Two separate investigations are looking into whether Donald Trump may have engaged in tax fraud by overvaluing a little-known property owned by the former president and claiming a higher tax deduction on it than what he actually deserved.
Both Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Letitia James are conducting investigations into the Trump property.
The 50,000-square-foot mansion in Westchester County, New York, built in 1919 by former Federal Reserve Chair Eugene Meyer (who also once owned The Washington Post), features 60 rooms, 15 bedrooms and three swimming pools on 230 acres surrounded by “nature preserves,” according to the Trump Organization website.
Trump bought the property in 1996, with the intention of developing it into something more than just a vacation retreat for himself and his family, including possibly turning it into a golf course or a high-end residential area. But resistance from several localities where the property sprawls across has stymied those efforts, resulting in the former president, prior to taking office, deciding to turn more than 150 acres of the property into an easement for a conservation land trust.
The move came with some financial benefit for Trump, as he received a $21 million tax deduction on the property based on a professional appraisal from December 2015 that valued Seven Springs being worth $56.5 million, The Associated Press reported. However, that appraisal value was much higher than the $20 million value of the property that local government assessors had suggested Seven Springs was worth that year.
The tax deduction Trump claimed from the easement would have been significantly reduced, had the lower-priced assessment had been used instead.
Vance’s and James’s investigations are looking into the property and the possibility that Trump may have benefited from overvaluing Seven Springs at a higher price when he used it as a write-off.
Vance, who is conducting a criminal inquiry into Trump regarding the possibility he engaged in tax, banking and insurance fraud, won an important legal battle last month after the Supreme Court refused to hear challenges from the former president’s lawyers to the Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena for Trump’s financial records. On the same day the high court announced it wouldn’t hear those challenges, Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, handed tax and other financial documents over to Vance’s office.
Vance began the inquiry after revelations that Trump had allegedly made hush-money payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels during the presidential campaign. The district attorney sough to determine whether such payments had violated state tax law.
The investigation expanded, however, particularly after Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified before Congress that the former president had often inflated and deflated his assets to manipulate his tax filings and loan applications.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Cohen said in February of 2019.
The lowest criminal offense related to tax fraud in the state of New York is a misdemeanor charge, and can be punishable by up to one year in prison if a person is found guilty.
It’s unclear what types of charges Vance may seek against Trump, if any, following the conclusion of his criminal inquiry. No former president in U.S. history has ever been charged with committing a crime, let alone found guilty of such charges.