Judge fines Trump $2M over char­ity fund mis­use

Pres­i­dent ad­mits to foun­da­tion abuses out­lined in law­suit

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael R. Sisak

NEW YORK — A judge Thurs­day or­dered Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to pay $2 mil­lion to an ar­ray of char­i­ties as a fine for mis­us­ing his own char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion to fur­ther his po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness in­ter­ests.

New York state Judge Saliann Scarpulla im­posed the penalty af­ter Trump ad­mit­ted to a se­ries of abuses that were out­lined in a law­suit brought against him last year by the New York at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

That law­suit, based on in­for­ma­tion first un­cov­ered by The Wash­ing­ton Post, al­leged “per­sis­tently il­le­gal con­duct” at the Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion, where Trump served as pres­i­dent for 32 years.

Among other things, Trump ac­knowl­edged he im­prop­erly al­lowed his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign staff to co­or­di­nate with the Trump Foun­da­tion in hold­ing a fundraiser for vet­er­ans dur­ing the run-up to the 2016 Iowa cau­cuses. The event was de­signed “to fur­ther Mr. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paign,” Scarpulla said.

The foun­da­tion will be dis­solved and its $1.7 mil­lion in re­main­ing funds will be given to other non­prof­its, un­der agree­ments reached by Trump’s lawyers and the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

As part of those agree­ments, made pub­lic Thurs­day, the two sides left it up to the judge to de­cide what penalty Trump should pay.

The set­tle­ment was an about-face for Trump. He and his lawyers have blasted the law­suit as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, and he tweeted, “I won’t set­tle this case!” when it was filed in 2018.

Trump’s fine and the char­ity’s funds will be split evenly among eight or­ga­ni­za­tions, i nclud­ing Ci­tymeals on Wheels, the United Ne­gro Col­lege Fund and the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Leti­tia James wel­comed the res­o­lu­tion of the case as a “ma­jor vic­tory in our ef­forts to pro­tect char­i­ta­ble as­sets and hold ac­count­able those who would abuse char­i­ties for per­sonal gain.”

“No one is above the law — not a busi­ness­man, not a can­di­date for of­fice, and not even the Pres­i­dent of the United States,” James said.

The pres­i­dent ad­mit­ted, among other things, to im­prop­erly ar­rang­ing for the char­ity to pay $10,000 for a 6-foot por­trait of him. He also agreed to pay back $11,525 in foun­da­tion funds that he spent on sports mem­o­ra­bilia and cham­pagne at a char­ity gala.

Trump also ac­cepted re­stric­tions on his in­volve­ment in other char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions. His three el­dest chil­dren, who were mem­bers of the foun­da­tion’s board, must un­dergo manda­tory train­ing on the du­ties of those who run char­i­ties.

Char­i­ties are barred from get­ting in­volved in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, but in weigh­ing t he Iowa f undraiser, Scarpulla gave Trump credit for mak­ing good on his pledge to give $2.8 mil­lion that his char­ity raised to vet­er­ans’ or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In­stead of fin­ing him that amount, as the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice wanted, the judge trimmed it to $2 mil­lion and re­jected a de­mand for puni­tive dam­ages and in­ter­est.

The Trump Foun­da­tion said it was pleased by those de­ci­sions, claim­ing that the judge “rec­og­nized that ev­ery penny ever raised by the Trump Foun­da­tion has gone to help those most in need.”

Trump Foun­da­tion lawyer Alan Futer­fas said the non­profit has distribute­d ap­prox­i­mately $19 mil­lion over the past decade, in­clud­ing $8.25 mil­lion of the pres­i­dent’s own money, to hun­dreds of char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions.

At the time of the Iowa fundraiser, Trump was feud­ing with then- Fox News an­chor Megyn Kelly and re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the net­work’s fi­nal Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary de­bate be­fore the

Iowa cau­cuses.

In­stead, he held a rally at the same time as the de­bate at which he called on peo­ple to do­nate to vet­er­ans’ char­i­ties. The foun­da­tion acted as a pass-through for those con­tri­bu­tions.

James said the ev­i­dence of banned co­or­di­na­tion be­tween cam­paign of­fi­cials and the foun­da­tion in­cluded emails ex­changed with then-Trump cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski.

In one email, a Trump com­pany vice pres­i­dent asked Le­wandowski for guid­ance on pre­cisely how to dis­trib­ute the money raised.

Trump also ad­mit­ted in the agree­ments to di­rect­ing that $100,000 in foun­da­tion money be used to set­tle le­gal claims over an 80-foot flag­pole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Palm Beach, Florida, in­stead of pay­ing the ex­pense out of his own pocket.

In ad­di­tion, the foun­da­tion paid $158,000 to re­solve a law­suit over a prize for a hole-in-one con­test at a Trump- owned golf course, and $5,000 for ads pro­mot­ing Trump’s ho­tels in the pro­grams for char­i­ta­ble events. Trump ad­mit­ted these trans­ac­tions were also im­proper.

The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

The Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion will be dis­solved and its funds will be given to non­prof­its.

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