Who's buying in to Trump's real estate empire? It's a mystery

The president's company — which he still owns — has been selling properties to shell companies in a murky process

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 10, 2018 12:02PM (EST)

 (Getty/Spencer Platt)
(Getty/Spencer Platt)

Fresh questions are being raised about how President Donald Trump's real estate empire has conducted itself since he took office.

Roughly 70 percent of the real estate purchases that benefited the Trump business empire were done by individuals who created shell corporations to conceal their identities, according to USA Today. The trend began in mid-2016, right about when Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, and continued throughout last year.

Before 2016, only 4 percent of the buyers of Trump properties used the LLC tactic to maintain their secrecy.

Bobby Burchfield, an attorney appointed by Trump as an ethics adviser to review real estate deals, has refused to disclose any information about what he has learned through his reviews. He has instead insisted that he uses a four-part test when evaluating the ethics of potential deals, that has been sufficient in protecting the public interest.

"If someone wants to do business with the Trump entities in the form of an LLC, we look behind the LLC to see who the owner of it is and where the funding is coming from. If we can’t determine that, we won’t sign off on it," Burchfield told USA Today.

But as Ross Delston, a Washington D.C. attorney who specializes in anti-money laundering compliance, told the site, Burchfield's process is not adequate.

"From what we know of the Trump Organization’s past real estate deals is they never see deals they don’t like. Having an ethics advisor shut down a deal based on a test not mandated by law strikes me as somewhere between unlikely to unthinkable," Delston said.

Trump's unwillingness to divest his business empire has created a series of conflicts of interest since he took office, according to the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. His controversies have ranged from visiting his various properties so frequently that they amount to a de facto advertisement and holding major events like meetings with foreign leaders at those properties, to questions about how taxpayer money has been wasted on Secret Service costs and similar operations as a result of his frequent use of Trump Organization locations.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Conflict Of Interest Conflicts Of Interest Donald Trump Trump Organization