Westchester DA reportedly investigates Trump National Golf Club amid tax battle

·3 min read

Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah is investigating Trump National Golf Club Westchester over how it valued its property in a longstanding bid to lower its taxes, according to Ossining town officials who responded to a subpoena earlier this year.

The criminal probe has focused on the club's valuation as stated in documents submitted to the town of Ossining, which includes the village of Briarcliff Manor, where the club is located.

Ossining Assessor Fernando Gonzalez said Rocah's office sought the information in the spring.

"There were a lot of documents that were public information," Gonzalez said. "They were looking into the discrepancy between claims that the facilities were worth $50 million when he wants his balance sheet to look healthy, but for tax purposes claims it's worth a lot less."

Supervisor Dana Levenberg said the town is "fully cooperating" with Rocah's investigation.

Kerry Lawrence, a lawyer for the golf club, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

News of Rocah's investigation, which was first reported Wednesday by The New York Times, comes approximately two months after the Trump Organization triumphed in its six-year bid to lower its property taxes at the golf club.

Entrance to Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor April 23, 2019.
Entrance to Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor April 23, 2019.

The settlement, which was approved on Aug. 13 by state Supreme Court Justice Bruce Tolbert, lowered the club's tax liability by 32% from 2015 to 2020 and delivered a wallop to local jurisdictions. It resulted in property tax refunds of $860,965, paid by the Briarcliff Manor schools, the town of Ossining, the village of Briarcliff Manor and Westchester County.

Trump National Golf Course LLC, which comes under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, features an 18-hole championship golf course and a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse. Former President Donald Trump is listed as the founder of the Trump Organization on its website.

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The settlement wasn’t all the Trump Organization had wanted. When it first filed in 2015, the club sought a 90% reduction in its tax liability, which brought howls of protest from local officials and anti-Trump activists. The club’s total property tax bill in 2019 was about $487,000. The decision will save the exclusive club about $155,000 a year going forward.

The decision lowered the taxable value of the club over six years. Over those years, the town valued the property in different years from $15.1 million to $15.8 million to $13.7 million in 2020. The judge set its taxable value in 2020 at $9.8 million.

Back in the mid-2000s, after Trump reportedly spent $45 million to rebuild the former Briar Hall course and construct its clubhouse, the town valued the property at $45 million. But in 2008, the club won a 55% reduction in a previous assessment challenge.

The largest refund — $588,155 — was approved by the Briarcliff Manor Board of Education in early September. In addition, the town paid $20,445 while the village refunded Trump $140,376 and Westchester gave back $111,989.

The clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor April 23, 2019.
The clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor April 23, 2019.

This is the latest investigation of entities associated with the Trump Organization in Westchester County. New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the Trump Organization’s charitable donation at its Seven Springs mansion property, which straddles Bedford, New Castle and North Castle, after it donated a conservation easement on 159 acres to the North American Land Trust.

In December 2020, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance also subpoenaed documents involved in the Seven Springs easement as part of his expanding grand jury investigation.

The Trump Organization has said that the inquiries are politically motivated action by agencies headed by Democrats. Before her election in 2020, Rocah was a frequent MSNBC commentator and Trump critic.

Jonathan Bandler contributed to this story.

Follow Tax Watch columnist David McKay Wilson on Facebook or Twitter @davidmckaywils1.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Trump National Golf Club reportedly investigated by Westchester DA

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