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Trump Tax Write-Offs Are Ensnared in 2 New York Fraud Investigations - The New York Times
"Inquiries into the president and his businesses, one criminal and one civil, are now looking at tax deductions taken on consulting fees. Some of the payments appear to have gone to Ivanka Trump.
Two separate New York State fraud investigations into President Trump and his businesses, one criminal and one civil, have expanded to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees, some of which appear to have gone to Ivanka Trump, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The inquiries — a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and a civil one by the state attorney general, Letitia James — are being conducted independently. But both offices issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization in recent weeks for records related to the fees, the people said.
The subpoenas were the latest steps in the two investigations of the Trump Organization, and underscore the legal challenges awaiting the president when he leaves office in January. There is no indication that his daughter is a focus of either inquiry, which the Trump Organization has derided as politically motivated.
The development follows a recent New York Times examination of more than two decades of Mr. Trump’s tax records, which found that he had paid little or no federal income taxes in most years, largely because of his chronic business losses.
Among the revelations was that Mr. Trump reduced his taxable income by deducting about $26 million in fees to unidentified consultants as a business expense on numerous projects between 2010 and 2018.
Some of those fees appear to have been paid to Ms. Trump, The Times found. On a 2017 disclosure she filed when joining the White House as a presidential adviser, she reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622, that exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The subpoenas were focused on fees paid to the firm on her disclosures, TTT Consulting L.L.C., and represented just a portion of the $26 million, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The name of the firm appears to be a reference to Ms. Trump and other members of her family.
Ms. Trump was an executive officer of the Trump companies that made the payments, meaning she appears to have been treated as a consultant while also working for the company. While companies can deduct professional fees, the Internal Revenue Service requires that consulting arrangements be market-based and reasonable, as well as “ordinary and necessary” to running a business.
Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that “this is just the latest fishing expedition in an ongoing attempt to harass the company.”
“Everything was done in strict compliance with applicable law and under the advice of counsel and tax experts,” he added. “All applicable taxes were paid and no party received any undue benefit.”
The I.R.S. has sometimes rejected attempts to write off consulting fees if they were meant to avoid taxes and did not reflect arms-length business relationships. It is not known if the I.R.S. has ever questioned the Trump Organization about the practice. The tax benefit to Mr. Trump from deducting the fees on his companies’ federal returns would also be reflected on his New York returns, making it of possible interest to the state.
A tax adviser who has worked with the Trump Organization said that such consulting fees were not uncommon.
The offices of the district attorney and the attorney general declined to comment. A lawyer for Ms. Trump did not return calls about the inquiries.
Few details have been publicly disclosed about the district attorney’s investigation, the only known active criminal case involving Mr. Trump. Mr. Vance’s office began the inquiry more than two years ago, initially focusing on the Trump Organization’s role in hush money paid during the 2016 presidential campaign to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.
The investigation has been stalled since last fall, after the president filed a lawsuit to block a subpoena for his tax returns and other financial records.
The legal fight is before the United States Supreme Court for a second time, with a ruling expected soon. Prosecutors have suggested in court filings that their investigation has expanded far beyond the hush money and is focused on a number of potential financial crimes, including insurance and bank-related fraud, tax evasion and grand larceny.
Mr. Trump has said the investigation is part of “the greatest witch hunt in history.” Both Mr. Vance and Ms. James are Democrats.
Ms. James’s civil investigation is focused on the Trump Organization’s business practices, though she can make a criminal referral and can seek authority from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration or the state comptroller to bring charges on her own.
Her inquiry began last year in March, after Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, told Congress that Mr. Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements to secure bank loans and understated them elsewhere to reduce his tax bill. In August, the attorney general’s office asked a judge to force the president’s son Eric Trump to testify in the inquiry, and he did so last month. Eric Trump is an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, running its day-to-day operations.
Investigators in Ms. James’s office have scrutinized a widening array of transactions. One of them is a 2010 financial restructuring of the Trump Hotel & Tower in Chicago, when the Fortress Credit Corporation forgave debt worth more than $100 million. The attorney general’s office said in court documents filed in August that the Trump Organization had thwarted efforts to determine how that money was reflected in its tax filings, and whether it was declared as income, as the law requires in most instances. The Times’s analysis of Mr. Trump’s financial records found that he had avoided federal income tax on almost all of the forgiven debt.
The attorney general’s office is also examining whether the Trump Organization used inflated appraisals when it received large tax breaks for promising to conserve land where its development efforts faltered, including at its Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, N.Y.
“The outcome of the election will have no impact on our investigations,” Ms. James said in a television interview this month, adding: “No one is above the law. We will just follow the facts and the evidence, wherever they lead us.”
Mr. Trump has frequently assailed Ms. James, the latest in a string of New York attorneys general with whom he has clashed. Ms. James presided over the final stages of an investigation that led to the closing of his scandal-marred charitable foundation. She is also seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association, a key ally of the president.
“They sue on everything, always in search of a crime,” he tweeted last year, though his own litigiousness is legendary. His campaign and its allies have filed more than two dozen lawsuits in recent days aimed at overturning the results of the election he lost this month.
The examination of fees apparently paid to his older daughter is likely to arouse even more vitriol from the outgoing president. And it raises questions about whether the payments were a tax-deductible way for him to compensate his children, or avoid gift taxes he might incur from transferring wealth to them, something Mr. Trump’s father had done through legally questionable schemes uncovered by The Times in 2018.
This is not the first investigation from the attorney general’s office to involve Mr. Trump’s children. As part of the settlement that led to the shuttering of the president’s charitable foundation, Ms. Trump and her brothers, who were board members, were to receive “training on the duties of officers and directors of charities so that they cannot allow the illegal activity they oversaw at the Trump Foundation to take place again,” according to the terms of the agreement.
In September, after a state judge rejected arguments from Trump lawyers to further delay a deposition of Eric Trump, the president’s son called the investigation “a continued political vendetta.”