Feb 9, 2018, 4:01 PM ET

'Follow the money': Senator probes Trump's $95 million Palm Beach mansion sale

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A leading Senate Democrat has called on the Treasury Department to turn over banking and real estate records related to Donald Trump’s 2008 sale of a six-acre Palm Beach estate to a Russian billionaire – a real estate flip that yielded Trump $95 million after paying $41 million for the property just four years earlier.

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“It is imperative that Congress follow the money and conduct a thorough investigation into any potential money laundering or other illicit financial dealings between the president, his associates, and Russia,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating 2016 election meddling.

The transaction between Trump and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev is being reviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, Wyden says in his letter, citing a report by Bloomberg News.

In a 2016 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump maintained that the real estate deal was one of the few deals he had ever done directly involving a Russian buyer.

“The primary thing I did with Russia, I bought a house in Palm Beach at a bankruptcy… I bought it for about $40 million. I sold it for $100 million to a Russian,” Trump said. “And that was primarily it.”

At the time, he attributed the mark-up to renovations he made on the property.

PHOTO: Dmitry Rybolovlev attends the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco at Parc des Princes, March 20, 2016 in Paris. Xavier Laine/Getty Images
Dmitry Rybolovlev attends the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco at Parc des Princes, March 20, 2016 in Paris.

Representatives for the Trump Organization and the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wyden, who also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said in his letter to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin that he has questions about the deal, which at the time was considered one of the most expensive house sales on record. Wyden noted the deal emerged at a time when published reports indicated Trump was having difficulty finding banks to lend him money and the sale came just months before Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“In the context of the President’s then-precarious financial position, I believe that the Palm Beach property sale warrants further scrutiny,” Wyden wrote.

The purpose of a request to Treasury is to gain access to Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) – records the Treasury Department keeps of large transactions that raise red flags for possible money laundering. Wyden is also seeking copies of records collected by the Treasury Department that would identify the parties who later bought slices of the Palm Beach estate, which Rybolovlev subdivided after the 2008 purchase.

Those sales, to anonymous shell corporations, would have been difficult to scrutinize, but these occurred after the Treasury Department began requiring title insurance companies in specific areas, including Palm Beach County, to demand the identities of individual buyers and file reports with those names.

PHOTO: Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, speaks during a House-Senate conference meeting on the Republican led tax reform bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Dec. 13, 2017.Bloomberg/Getty Images
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, speaks during a House-Senate conference meeting on the Republican led tax reform bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Dec. 13, 2017.

Wyden has led an effort for months to obtain copies of financial records from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCen, including any suspicious activity reports related to dozens of people connected to Trump’s past business dealings. After receiving an initial batch of records, Senate investigators have received nothing from Treasury, according to sources familiar with the requests.

When Bloomberg News first reported last summer that the Palm Beach mansion sale was being studied by the special counsel, one of Trump’s attorneys raised objections. Attorney John Dowd told Bloomberg that transaction and others like it went “well beyond the mandate of special counsel.”

During the campaign, Trump told ABC News the deal was evidence of nothing except his business acumen.

“I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever,” he said.

News - 'Follow the money': Senator probes Trump's $95 million Palm Beach mansion sale

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  • Sejal

    Now we know how Trump is paying off Russian officials.

  • M Enigma

    So it happened right before the crash when high end real estate was skyrocketing. Wow. Such a mystery. I guess collusion hit the skids because we are now in everything but collusion mode.

  • concernedvoter

    just one of the many obvious Trump Russia Money Laundering Scams that helped Trump survive his over a dozen Bankruptcies.. and why Russia owns Trump..

  • Bobby

    if this were the Clintons that had bought & sold this property, just imagine the kind of crazy conspiracy theories we'd be hearing...

  • rightened

    From "New Republic" article, "Trump's Russian Laundromat" - "After Trump World Tower opened (in 1983), Sotheby's International Realty teamed up with a Russian real estate company to make a big sales push for the property..."

    From "Palm Beach Life" December 2007: "515 N. County Road in Palm Beach... renovated by Donald Trump and priced at $125 million... presented by Sotheby's International Realty... the Regency-style mansion has been reworked and updated by noted Palm Beach architect Gene Lawrence..." (More of the article is on Google--Trump Entertainment filed for Chapter 11 in 2008. Note the "Sotheby's International" connection.)

    From "Palm Beach Daily News" November 2016: "An ownership company associated with Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev — who bought the property from Trump eight years ago — sold the 2.35-acre tract with about 175 feet of beachfront via a deed recorded today by the Palm Beach County Clerk’s office." (There was no indication that he ever visited or had an assessment done on the property. The mansion was torn down in 2016)

    Here's where it gets interesting. The Rybolovev real estate deal in 2016 was brokered by Kochman and Ziska. Ronald S. Kochman had strong ties to KL Financial. KL Financial, as in, "FBI - Last of Hedge Fund Advisors Pleads Guilty..." in 2009. (It appears that Kochman was the pillar of trust for the investment community of Palm Beach.)

    It all swirls around the bowl.

  • RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan

    cmon, I thought this was recent. This happened in 2008 during the crash. The rich made out like bandits getting loans from banks at very low rigged interest rates. The fed saved the world loaning money and slashing the rates to zero. Savers got screwed.

  • Nick Thommasson

    Mueller will look into this. Congress needs to just make sure they don't get in the way of Mueller. I trust a trained investigator much more than I trust the clown car of ridiculousness that is our Congress

  • Bill

    There's only one way to double your money on real estate in 4 years and "Making improvements" isn't it.

  • charlie jones

    I admire the Senator's spunk. When he finishes with this project, perhaps he can tell us what Hillary gave away for contributions to the Clinton family slush fund...oops! I meant their foundation.

  • Bill Paish

    Follow the money.

  • rightened

    Actually, on a bigger scale... this sale was just a few years before the Russian Mafia were renting out condos in Trump Tower. It begs the question, what other income properties did Trump handle / buy / sell from the mid-2000s until 2016? How many of them went through a similar process of renovation/re-selling at a high profit to those with Russia ties? Or, in the case of Trump Tower, how many of them were rentals to known Russian criminals, as was Unit 63A, so that he was making Russian money off those rentals at exorbitant prices?

    This, from the man who claims no Russian connections, but whose own son contradicted that by bragging about the Russian connections...

  • rightened

    Basic financial question:

    How does someone on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy fund the necessary renovations to elevate a $40M mansion to a $95M sale... during a housing market crash?!?

    And shouldn't we be taking a closer look at where that money came from for the renovations, not to mention how Trump found a buyer for over double the estimated value of the property?

  • Dominus_Illuminatio_Mea

    I like watching Democrats chase their tails. Like dogs they never seem to catch it.

    When you neo-coms are ready to start creating policy that benefits the American people, you’ll start to matter again.

  • GayEGO

    We know tRump has had several deals with Russia, his words are fake news!

  • SPORTSFAN

    Location, location, location. Or in this case...fabrication, fabrication, fabrication.

  • Jack25

    Trump is so incompetent he can’t even launder Russian money well.

  • david fellows

    What Improvements?

  • TrumpLovesPelosi

    “The primary thing I did with Russia, I bought a house in Palm Beach at a bankruptcy… I bought it for about $40 million. I sold it for $100 million to a Russian,” Trump said. “And that was primarily it.”

    At the time, he attributed the mark-up to renovations he made on the property.
    ============================

    I am surprised that Trump didn't use the "adoptions" excuse for him getting more than double for a property in 4 years. And by the way, other similar properties were not going for anywhere near that at that point in time. The Russian overpaid. By a lot. Russians have a history of money laundering as well.

  • KCBforme

    I am glad that there will finally be an investigation of this real estate deal with the Russian oligarch. It has taken awhile, since it was first brought up during the election. There was another shady hotel deal in New York during the same time they talked about (SoHo?).The money trails are very important after the Trump son said their family had alot of business dealings with Russia. I can imagine that Mueller is looking at these sorts of things too.

  • Zed52

    Russia? Never heard of him.

  • Heavy Rain is Coming

    Muellers list just got longer.

  • Pat Baxter

    Hooray for Sen. Wyden. It's about time someone got about vetting Trump in some regard. Trump refuses to release his tax records and one is inclined to believe it's because there's plenty of Trump wrongdoing to find in those tax records. "Trump University" clearly established that Trump is a con man of the worst kind. Let's expose Trump's wrongdoing in whatever ways we can.

  • thinkmore

    There's a lot more strange money than this circulating around Trump. Anything that can be checked is worth looking at.

  • rightened

    "I have no relation to Russia whatsoever... okay, I was a guest of Putin's once... okay, I may have done some deals in Panama that may have involved Russians... okay, I may have had a few business transactions with Russians, like renting out condos in Trump Tower in NYC and selling a house at over double what I paid... okay, so I had a FEW dealings, but they meant nothing to me... it was all about money..."