The Controversial History of the Kushner/Trump Empires

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Donald Trump has done and is still doing many things that are harmful to the economy, environment and public health.  However, none of this gets much of any attention from the corporate media.  Mostly what you hear from the so-called “liberal” media is just regurgitations of what kind of racist or idiotic thing Trump tweeted out.  Or that he lied about his crowd size at one of his many rally’s.  Or how Trump said that the only thing Joe Biden is good for is “kissing Barack Obama’s ass.”  And don’t get me started on the whole Russian collusion nonsense.  

Very little if anything at all that Trump is doing wrong is covered by the ABC’s, CNN’s or New York Times of the world.  This is because 1) the corporate media and the Trump Administration; although seem to be enemies, in reality have the same ambitions.  2) What crazy thing Trump tweeted gets them more ratings than actual reporting does.

Arguably, the most horrific thing the Trump Regime has done is the continuation of the never-ending War in the Middle East.  A war that has caused American lives, privacy violations                 along with what can easily be called the genocide of the people of the Middle East.  What parts the media does cover of this is praised and viewed as the only thing Trump is doing right.  It’s a continuation of what his predecessors; the pretend liberal Barack Obama and the oblivious George W. Bush.  Everyone seems to be on board with the reckless foreign policy of the government, all in the name of fighting terrorism even though it’s taken us twenty years to destroy Al-Qaeda. 

But that will be a subject for another time.  For the purpose of this essay I will be focusing on the second worst thing that the Trump Regime is doing.  It similar to the first thing mentioned in the sense that it gets zero attention from the corporate media giants and has been being done by Trump’s predecessors.  That is the gentrification and corporatization of the cities, towns and neighborhoods of our society.  My focus will be on the local level, particularly my home state New Jersey.  It’s important to first focus on the local aspect because as people keep their eye on the national and global level on the home front the carpet is being pulled out from under them.  They’re not paying attention to what’s going on right outside their front door and that is how the powers that be win. 

Throughout the globe cities are becoming too expensive to live in as more and more residents are priced out of their neighborhoods and small business are replaced with a Walgreens or a Starbucks.  This has a domino effect that spreads to the suburbs and then the rural communities.  More people move out of the cities and into the burbs and as a result woods need to be cut down causing the ecosystem and animals that live in them to become compromised.  On top of that the more populated a town or county gets the more expensive it gets.  The trend in the real estate sector is not more houses but apartments with stores and gyms on the bottom floor a reflection of the falling percentage of people that are purchasing houses.

New Jersey in particular has fallen victim to the Kushner/Trump team.  The Kushner’s have a long history in shaping the environment of New Jersey.  The origins of the Kushner family in New Jersey begins with Jared’s grandparents Rae Kushner(grandmother) and Yossel Berkowitz(grandfather), survivors of the Nazi regime from what used to be northeastern Poland. 

After the War ended anti-Sematic immigration laws put limits on the number of Jews that could enter the U.S.  Jared’s grandfather Yossel had to change his name to (Joseph) Kushner pretending to be his father-in-law’s son in order to obtain a visa.  The family had two dollars when they arrived in March 1949 and for their first three months in the U.S., they had to be given a food allowance and be sheltered by Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society or HIAS, an American non-profit group that helped tens of thousands of Jews escape Europe. 

Joe Kushner became a carpenter in New Jersey during a time when the suburbs were beginning to be developed and New Yorkers began migrating to the Garden State.  In 1956, the Federal Aid-Highway Act was passed.  A twenty-five-billion-dollar program, it stimulated home construction in the suburbs which fueled the economy and is the source of many builders of State’s wealth including Joseph Kushner.  Kushner was able accumulate tens of millions of dollars and by the time of his death in 1985 he had built four thousand homes including four mansions for his family in West Orange and Livingston, NJ which at the time was just opening up their communities to accepting Jews.

Ninety-eighty-five was also the year when the second generation of the Kushner; Jared’s father Charles Kushner, would take the helm and further expand their empire.  Charlie set up Kushner Companies which would alter his father’s business model from just focusing on development to acquisition, management and debt.  Charlie would end up being a great friend to politics, donating to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as well as playing host to Hilary Clinton at his family’s beach home in Long Branch, NJ during her Senate campaign in 2000.

