A financial disclosure from Donald Trump's sister led to The New York Times report on his taxes
Posted October 3, 2018 7:57 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — President Donald Trump's older sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, has kept a very low profile since he ran for office. But it appears as though she inadvertently had a central role in The New York Times blockbuster report on her brother's alleged tax schemes.
According to the Times, one of their key findings was a financial disclosure form from Barry's Senate confirmation proceedings in 1999 to be a federal appellate judge. This financial form was not redacted, and Times reporter Susanne Craig, one of the three reporters who broke the story, noticed an oddity in the filing -- a $1 million contribution from a Trump family-owned company called All County Building Supply & Maintenance.
Craig, along with reporters David Barstow and Russ Buettner, began to investigate the company. People familiar with family patriarch Fred Trump told them that All County was a "middleman entity created by President Trump and his siblings essentially to move cash from Fred Trump's companies to his children," the Times said.
After the company purchased items for Trump buildings such as cleaning supplies, the Times notes that a secretary would bill these "items to Fred Trump's buildings with a 20% to 50% markup," and the siblings would "pocket the difference." The siblings received millions in untaxed gifts from their father, skirting a 55% tax on gifts over a certain value that would have cut the total significantly, the Times reported.
According to Tuesday's report by the Times, the President helped "his parents dodge taxes" in the 1990s, including "instances of outright fraud" that allowed him to amass a fortune from them. The President and his siblings helped his parents build their wealth by hiding millions of dollars in gifts in a "sham corporation," according to the Times.
Barry, along with President Trump and their younger brother, Robert, were the executors of their father's estate, and in that capacity filed his tax returns 15 months after his death in 1999, the Times notes.
The judge's involvement in the practices outlined in the Times story is unclear. However, as a one of the executors of her late father's estate, she and her brothers were responsible for verifying the accuracy of his estate tax return, which the Times notes "vividly illustrates the effectiveness of the tax strategies devised by the Trumps in the early 1990s."
"She signed the estate tax return. She is required to submit accurate information to be truthful. She was a lawyer at the time," professor Lee-Ford Tritt, a law professor and the director of the Center for Estate Planning at the University of Florida Law School, told CNN on Wednesday. Barry also was a sitting federal judge at the time her late father's tax returns were filed.
Though the statute of limitations for pursuing possible criminal action against the Trumps for the alleged schemes exposed in the report has long passed, there could be civil penalties if tax fraud is found to have occurred.
Barry could not be reached for comment by CNN. She declined to comment to the Times. It's unclear how aware she might have been of any tax schemes.
In a statement, President Trump's lawyer Charles Harder said there was no fraud or tax evasion. The White House released a statement on Tuesday night calling the story a "misleading attack" and criticizing the New York Times and other media outlets.
Robert Trump said in a statement to The Times that "all appropriate gift and estate tax returns were filed, and the required taxes were paid."
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance said it would "vigorously pursue" avenues of investigation in light of the report. And, on Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that the city will work with the state and "look under every stone" to recoup any unpaid Trump taxes.
Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service does not have a statute of limitations on civil tax fraud.
Tritt, the law professor, said, "If the IRS determines Fred Trump owes more money, they can look through to the recipients of his estate and try to claw back and ask for the money back. It would be a complicated process."
Barry, at 81 the eldest Trump sibling, was appointed to the federal bench in New Jersey in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Prior to that, she spent nine years as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, rising to the position of first assistant US Attorney.
"I was at that time one of the highest-ranking women attorneys in any United States Attorney's Office in the country," she wrote in a 1999 questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee when she was nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a position to which she was nominated by President Bill Clinton. In 2017, she became an inactive judge.