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Manhattan DA's grand jury probe of Trump comes calling to Westchester towns

David McKay Wilson
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

The Manhattan district attorney has subpoenaed a slew of documents from a trio of Westchester towns as part of an expanding grand jury probe of President Donald Trump's Seven Springs estate.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in mid-December  requested a wide-ranging set of documents regarding the outgoing president's property. Tax Watch has obtained one of the subpoenas, issued to the town of North Castle, that seeks documents related to:

  • a conservation easement on 159 acres
  • attempts to lower the property’s taxable value
  • Trump’s engineering and consultant reports on the Seven Springs development
  • Planning Board records related to the housing proposals
  • invoices for expenses incurred by the town in reviewing the plan
  • any proposals related to the site’s zoning, and any lawsuits related to the property.

Seven Springs, the estate once owned by former Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer, was the site of a fierce battle over the development of a golf course and luxury homes in the 1990s on 220 acres located in Bedford, North Castle and New Castle.      

Donald Trump's Seven Springs estate in North Castle was built in 1919 by Eugene Meyer, the first president of the World Bank, and publisher of the Washington Post.

Trump, who lost his bid to develop there after years in court, had thought he’d put the Seven Springs controversy to bed in 2015 as he contemplated his run for the presidency. That's when his company gave a conservation easement on 159 acres to the North American Land Trust, which prohibited development there in perpetuity.

The easement, which a New York Times investigation said was valued at $21 million, could have saved Trump as much as $10 million in state and federal income taxes. Those savings were $2.5 million more than he paid for the estate in 1995.

“I think any and every avenue should be pursued to get down to the nitty-gritty about the activities of the Trump Organization,” said Shannon Powell, a co-founder of Indivisible Westchester, a left-leaning group that sprang up in opposition to Trump’s candidacy in 2016. “We deserve answers about this organization and its business practices.”

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Seven Springs LLC, is part of the Trump Organization, the family business that includes golf courses, hotels, office buildings, management of condominiums such as Trump Place in New Rochelle and Trump Tower in White Plains. It also includes the Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach where Trump heads today.  The limited liability corporation is the 99% owner of Seven Springs LLC, according to his federal financial disclosure statement.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Washington.

Taxes at Seven Springs came to about $464,000 in 2019, including $266,000 on the parcel in North Castle. The estate, one of six owned by the Trump Organization around the world, is a retreat for the Trump family. 

North Castle Town Attorney Roland Baroni said the documents were provided by the Jan. 6 deadline.

“The request was handled promptly and efficiently,” said Supervisor Michael Schiliro.“We pride ourselves on our customer service.”

The fight over Seven Springs was one of several Trump development proposals that failed here in the 1990s and early 2000s, as town officials joined with environmentalists and homeowners to oppose the Manhattan development’s big plans for open land in Westchester and Putnam counties. Abandoned by Trump were proposals to develop Davids Island in New Rochelle for luxury houses; 18-hole golf courses in Yorktown and Putnam Valley; and Seven Springs property.

At Seven Springs, Trump purchased the estate, then owned by Rockefeller University, for the bargain price of $7.5 million in 1995. At first, Trump planned an 18-hole golf course on the property, surrounded by luxury homes, with the 60-room Seven Springs mansion the course’s well-appointed clubhouse. But the course overlooked Byram Lake Reservoir, the drinking water supply for the village of Mount Kisco, which opposed the plan, fearing contamination from the run-off from the course.

A plan for 15 luxury homes was also snarled in legal proceedings for years. That led to Trump’s final development plan for seven luxury homes in Bedford. But that plan was never fully approved, and those planned lots were part of the 159-acre conservation easement.

Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, speaks during an inauguration ceremony in New York on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.

Vance’s expanded criminal probe into Westchester follows state Attorney General Letitia James’ civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial operations, which has included looking into the Seven Springs conservation easement. At issue is whether the magnitude of the charitable donation, which Trump could have used to diminish his state and federal income bill.

In the past, the Trump Organization has said that James’ inquiry was part of a pattern of harassment by New York state.

On Tuesday, there was no answer at the Trump Organization when Tax Watch called seeking comment.

Follow Tax Watch columnist David McKay Wilson on Facebook or Twitter @davidmckay415.