But Charlie’s biggest donation would be $1.5 million to support Jim McGreevey’s run for governor of New Jersey.  It was part of a $3 million total donation to New Jersey Democrats which made him the largest donor to the Democratic Party in the state.  This is important to note because it demonstrates how government does not work for the people but for the corporatist that spoon feed millions of dollars to them.  The Kushner’s have had a long history of buying politics in New Jersey.

            But similar to Jared’s father-in-law, his family would become engulfed in scandal that mirrors more of the lifestyle of Charlie Sheen rather than the titan John D. Rockefeller.  By the time the late nineties came around, Charlie had become a heavy drinker which caused him to be verbally abusive to his family members at times.  Even worse he would make political donations in the names of his family members and business partners without their knowledge which would also be in violation of a campaign-finance law.

            Charlie would use corporate funds for his own expenses like landscaping, or “holiday alcohol” or Nets tickets.  In 2002, his brother Murray; who had business ties to Joe’s business, would sue him for misusing corporate funds.  Murray’s lawsuit would catch the attention of U.S. Attorney for NJ Chris Christie.  Charlie would become convinced that Murray and their sister Esther were secretly working with Christie.  Charlie would hire East Orange, NJ police captain, Jimmy O’Toole, to hire a prostitute from the Upper East Side named Susanna to seduce and entrap Esther’s husband Billy Schulder.

            O’Toole’s brother Tommy; a private investigator, recorded a video tape of the encounter which was then sent to Esther.  This sleezy maneuver would fail though and Chris Christie would bring Charlie up on charges of witness tampering, tax-fraud and campaign-finance violations in which Charlie would eventually plead guilty in order to avoid an embarrassing trial. 

            Charlie then found himself doing time in the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama which lasted a year.  Jared never lost faith in his father.  After Charlie’s imprisonment his Kushner Companies would sell off most of its suburban empire.  A large part of the New Jersey suburbs is the creation of the Kushner family.

            Now, we enter third generation and therefore the third stage of the Kushner empire.  Despite the controversy, Jared still loved his father.  During his lock up Jared would fly down to Alabama almost every week to see him.  And so, Jared would also follow in his father’s scumbag tactics and behaviors. 

Jared bought an aluminum-clad tower in Midtown at 666 Fifth Avenue for the record-breaking price of $1.8 billion using a structure of debt to make the purchase.  About the same time, he bought the finance and real estate newspaper the New York Observer.  Once under Jared’s control he would have the paper do hit pieces on people he didn’t like including Chris Christie the man who put his father behind bars.  This probably goes a long way of explaining why Chris Christie would be kicked off the Trump Train due to the controversy with his son-in-law’s family.

Other people on Jared’s hitlist were real estate mogul Richard Mack who was an executive at an investment fund that owned some of Kushner’s debt.  Of course, none of the writers could find any evidence of wrongdoing and so dropped the case.  In 2009, Jared would marry Ivanka Trump which would begin the Trump/Kushner business partnership.  This also meant that enemies of Donald Trump were enemies of Jared Kushner and so Attorney General Eric Schneidernman who had filed suit against Donald Trump over Trump University naturally became a target of the New York Observer.

Jared Kushner’s real estate empire is currently at the forefront of the transformation of the Jersey Shore, a transformation that has gotten much pushback from local residents of the shore towns.  Among some of the properties that Kushner Construction owns and is redeveloping is the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, NJ in which it is partnered with Rouse Properties, a New York based company which has experience transforming old-fashioned malls into the trendy community malls(700 apartments attached) that is being seen built across the country.  In 2016, residents filed a suit to stop the redevelopment.

Kushner Cos. also owns Pier Village in Long Branch, NJ, a beachfront community which Kushner Cos. is adding on luxury condos, a hotel and boardwalk.  Also, Kushner Cos. owns 38-acres in Colts Neck, an affluent town where Trump’s National Golf Course is also located, in which Kushner is supposed to build 48 townhouses.  There’s also the Station Place Apartments that Kushner Cos. is on contract to buy that includes five more properties in New Jersey and one in New York.  Rents starting at these Kushner owned apartments will be starting at around $2,300 a month, a typical trend in much of the coastal states which helps to make livability even more difficult.

