Trump Faces Threat in New York Lawsuit Even After Charity Closes
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to shut down his embattled personal charity and donate its assets under an agreement with the New York attorney general, who alleged that the nonprofit squandered funds on political and business purposes.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation and New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood agreed to dissolve the foundation and give away its remaining $1.7 million, according to filings Tuesday in state court in Manhattan. Trump’s charity announced in 2016 that it would dissolve, before Underwood sued it, Trump and his three eldest children; the state blocked that plan until it could establish oversight of the closure.
But threats remain. The charity’s dissolution doesn’t end the pending lawsuit against the president and Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who could be barred from serving as directors of any New York nonprofit for a period. And unless an appeals court blocks the attorney general, the process of uncovering evidence in the suit may allow the state’s lawyers to reach into the Trump family’s financial dealings, where some of the president’s critics believe there will be evidence of improprieties.
Underwood sued in June, alleging the foundation functioned as “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.” She claimed that Trump’s children, as directors of the charity, had neglected their duties under state law. In November, a judge rejected the nonprofit’s request to throw the case out.
“Our petition detailed a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation -- including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more," Underwood said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump has decried the lawsuit as an act of political revenge by Democratic state officials angry that he won the presidency and has vowed never to settle. On Tuesday, Alan Futerfas, the foundation’s attorney, said Underwood’s statement misleadingly suggests New York forced the charity to close with its litigation.
“The foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election,” Futerfas said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the New York attorney general sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need of nearly $1.7 million." Futerfas accused Underwood of a continuing effort to “politicize” the foundation. Underwood’s office responded that the foundation “attempted to dissolve without any oversight or accountability” after the attorney general began investigating it.
The remaining funds will be disbursed in a process that will ultimately require a judge’s approval.
In the lawsuit, Underwood claims that the Trump Foundation had virtually no oversight, allowing funds to be misspent with impunity. In an October 2017 interview with the attorney general’s office, a member of the foundation’s board, longtime Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg, said he hadn’t known he was on it.
Underwood claimed that Trump’s charity repeatedly broke state and federal laws by engaging in a decade-long pattern of self-dealing that culminated in illegal coordination with his 2016 political campaign. She alleged that Trump directed funds meant for needy causes to settle business and personal debts and boost his brand. The payments included $100,000 to settle claims against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and $158,000 to resolve a suit against the Trump National Golf Club over nonpayment of a prize for a hole-in-one contest.
“It is good to see this fraud is finally over,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.
The reason Trump’s charity had no full-time employees and operated on a shoestring budget was “so that the maximum amount of money could be sent to incredibly worthwhile causes,” Eric Trump previously told Bloomberg. The Trump Organization has said that the charity donated more money than it received -- about $19 million over roughly 30 years -- and should be applauded for incurring virtually no expenses.
Futerfas, the foundation’s lawyer, argued at a hearing in October that a half-dozen transactions at the center of the lawsuit, including $10,000 the charity spent at an auction to buy a six-foot oil portrait of Trump, were innocent because the money wound up going to charity anyway. Earlier, he said the foundation had been hoping to shut down, prompting the judge in the case, New York State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla, to ask the two sides to reach an accord on how that would be handled.
The New York attorney general still seeks repayment of at least $2.8 million in funds that Trump’s charity allegedly directed toward his 2016 campaign.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.