A major investigative report from the Palm Beach Post reveals how President Donald Trump scored a massive tax windfall off transforming Mar-a-Lago into a private resort — and he did it using a technique the IRS once flagged as a “dirty tax scam.”
Specifically, the report says that Trump has frequently taken advantage of a 1969 tax deduction designed to reward charitable donations that preserve either public lands or historic buildings.
Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago in 1985, five years after it was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 1993, Trump was in the process of negotiating with the city of Palm Beach to allow him to transform the historic property into a private club with initiation fees that started at $50,000.
In exchange for turning the resort into a private for-profit club, Trump offered to donate parts of it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for historic preservation, meaning he would commit to keeping these portions of the property in their historic conditions.
To take advantage of such donations as tax deductions, the donors should not be getting anything in return. However, Trump was getting something in return for this particular donation — a private club that would give him a much-needed new stream of revenue.
Because of this, Trump’s lawyers insisted to Palm Beach that they not put Trump’s promise to donate parts of Mar-a-Lago to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in writing because, otherwise, he couldn’t take advantage of the preservation easement deduction.
This was a sticking point for the town, as it didn’t want to simply take Trump’s word that he would donate the easement after it had already given him what he wanted.
“They eventually came to an agreement: Trump could have his club, but the town wouldn’t issue a certificate of occupancy for it to begin operations until the easement was in place,” the Palm Beach Post writes.
Thanks to this deal, Trump was able to claim a $5.7 million deduction in his taxes in 1995. Using this particular deduction that was designed for charitable donations — despite the fact that Trump clearly got something in return for it — has been condemned by the IRS as one of its “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams” that the wealthy often use to get out of paying money they owe.
John Echeverria, a Vermont Law School professor, tells the Palm Beach Post that the deal between Trump and Palm Beach was “clearly a quid-pro-quo,” meaning that Trump should not have been able to score a tax windfall from it.