Kushner has naturally played a role in the overpricing and gentrification of New York as well, owning properties in the East Village and Brooklyn’s Dumbo, two places that at one point was more affordable for the typical American worker, Dumbo is now one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  Kushner’s tentacles have spread to Maryland and Ohio as well where Kushner Companies property arm, Westminster Management controls 34 properties. 

Kushner also teamed up with a member of the wealthy Steinmetz family in Israel to buy around $200 million of apartment buildings in Manhattan.  Steinmetz family member, Beny Steinmetz, is the subject of a bribery investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.  Kushner Co. also took out loans from Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, which similar to Beny Steinmatz, is under investigation from the Justice Department over allegations that it helped wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes.  To top it off Kushner Co. has bought several floors of what used to be the New York Times headquarters building in Manhattan from Israeli businessman and philanthropist, Levi Leviev. 

The bulk of Kushner’s multifamily apartments are in Baltimore which has come under great scrutiny from its residents.  Complaints range from aggressive rent-collection practices which include altering the payment process to not accepting money orders which many of its low-income residents do because they don’t have a checking account.  Also, the lack of maintenance service, there are hundreds of units on the property with only four workers to look after them.  Some of the townhouses would have holes in them which the residents would get charged $150 to get fixed and would have to wait months for someone to finally fix them.

In 2017, Kushner Co. received about a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, which put new equity into Kushner controlled Maryland apartment complexes.  To this day Kushner still owns stakes in most of it including the Baltimore apartments. 

Donald Trump

Unlike his son-in-law, Donald Trump’s real estate track record isn’t as impressive or dynastic.  In fact, it’s probably safe to say that if you were to just take all of the half-assed scumbag tactics that landed Charlie Kushner in jail and left the successful real estate dynasty you would have Donald Trump’s career.  Contrary to popular belief, Donald Trump is not the richest man in the country nor a successful businessman.  Trump is only a face to put on magazines and to prompt up putting the attention on him instead of the people that have real power.

Regardless of Trump’s money and celebrity status he was never a part of New York’s ruling class.  He didn’t have the money, the background or the personality to be considered equals to that of the real skyscraper kings: Silverstien’s, Tishman’s, Rudin’s, Lefrak’s or Durst’s(although he did have a good relationship with his friend and classmate Richard Lefrak).  Trump longed to become them but didn’t have the personality or the mindset to succeed.  The great real estate titans of the city had an ideology of shaping the future of New York in their image.  To them Trump had no vision he just focused on the small picture, a building here a building there.  Plus, they didn’t care much for his cutthroat tactics.  While Trump’s career resembled more of a mobster’s the elites of the city were more proper (however, this is only because unlike Trump they owned the city government so they didn’t have to be viscous like Trump to get what they want).

-Beginnings

Donald Trump’s father; Fred Trump, worked for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) during and after the depression years in which he completed 2,000 homes.  By the 1950’s Fred Trump was under investigation by the FHA for borrowing more money from the FHA to build complexes in Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach (Brooklyn) than it costed to build them.  And the auditors had also found out that Trump had been paid $1.6 million in dividends without approval from the FHA.  Trump would be replaced as manager of the complexes and refused to be given permission to build new ones.

As time went on Fred Trump redeem himself in the eyes of the government and received approval and money to build.  He would also be a major contributor to New York City officials such as Mayor Robert Wagner.  Trump would be the cause for the state to create new laws regarding developers after he billed the State $520,000 for evicting slum-clearance-tenants in order for his Trump Village to be built.  Trump would end up profiting $1.8 million.

Enter Donald Trump. 

Trump has always been the whining complaining child we see today.  His Presidency has been full of firings and replacements due to people saying what he doesn’t like.  This has always been a usual occurrence for Donald Trump.  When a gambling-industry analyst stated that Trump’s Taj Mahal would lose money Trump forced the analysists company to fire him.  Debt was another thing that dominated his career.  Despite Trump claiming he was worth billions Forbes put him at less than a billion dollars which they decreased into the negatives stating that Trump’s debts were greater than his assets.

 Donald grew up in Queens and attended Kew Forest prep school in the WASP enclave Kew Gardens, Queens.  From early on Donald had discipline problems.  But he also had a vision of getting out of the Outer Borough business and jumping into the skyscraper world of Manhattan where the real money was. 

