In 2000, Donald Trump was broke. His casino projects were bankrupt, his credit was shot, his business pretty much out of business. He could still pretend to be Donald Trump, big time real estate guy, but the truth was there was nothing left of him but a name.
And then, just like that, Trump was back in the game, selling New York real estate at ridiculous prices and planting his gold-plated letters wherever he went. Trump likes to pretend that this was the tale of a brilliant comeback and realizing the value of his own name. In truth his licensing deals never amounted to more than peanuts and his involvements outside real estate cost far more than they made. The influx of money came from a simple change in tactics—Trump made it clear that he was willing to look the other way when money came in from shady, overseas deals.
The laws regulating US real estate deals are scant, experts say. Provisions against terrorism financing in the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks, obliged mortgage lenders to conduct “know your customer” research. But money launderers pay in cash.
Laws passed after 2001 were intended to give federal regulators more insight into international money-laundering, but what they did was turn real estate into the go-to means of bringing in funds by the tens of millions with minimal scrutiny. Tack together an offshore LLC, attach it to a similar organization in the United States, and the result is a double-wall of anonymity between property purchased and the people pumping in the cash. All it takes is someone willing to deal.
A reminder: Donald Trump did not divest from his companies upon being elected, and continues to make cash profits from them even while acting as "president." While some of the profits are known (like increased fees at his Palm Beach resort and meetups between conservative groups and members of his administration at his new D.C. hotel), the sources of other presidential profits are being carefully concealed.
BuzzFeed has gone through the records related to Trump’s continuing flow of undisclosed millions, and what they’ve found probably won’t surprise you at all.
More than one-fifth of Donald Trump’s US condominiums have been purchased since the 1980s in secretive, all-cash transactions that enable buyers to avoid legal scrutiny by shielding their finances and identities, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.
If that seems like a small number, it’s not—it’s over 1,300 properties that changed hands under the protection of rules that allowed Trump to accept money from anyone. Was the source on the other end an international criminal? Were they banned from doing business in the US? Trump could claim to be unaware. For him it was just cash—cash often provided at prices far above the market value—and a willingness to look the other way.
Treasury’s financial-crimes unit has, in recent years, launched investigations around the country into all-cash shell-company real-estate purchases amid concerns that some such sales may involve money laundering. The agency is considering requiring real-estate professionals to adopt anti-money-laundering programs. …
Federal investigations “continue to reveal corrupt politicians, drug traffickers and other criminals using shell companies to purchase luxury real estate with cash,” Treasury’s former financial-crimes chief Jennifer Shasky Calvery said at a Capitol Hill hearing in 2016.
Trump’s cash-only sales to faceless LLCs “surged” after laws clamping down on other means of money-laundering were passed in 2001. That surge has never ended.
At the Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium New York in Manhattan, 77% of the sales were to shell companies that paid cash.
These articles from Buzzfeed and from USA Today came to the same results as multiple examinations of Trump’s finances made by the Financial Times dating back before the election.
Among the powerful facts that DNI missed were a series of very deep studies published in the [Financial Times] that examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade—the period after his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his bank lines of credit. ...
The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.
He was their man.
Money laundering has been a major focus of Robert Mueller’s investigation. Not only were the majority of charges brought against Paul Manafort and Robert Gates connected to money laundering, expertise in the area was also the first thing that Mueller sought out when assembling his team.
In fact, the money laundering charges may actually be used to level Manafort into revealing other players in the game.
"Anyone facing serious charges for money laundering and tax offenses involving undisclosed foreign bank accounts would have huge incentives to trade cooperation for prison time," Jonathan Winer, the State Department's top money laundering expert during the Clinton administration, told McClatchy.
The size of Trump’s money-laundering operation certainly explains why Trump once declared that any examination of financial crimes would be “crossing a red line” for Mueller. But it seems clear that Mueller was going to “follow the money” from his first day in charge.
And the special counsel won’t have to dig back into the past to find connections between Trump and these faceless sources of overseas funds. Because Trump is not only still at it, the number of unknown buyers working through offshore accounts is actually increasing.
President Trump’s companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017, mostly to secretive shell companies that obscure buyers’ identities, continuing a dramatic shift in his customers' behavior that began during the election, a USA TODAY review found.