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Jared Kushner’s legal tax evasion shows how wealthy real estate investors steal from taxpayers

It's quite the scheme, and last year's tax law changes made it even easier to pull off.

CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The New York Times published a new report showing how Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, largely avoided paying any federal income tax between 2009 and 2016.

The financial documents the Times reviewed offer a detailed look at how real estate developers like Kushner and Trump manipulate the law to essentially steal millions of dollars — legally — from the American people. And the Republican tax cuts last year made it even easier to do.

The way the tax loophole works is that the law assumes that buildings lose value every year. But as The Times explains, that’s not really true; in fact, they often gain value. But even if they’re gaining value, developers like Kushner can legally claim that the law’s assumptions about depreciation are true, inflating the loss of value so they can report a loss of income.

The company’s assets are then integrated into the owner’s personal taxes, meaning Kushner could report that, although he personally made a ton of money, he “lost” more because of what Kushner Companies purportedly lost in the value of its buildings. He can then deduct that loss from his taxes for that year and in the years to come, leaving him with no taxes to pay — even though he’s actually raking in a fortune in profits.

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The scheme is even more insidious than that, though, because Kushner Companies isn’t really putting up the money to buy buildings in the first place. Most of the capital comes in the form of mortgages and personal loans from banks. So the company is essentially writing off lost money that it never spent in the first place. Then, when it sells the building, it can use the proceeds to finance a new purchase, allowing it to defer ever paying the capital gains taxes it would owe.

In a 2015 example that The Times included as a separate explainer, Kushner reported $1.7 million in income, but $8.3 million in real estate losses, more than half of which were carried forward from previous years. He thus reported a net loss of $6.6 million and actually received a $4,000 tax refund.

As The Times describes it, the law’s “enormous flexibility allows real estate investors to determine their own tax bills.” And the Republican tax bill passed last December only increased the deductions that real estate investors could take, meaning Kushner Companies could reap even more money from the American public in the future compared to what was reported in the documents from 2009-2016.

New data released this week showed that the tax bill likewise increased corporate profits while average worker wages remained flat.

The Times had several tax experts review the documents it had acquired about Kushner’s finances. Jonathan Blattmachr, a trusts and estates lawyer who is a principal at Pioneer Wealth Partners, told the Times, “If I had to live my life over again, I would have been in the real estate business… It’s fantastic. You get tax deductions for things you don’t pay for.”

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Trump has kept his own tax returns private, but two years ago, his returns for 1995 were leaked. Those showed that he reported over $900 million in losses, suggesting he could have made over $50 million a year for nearly two decades without paying any taxes. It appears to be a strategy similar to what was revealed in Kushner’s finances.

Earlier this month, The Times published a separate investigation showing Trump committed “instances of outright fraud,” while avoiding paying nearly $500 million in inheritance taxes. New York tax officials say they plan to “vigorously” investigate these claims.