When Trump was still a student, he bought a run-down apartment building that the FHA had foreclosed in Cincinnati which had different laws than New York.  Because of this Donald was able to raise rents astronomically after renovations and then sold it for profit. 

When Donald Trump began his career, he was able to convince his father to remortgage his 24,000 apartments in order to realize cash so he could expand.  Over the next few years Trump would both buy and sell apartment complexes in Florida and California but his true ambitions still lied towards Manhattan and the skyscraper business. 

The thing that would give Trump the final push out of the outer boroughs and into Manhattan was a phone call to developer Lew Rudin asking if he wanted to partner with him.  Rudin’s response was, “In this family we have two rules.  First, we only develop in Manhattan.  Second, we don’t develop with partners.”  After that Trump would begin his journey to becoming the tabloid/celebrity real estate tycoon who would falsely be portrayed by the media as one of the richest men in the country.

While Trump was in the process of backing the mayoral campaign of Abe Beame an allegation surfaced regarding discrimination against African-Americans in 16,000 of his apartments.  This would initially help Trump instead of destroying his career because of the publicity he would receive when he countersued the government for $100 million.  Upon its arrival to court the judge dismissed the case but it was the publicity that would benefit Trump.  Whether it be good or bad publicity it always helped him just as it does now as he’s in White House. 

The lawyer that would help Trump through the lawsuit was Roy Cohn.  Cohn would spend the early days of his career with Senator Joseph McCarthy bringing alleged “Communist sympathizers” before a Senate panel.  Cohn would later associate himself with New York’s underworld and was indicted four times on charges ranging from extortion, blackmail, bribery, conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice but was always acquitted. 

This would be the first of many associations Trump would have with unsavory characters particularly those of organized crime families.  For example, some of Cohn’s mob clients-controlled New York construction unions in which Trump needed their blessings in order to complete his projects.  “He hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by Mafia chieftains Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Paul Castellano.” 

Trump would also rely on associations with mobster Daniel Sullivan who would deal with labor problems on Trump’s construction sites to build his casino.  This would not be the only time Trump did business with Sullivan.  The two of them went into a drywall manufacturing business which was “among the firms implicated in a racketeering scheme involving the carpenters’ union and the Genovese crime family” that was represented by Cohn.  Trump and Sullivan would also go into an Atlantic City land-leasing deal with Kenneth Shapiro who has been identified by law enforcement as a financier and agent for Philly mobster Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo.

Several nefarious characters called Trump Tower home.  Trump Tower; which was built by undocumented Polish and South Korean immigrants for little pay and in a hazardous work environment, consisted of people like Russian crime family member David Bogatin, who worked with Colombo capo Michael Franzese in a record-breaking gas-tax evasion scam, bought multiple condos.  Austrian divorcee and friend of concrete union boss John Cody, Verina Hixon also owned condos there.  “Concrete boss” John Cody accumulated eight arrests under his belt including attempted rape and three convictions.  Trump would have Cody build his tower but got indicted in an eight-count federal racketeering case and charged with collecting $160,000 in kickbacks before he could finish.  

Other innocent angels that resided at Trump Tower were the Italian financier Robert Polo, who would be jailed for ripping off his clients for more than $110 million, would buy half a dozen condos as he faced charges “in more countries than most people had visited”.  Sheldon and Jay Weinberg, who ran a father and son operation which would lead them into being convicted in the largest Medicaid fraud case in history.  Not to mention members of the Luchese crime family. 

Controversary would be the main ingredient to Donald Trump’s business and reputation.  Donald Trump would hire his father’s old friend Phil Birnbaum’s architectural firm to make an updated and more expensive version of his Trump Plaza.  However, when Trump learned that Birnbaum’s firm was designing a building located diagonally across the street that was of the same exterior shape as the one Costos Kondylis had done for him, he sued both Birnbaum and developer Morton Olshan.  Birnbaum then reached out to Fred Trump for help and all Fred could do was reply, “I can’t control him.”

