committee is required to list only its top five contractors. That leaves about $40 million unaccounted for.

Greg Jenkins, who led George W. Bush’s second inauguration, was perplexed by the Trump team’s mammoth fundraising haul. “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins told WNYC and ProPublica this year. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

As planning for the inauguration was underway in December 2016, Ivanka Trump was still an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. But she was reportedly preparing to move to Washington and take on a greater public role. She now serves as an adviser to the president.

Around the middle of the month, with Inauguration Day scarcely a month away, Ivanka Trump was asked to help resolve a dispute between inaugural planners and her family’s Washington hotel, according to emails.

The problem: Organizers thought the hotel was charging too much money.

Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.

It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

In an email to Ivanka Trump and Gates, Wolkoff, who had previously managed the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala and fashion shows at Lincoln Center, expressed discomfort with the price.

“I wanted to follow up on our conversation and express my concern,” Wolkoff wrote in the December email.

“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends. Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge,” she wrote, noting that other locations would be provided to the inaugural committee for free.

“I understand that compared to the original pricing this is great but we should look at the whole context,” Wolkoff wrote, suggesting a day rate of $85,000, less than half of the Trump hotel’s offer.

A former Trump hotel staffer confirmed that the inaugural committee paid for inaugural week events at the hotel. It’s not clear what price the committee ultimately paid. Previous media coverage has focused on spending by outside groups at the Trump hotel but it was not known that the official inaugural committee itself spent significant sums there.

Wolkoff also raised concerns about spending in a conversation with then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, according to the story in the Journal. Federal prosecutors have a recording of that conversation, according to the Journal. The Times story suggests that conversation took place well after the inauguration.

Wolkoff, who is a friend of first lady Melania Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Wolkoff’s firm, WIS Media Partners, was the inauguration’s highest-paid contractor, according to the committee’s tax filing. Wolkoff was scrutinized in media accounts this year because the firm received nearly $26 million. Most of that of the money was passed on to subcontractors, according to a person familiar with the spending. It is possible that payments to the Trump hotel were included in that sum.

If the Trump hotel charged the inaugural committee above-market rates, it could violate tax rules, according to Owens, the nonprofit tax expert who is now a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb.

If a person with “substantial influence” over a nonprofit group charges the group above-market rates in a transaction with their outside business, the IRS can impose steep fines. In this case, Donald Trump could qualify as a person with such influence. Should the tax agency find that a violation occurred, the Trump Organization would have to refund any overcharge and the inaugural committee would be hit with a 25 percent tax on the money, Owens said.

Owens added that IRS audits of nonprofits are increasingly rare. Since the inaugural committee was incorporated in Virginia, the state attorney general there could also have standing to investigate its operations.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said its finances “were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. … These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors.”

The inaugural committee spent money at the Trump International in Washington in other ways as well. Many workers came from California and New York and stayed at the hotel, eating their meals there and holding meetings. Receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica show they typically paid about $350 a night. According to an inaugural worker, 15 to 20 inaugural workers stayed at the hotel most nights for roughly a month in the run-up to the inauguration, at a total cost of what could be more than $200,000.

The professional resumes of top Trump hotel staffers indicate they worked closely with the presidential inaugural committee. The hotel’s director of food and beverage says on his LinkedIn profile that he was “working with PIC [Presidential Inaugural Committee] during the 2017 Inauguration” and a “related series of very special events.”

The day before Trump’s swearing in, the inaugural committee hosted a Leadership Luncheon in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom, featuring his cabinet nominees and major donors. “This is a gorgeous room,” the president-elect told the crowd. “A total genius must have built this place.” And the night of the inauguration itself, Trump’sfamily and close allies such as Sean Hannity celebrated into the early morning at an exclusive after-party in the Trump hotel’s grand lobby. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons were released from the rafters.

Some vendors for the inauguration became concerned when Gates, a top inaugural committee official, asked them to take payments outside of the normal committee invoicing process, according to two people with knowledge of what happened. He proposed that they be paid for their work directly from a would-be donor rather than by the committee. Gates told the vendors that the inaugural committee had received pledges of more money than was initially targeted, and, therefore, he wished to reduce the publicly reported sum raised.

Gates did not respond to a request for comment. Last February, he pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of lying to the FBI and conspiracy, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.
Over the summer, Gates was cross examined about his work for the inauguration in the trial of his former boss, Paul Manafort. Gates conceded that he might have charged personal expenses to the committee. “It’s possible,” he said.

In a separate episode this year, a U.S. lobbyist pleaded guilty to helping a Ukrainian businessman and member of Parliament buy tickets to the inauguration, in violation of rules barring the committee from taking foreign money. The inaugural committee was not accused of wrongdoing in that case.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.  Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
StumbleUpon

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

ProPublica: White Supremacists Arrested






Image result for antifa arrested after charlottesville 

ProPublica 

(photos are not published by ProPublica)

Four Men Arrested Over Unrest During 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally

Image result for Benjamin Daley, Michael Miselis,Thomas Gillen, and Cole White

The four are members or associates of the Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist group based in Southern California, prosecutors say.


by Rahima Nasa
Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced they had arrested four members or associates of the Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist group, over their alleged role in the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The four men were charged with having traveled to Charlottesville with the aim of inciting a riot and conspiracy to incite a riot, and prosecutors submitted an array of photographs and videos capturing the men pummeling and choking protesters over two days.

