Father and son set out to create the myth of a self-made billionaire
All told, The Times documented 295 distinct streams of revenue Fred Trump created over five decades to channel wealth to his son.
But the partnership between Donald Trump and his father was about more than the pursuit, and the preservation, of riches. They were also confederates in a more ambitious project: creating the myth of Donald J. Trump, Self-Made Billionaire. If Fred Trump was the silent partner, helping finance the accouterments of wealth, it was Donald Trump who spun them into a seductive narrative.
Emblematic of this dynamic is Trump Tower, the talisman of privilege that established Donald Trump as a player in New York. Fred Trump’s money helped build it. His son recognized and exploited its iconic power as the primary stage for both “The Apprentice” and his presidential campaign.
Donald Trump tried to change his ailing father’s will, setting off a family reckoning
In December 1990, Donald Trump sent his father a document that left him both angered and alarmed. It was a codicil seeking to make a variety of changes to Fred Trump’s will. Among them: strengthening provisions that made Donald Trump sole executor of his estate. But amid Mr. Trump’s financial shambles — it was the month of the $3.5 million Trump’s Castle rescue — Fred Trump feared that the document potentially put his life’s work at risk, that his son might use the empire as collateral to save his own failing businesses, according to depositions given years later during a family dispute.
Fred Trump rebuffed the maneuver, refusing to sign the codicil. But the episode prompted a family reckoning: Fred Trump was aging and ailing. Without speedy intervention, he could die leaving a vast estate — not just his real estate empire, but also tens of millions of dollars in cash — vulnerable to the 55 percent inheritance tax.
So with Donald Trump playing a central role, the family formulated a plan that included unorthodox tax strategies that experts told The Times were legally dubious and, in some cases, appeared to be fraudulent.
The Trumps created a company that siphoned cash from the empire
The first major component was creating a company called All County Building Supply & Maintenance. On paper, All County was Fred Trump’s purchasing agent, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. But All County was, in fact, a company only on paper, records and interviews show — a vehicle to siphon cash from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions in markups, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin.