Saturday, May 9, 2020

Trump Making FL Official Residence May Have Made Legal Mess

For nearly a Quarter-Century, President Trump has envisioned Boats Docking at Mar-a-Lago, his Club set on 17 Acres of Prime Real Estate in Palm Beach, Florida, with the Grounds between the Beach and the placid Waters of the Lake Worth Lagoon and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Trump's quest has, predictably, irked his Wealthy Neighbors, sparking One of those pesky Territorial Squabbles that occupy Town Halls and Zoning Boards across the Country. But the attempt by Trump and his Legal Team to squeeze through Approval of his Dock is now surfacing a Potentially nettlesome Problem for the president.

Digging into the catacombs of Local Records to build an Argument against the Dock, a small Group of loosely aligned Preservationists, Disgruntled Neighbors, and Attorneys, have unearthed Documents that they assert call into question the Legality of Trump's Decision to Change his Official Domicile from Manhattan to Mar-a-Lago and to Register to Vote in Florida using the Club's Address. But according to those Documents, and additional Materials, Trump Agreed in Writing years ago to Change the Use of the Mar-a-Lago Property from a Single-Family Residence to a Private Club Owned by a Corporation he Controls.

The Distinction is Significant. The Property is Taxed as a Private Club, Not as a Residence, according to Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Records. Trump's own Attorney assured Local Officials in Palm Beach before they Voted to Approve the Club in 1993 that he would Not Live there. Mar-a-Lago's website says only that Trump Maintains "private quarters" at the Club.

"It's one or the other - it's a club or it's your home," Reginald Stambaugh, an Attorney who Represents a Neighbor Opposed to Trump's Dock Plan, said in a recent Interview. "You can't have it both ways." If Stambaugh and his Client have their way and persuade Palm Beach to stand firm on its Long-Standing Agreement, Trump will be Forced to make a Choice, he said: Stop Operating Mar-a-Lago as a Club and make it a Single-Family Home again or Change his Official Domicile to Someplace Else.

The storied Mediterranean-style Mansion was built in the 1920s by the Cereal-Fortune Heiress Marjorie Meriweather Post and her then-husband, the Financial Mogul E.F. Hutton. When Post died in the early 1970s, she left the Estate to the U.S. Government, envisioning it as a Winter Retreat for High-Ranking Officials. It was named a National Historic Landmark. But her Plan to make it a Government Redoubt was never put into effect. As the Cost of Maintaining the Property soared, the Government gave it back to Post's Foundation. In the mid-1980s, Trump scooped up Mar-a-Lago at a Bargain-Basement Price.

After Buying the Estate, Trump set about Restoring the Property and hosted Grand Galas. Those days were short-lived. By the early 1990s, Trump's business Empire was in Peril. His foray into the Atlantic City, New Jersey, Gambling Scene was a Mess. In 1991 and 1992, Four of his Ventures filed for Bankruptcy Protection: Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the Trump Castle Hotel and Casino, and the Plaza Hotel in New York.

He began grumbling about the Cost of Maintaining the Mansion and Grounds of Mar-a-Lago, saying he was Spending $3 million a year in Upkeep. Trump hit upon a Solution to his Ownership of a Money Pit, his solution: Carve up the Mar-a-Lago Property into Pieces and Sell as many as 10 Luxury Homes. But the notion of tampering with the Landmark Property angered Preservationists and the Moneyed Denizens of Palm Beach.

Trump Sued the Town. At the same time, he and his Attorney were birthing yet another clever plan: He'd Convert his Personal Residence into a Private Club. The Town's Leaders were wary but slowly started warming to the Idea as a way of Preserving the Historic Mansion. During lengthy talks with the Council, Trump's Attorney, Paul Rampell, addressed a Question on a lot of minds in those days: Would Trump Live at the Club? "The answer is no," Rampell said, according to a Summary Transcript of a 1993 Council Meeting, "except that he will be a member of the Club and would be entitled to use its guest rooms."