If convicted, the men — Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, of Redondo Beach, California; Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, of Redondo Beach; Michael Paul Miselis, 29, of Lawndale, California; and Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, California — could face five years in prison for each of two federal riot charges. White has been described as an associate of the group, not a member.

Most of the men charged on Tuesday have been the subject of reporting by ProPublica and Frontline over the last year. RAM, based in Southern California, claimed more than 50 members in 2017 and an overriding purpose: physically attacking its ideological foes. Its members spend weekends training in boxing and other martial arts, and they have boasted publicly of their violence during rallies — not just in Charlottesville, but in the California cities of Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Berkeley, as well. Many of the altercations have been captured on video.

The charges announced Tuesday are among a number of prosecutions to stem from the notorious Charlottesville gathering that resulted in two days of mayhem and the death of a young anti-racism activist. The charges brought today are unrelated to the death.

Local prosecutors have also brought charges against a handful of other participants in the Charlottesville rally, successfully convicting several men, including activists on both sides of the clashes. And federal authorities have indicted neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, the man accused of killing counterprotester Heather Heyer and injuring more than two dozen others, on some 30 charges, including 28 counts of hate crime.

“This case should serve as another example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting the life, liberty and civil rights of all our citizens,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said Tuesday. “Any individual who has or plans to travel to this district with the intent to engage in acts of violence will be prosecuted and held accountable for those actions.”

Cullen cited ProPublica and Frontline’s reporting during a news conference Tuesday.

“The news organization ProPublica did in my view a fantastic job in piecing together some of the organized activities that occurred on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12, and the work that they did was certainly reviewed by our office as a starting point to understand a little bit about this particular group,” he said.

One of those arrested, Miselis, was a doctoral student at UCLA with a U.S. government security clearance to work on sensitive research for a prominent defense contractor. He was let go by the contractor, Northrop Grumman, after ProPublica and Frontline identified him as a RAM member who had attacked people in Charlottesville. At the time, Miselis denied involvement in the violent weekend two summers ago.

RAM was founded in early 2017 by Robert Rundo, a Queens, New York, native who served an 18-month prison sentence for stabbing a rival gang member six times during a 2009 street fight. The group’s core membership is small — 15 to 20 young men, according to interviews and a review of court records. Before joining RAM, several members spent time in jail or state prison on serious felony charges including assault, robbery, and gun and knife offenses. Daley served seven days in jail for carrying a concealed snub-nosed revolver. Another RAM member served a prison term for stabbing a Latino man five times in a 2009 gang assault.

A RAM recruiting video posted to YouTube and Vimeo highlights the organization’s heavy emphasis on violence, cutting between choppy footage of RAM members brawling at public events and carefully shot scenes of them sharpening their boxing skills and doing push-ups during group workout sessions.

RAM members are frequently praised as heroes on some white supremacist media outlets

The group portrays itself as a defense force for a white Western civilization under assault by Jews, Muslims and brown-skinned immigrants from south of the Rio Grande. At rallies, members have waved red-and-white crusader flags and carried signs saying “Rapefugees Not Welcome” and “Da Goyim Know,” an anti-Semitic slogan meant to highlight a supposed conspiracy by Jews to control the globe and subjugate non-Jews. One RAM banner, which depicts knights on horseback chasing after Muslims, reads “Islamists Out!”

ProPublica interviewed one RAM leader last year on the condition of anonymity. He said the gang came together organically. It started when he encountered a few other guys with similar political beliefs, including two active-duty U.S. Marines, while exercising at different gyms in Southern California. They all liked President Donald Trump but didn’t think his agenda went far enough.

On social media channels, RAM members regularly espouse blatantly anti-Semitic and racist views. They have repeatedly been booted from Instagram and Twitter for offensive postings.

This year, four RAM members attended to a massive neo-Nazi rally in Germany, which was held on Hitler’s birthday, uploading photos and videos from the trip to social media.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court Tuesday cited the group’s racist and anti-Semitic postings online in support of the arrests.

Prosecutors said the four men will be brought to Virginia next week to be arraigned on the charges.

It was not clear on Tuesday whether the men had yet retained lawyers.

“This wasn’t in our view the lawful exercise of First Amendment rights,” Cullen said. “These guys came to Charlottesville to commit violent acts, and this wasn’t the first time they’ve done it.”

Cullen said that charging the men with inciting a riot and conspiracy to incite a riot was more appropriate and likely effective than arresting them on hate crime charges.

Cullen said there are other ongoing investigations, but he would not say more about them.

There’s a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who has done nothing else but look into these investigations since Aug. 12, according to Cullen.

“We’re not finished,” Cullen said. “We’re going to continue these investigations until we reach a point where we’re satisfied that our federal interests have been vindicated.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.
StumbleUpon