Donald Trump’s career as a developer would be idolized by the media as real power and wealth but in reality, he spent his career in debt to the banks.  Trump was not the real estate king of New York City.  When it came to the real movers and shakers of New York, those that for over a century shaped the city into what was, families such as the Astor’s, Rockefeller’s, Morgan’s, Schiff’s, Belmont’s and Pratt’s, there was no comparison. 

Trump would come to control the West Side railyards, acquire a large condominium building in Florida and began a venture that would drain huge amounts of money from him when his cash flow slowed.  Trump was able to buy property by convincing the banks and insurance companies that the properties would increase in value because the Trump name was associated with it.  When the income from his properties was unable to service the debts and no buyers could be found the banks demanded their money. 

Aside from Trump Tower and Trump Plaza another trademark of Trump’s was the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.  Trump would have little luck in the gabling industry.  In 1991, the Taj Mahal was drowning in debt.  Worth $1 billion and financed by junk bonds carrying a 14% interest rate when construction completed the economy and the Atlantic City gambling scene slumped causing Trump to go $3.4 billion in debt. 

Trump would strike a deal with the banks to give up over half his ownership and half of the equity in the casino in exchange for a lower interest rate and more time to pay off his debt.  He would sell off his Trump Princess yacht and the Trump Shuttle airplane in order to make his payments.  On top of that his creditors put him on a budget. 

A year after the Taj Mahal debacle, Trump owed $550 million on his Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City and agreed to give up almost half of the hotel to Citibank long with five other lenders.  In return Trump received the same treatment as before except that he would have more leeway to pay off his debt and was allowed to stay on as chief executive, although his salary was taken away. 

Come 2004, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts Inc, would be $1.8 billion in debt causing it to file for voluntary bankruptcy.  So, he could get lower interest rates and a $500 million loan to make improvements Trump agreed to reduce his share in the company from 47% to 25% which meant he no longer had any control over his own company.

During the 2008 financial crisis, Trump’s real estate holdings would naturally go downhill.  Trump Entertainment and his affiliates had $2.06 billion in assets and was $1.74 billion in debt.  By December of 2008, his company missed a $53.1 million bond interest payment throwing Trump Entertainment Resorts into bankruptcy court and plunged its stock price from $4 per share to 23 cents.  After fighting with his board of directors over restructuring, he would resign as chairman of the board and would leave with a 10% share of the company.  Most of Trump’s debt were through bonds that were sold to the public.  Despite all the issues Trump would still come out alright compared to the people that lost money investing in him or his name.

There are two points to take away from all this.  One, is that Donald Trump is not the successful businessman that many people including those that don’t like him believe.  He is in fact, a slave to debt.  And two, both Trump and Kushner do not represent working-class values.  Meaning that despite their portrayal of Republicanism and patriotism, they actually represent everything that is harmful to the middleclass. 

To understand this one must look no further than the Jersey Shore.  Kushner’s redevelopment is part of a trend that has been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc.  New buildings go up in which no working-class people can afford.  Followed by corporate chains which make the taxes and cost of everything go up which pushes out small business’ and the residents of the area beginning with the lower-class black and Hispanic neighborhoods which eventually spreads to the middle-class neighborhoods finally making to expensive for them to afford as well.

Trump and Kushner are no more of an outsider than Barack Obama.  All their doing is continuing the trend.

Bibliography:

Alec MacGillis. “Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire in Baltimore.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/magazine/jared-kushners-other-real-estate-empire.html, May 23, 2017.

Amy Bingham. “Donald Trump’s Companies Filed for Bankruptcy 4 Times.” https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-filed-bankruptcy-times/story?id=13419250, April 20, 2011.

Andrea Bernstein. “Who is Jared Kushner?” https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/who-is-jared-kushner, January 6, 2020.

Dan Radel. “Kushner at the Jersey Shore: See what the Trump in-laws own in Monmouth County.” Asbury Park Press, Febuary 26, 2020.

Dan Radel. “Monmouth Mall Big Changes: 5 Things to Know before Hearings Start.” Asbury Park Press, March 28, 2018.

Jesse Drucker. “Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even with Mideast Diplomatic Role.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/business/jared-kushner-israel.html, January 7, 2018.

Robert Fitch. The Assassination of New York (London: Verso, 1993).

Tom Shachtman. Skyscraper Dreams: The Great Real Estate Dynasties of New York (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.com, Inc., 2000).

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