In August 1993, Trump got his Club, Signing an extraordinarily Detailed Document called a "use agreement" that Governs, to this day, how Mar-a-Lago can be Used. The Document makes Clear that Mar-a-Lago would No Longer be a Single-Family Residence and was now a Private Club.

Trump agreed to Convey the Title of the Property from his Personal Possession to a Corporate Entity he Controlled named Mar-a-Lago Club, Inc. He promised he Wouldn't put up Condominiums or Co-Op Units. He also took care of a Worrisome Issue for some Council Members: the Question of what would happen if the Club Failed. In that event, Trump Agreed in Writing to the same Provision his Attorney had Promised: "The use of the Land shall revert to a single family residence."

The Deal he struck made it Clear that No One could Live Permanently at the Property. It stated that the Guest Suites could be used Only by Members for a Maximum of Three Times a year for No Longer than Seven Days at a time, and that those Seven-Day Stays couldn't be Strung Together Consecutively.

Trump also made a Promise that has come back to create Problems for him in the Fourth year of his Presidency: He said he Wouldn't put up a Dock. But just because he'd made that Pledge about the Dock didn't mean he Planned to Keep It. In 1996, he told New York magazine: "Now at some point we are looking at building a marina out at the Intercoastal," Misidentifying the Intracoastal Waterway, the Lengthy Patchwork of Navigation Channels, Natural Bays, and Inlets that stretches across Large Swaths of the East Coast.

He Unsuccessfully Sued the Town in 1996, attempting to Lift many of the Restrictions he'd Agreed to Three years earlier. He wanted Out of the Limits on the Guest Suites, and he also wanted to Drop a Requirement that Half the Members of the Club be Palm Beach Residents or Business Owners.

More than Two Decades after Cutting his Deal for the Club, Trump still wants his Dock. He asked for it in 2018, saying that it was necessary "for safety and security reasons to protect the President of the United States and his family." His Attorneys went on to say that the Request had been endorsed by the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

The Town managed to Stall the Dock Plan when it came up on the Council's Agenda in February 2019. Among those who weighed in Against the Proposal, and has been Fighting behind the Scenes and helping develop Legal tactics ever since, was Glenn Zeitz, a Philadelphia-area Attorney who Owns a Home in Palm Beach and had Defeated Trump in the mid-1990s in an Eminent Domain Lawsuit related to one of Trump's Atlantic City Casinos.

The Dock Request, not unlike others of its type, trudged Slowly through the System in Palm Beach, a Town with a Population of just over 8,000. In the meantime, Trump made a Surprise move. In early October 2019, he Changed his Official Domicile to Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

Trump's switch to Florida also tossed a quirky Legal Puzzle into the mix. Trump, who has traveled to Mar-a-Lago repeatedly as President and has referred to the Club as his Winter White House, has said that he Voted by Mail in Florida's Republican Primary last month. Florida Law requires Voters to Register using their "legal residence" Addresses under Penalty of Perjury. What would happen to his Voting Status, some of his Adversaries in the Dock Fight have begun to wonder, if Palm Beach declares that he doesn't have the Legal Right to use Mar-a-Lago as his Official Domicile?

Zeitz called Trump's Possible Violation of his Agreement with Palm Beach "a substantial and serious potential legal impediment" to the President using Mar-a-Lago as his Voter-Registration Address and Official Domicile. In Florida, a Person needs to Cross Multiple Hurdles to Legally Register at a Particular Address, according to Ronald Meyer, a Florida Lawyer and Election Law Expert. First, Voters have to State an Intention to Reside somewhere, Meyer said. But that's Not Enough. They also have to Demonstrate that the Address they're using for their Voter Registration is Legitimate by taking Concrete Steps such as Buying or Renting the Home at that Address, Registering a Vehicle there, using the Address to Apply for a Driver's License or for Tax Purposes. "There is no litmus test; but there must be some confluence of the subjective intention to declare a residence with objective factors which demonstrate actual residency," Meyer said.

Should Trump have Registered to Vote in D.C.? He does Not Qualify as a Resident, and does Not spend enough Time there for Tax Purposes.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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