Monthly Archives: February 2018

Sacramento sues Wells Fargo, says bank discriminated against black and Latino borrowers

The city of Sacramento has filed a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo alleging the banking giant steers African American and Latino borrowers into high-risk and high-cost mortgages.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, also seeks monetary damages against Wells Fargo, alleging the mortgages forced the city “to divert resources intended for other programs” to provide services to blighted neighborhoods impacted by the lending practices.

“These illegal practices suppressed property values in minority and low income communities in Sacramento, reduced the city’s property tax revenues, and increased the cost of providing municipal services such as police, fire fighting and code enforcement,” the city’s lawsuit reads.

Read on.

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NARCO-A-LAGO: MONEY LAUNDERING AT THE TRUMP OCEAN CLUB PANAMA

You can download the PDF version of this report here.

Acknowledgements: the lead investigator on this Global Witness report was Ken Silverstein. Global Witness is grateful to NBC News for making available to us material from an NBC and Reuters interview with Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira. Unless otherwise indicated, this material is referenced in the text as (NBC/Reuters).

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do… It’s a horrible law and [the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] should be changed.”

Donald Trump

In the early 2000s, a series of bankruptcies meant Donald J. Trump was shunned by most lenders. Struggling for credit, he started selling his name to high-end real estate projects. This report examines in detail the criminal connections that propelled one such project – the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama – and how this case bears some of the same disturbing hallmarks as other Trump developments.

Since he became President of the United States, numerous investigations and articles have probed Trump’s business dealings and his alleged links to criminals and other shadowy characters. It is understood that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation under the Department of Justice will also examine his real estate business. This is important because it seems likely that, following his various bankruptcies, at least a part of Trump’s business empire has been built on untraceable funds, some apparently linked to Russian criminal networks.

Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings. But, as this Global Witness investigation shows, licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains. Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.

One key player in the laundering of drug money at the Trump Ocean Club was notorious fraudster David Eduardo Helmut Murcia Guzmán, whom a U.S. court subsequently sentenced to nine years for laundering millions of dollars’ worth of illicit funds, including narcotics proceeds, through companies and real estate.

Another was Murcia Guzmán’s business associate, Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, who brokered nearly a third of the 666 pre-construction unit sales at the Trump Ocean Club and claims to have sold 350-400 units overall. Ventura Nogueira’s sales brokerage was critical to ensuring the project’s lift-off and Trump’s ability to earn tens of millions of dollars.

Read on.

Years after leaving office, ex-members of Congress still spend campaign money

 

IT’S BEEN MORE THAN A DECADE since South Florida Rep. Mark Foley was forced out of Congress for sending sexual text messages to teenage boys.

But Foley tapped his congressional campaign fund to dine on the Palm Beach social circuit four times in early 2017, ending with a $450 luncheon at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches.

Then there’s baseball-star-turned-senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. He paid his daughter $94,800 from campaign money in the four years after he left office, only stopping when he’d bled his fund dry.

And over the past 17 months, political advisor Dylan Beesley paid his firm more than $100,000 from the campaign account of Hawaii Congressman Mark Takai for “consulting services.”

It’s hard to imagine what Beesley advised. Takai was dead that whole time.

In their political afterlife, former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times10News WTSP and TEGNA-owned TV stations found.

Their spending makes a mockery of one of the fundamental principles of America’s campaign finance laws: Donations must be spent only on politics, not politicians’ personal lives.

Times/WTSP reporters analyzed more than 1 million records detailing the spending of former U.S. lawmakers and federal candidates. They found roughly 100 of these zombie campaigns, still spending even though their candidate’s political career had been laid to rest.

Read on.

A Booming Stock Market Does Not Mean a Strong US Economy

During his State of the Union speech, Trump touted the recent stock market boom as proof of how well the U.S. is doing. However, as NEP’s Bill Black explains, the boom has nothing to do with new investment. You can view with a transcript
here.

Source: New Economic Perspectives

Amazon Paid Zero in Federal Taxes in 2017, Gets $789 Million Windfall from New Tax Law

From a decades-long strategy of exploiting state sales tax loopholes to its ongoing “HQ2” sweepstakes, Amazon’s leaders have rarely turned down a chance to use the tax system as the source of their competitive advantage.

The online retail giant has built its business model on tax avoidance, and its latest financial filing makes it clear that Amazon continues to be insulated from the nation’s tax system. In 2017, Amazon reported $5.6 billion of U.S. profits and didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes on it. The company’s financial statement suggests that various tax credits and tax breaks for executive stock options are responsible for zeroing out the company’s tax this year.

The company’s zero percent rate in 2017 reflects a longer term trend. During the previous five years, Amazon reported U.S. profits of $8.2 billion and paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 11.4 percent. This means the company was able to shelter more than two-thirds of its profits from tax during that five year period.

Read on.

Mueller reportedly probing whether Manafort promised White House job to bank CEO to get mortgages

From the NBC report:

Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City and the Hamptons.

The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny. Calk did not receive a job in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

For People of Color, Banks Are Shutting the Door to Homeownership

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities — Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida — and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

Read on.