Posts tagged with "ProPublica"

Terrible things are happening to men who got penis enlargement

February 9, 2024

Preying upon perhaps one of the biggest male insecurities, a Beverly Hills-based urologist’s controversial treatment has turned out not only to be too good to be true—but to have a very dark side as well, reports Futurism.

In an investigation originally conducted and published by ProPublica, James Elist and his enhancement device—known as the “Penuma” (an acronym for “Penis New Man”)—take center stage in this drama populated by men who, after getting the implant, had grotesque complications that included festering wounds and extreme pain during urination and sex.

Though Elist’s literature suggests that implantation of the Penuma, a block-like silicone device implanted through an incision in the shaft of the penis, is “reversible,” it seems clear from example after example of extreme complications that it’s anything but.

“To fully consent to a procedure, the patient needs someone to tell him everything,” Thomas Walsh, a reconstructive urologist who has treated patients with post-Penuma implantation complications, told ProPublica. “He doesn’t need a salesman. The problem here is that you’ve got someone who is inventing and manufacturing and selling the device. That personal investment can create a tremendous conflict of interest.”

Walsh removed the implant belonging to a patient whose name ProPublica listed only as “Mick” to protect his identity. After finally rejecting Elist’s directive not to seek advice online or from other doctors, Mick, who had lost sensation in his penis, was horrified to learn that there were tons of other deeply unsatisfied customers who had complications even worse than his own.

From broken implants to holes that spew out amber-colored fluid, the stories of Penuma implants gone wrong are enough to turn one’s stomach. But prior to this latest investigation, articles singing Elist and his device’s praises in GQ and other news outlets contributed to making him a standout surgeon in the packed Beverly Hills market.

Perhaps the most depressing part of Mick’s story—a consequence from which he suffered and was far from alone—is that following the removal of the implant, he found that his penis had actually lost length.

“It’s like he also snipped the possibility of intimacy away from me,” a Hollywood executive who had had multiple surgeries with Elist, told ProPublica.

Although the doctor insists that there are more satisfied customers than unhappy ones, the list of issues not only with the implant itself but also with the consent process is harrowing. For instance, men were being given forms to sign after getting shots of narcotics. Foreign-born patients were being given forms to sign in English and after waking up from anesthesia for what they thought was a vein-cleaning procedure, found a strange object had been implanted into their shafts.

The entire debacle is a gross reminder not only of the potential issues with any cosmetic procedure—but also of the lengths, pun intended, to which people in our culture will go to “improve” or “enhance” their bodies. That men are willing to undergo such surgeries is as much an indictment of society at large as it is on the doctors who capitalize on their insecurities.

Research contact: @futurism

Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly attended Koch network donor events

September 25, 2023

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas flew on a private jet in 2018 to speak at the annual winter donor summit of the Koch network—a trip that was intended to be a fundraising draw for the influential conservative political organization, according to a report published on Friday, September 22, by ProPublica.

At the summit—held in Palm Springs, California—Thomas attended a private dinner for the Koch network’s donors, ProPublica says. According to the outlet, it was at least the second time Thomas had attended a meeting of the network founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch (the latter of whom died in 2019). Thomas did not disclose the 2018 trip, ProPublica reports.

According to a follow-up story by The Washington Post, the revelation adds to the controversies swirling around Thomas and the court more broadly. The issues have led Democrats to call for the nine justices to adopt a binding code of ethics and prompted some calls for Thomas’s resignation.

In its previous reports, ProPublica has explored other aspects of Thomas’s relationships with wealthy conservative donors, some of whom have interests before the court.

Representatives for the Supreme Court and for the Koch network, which is formally known as Stand Together, did not immediately respond to questions and requests for comment from The Washington Post on Friday morning.

In a lengthy statement to ProPublica, an unnamed spokesperson for Stand Together blasted the publication’s investigation as “advocacy journalism intended to discredit and undermine the Supreme Court.” The spokesperson also told ProPublica that Stand Together did not pay for the private jet and that the Supreme Court justice was not present for “fundraising conversations” at the 2018 event.

“There is a long tradition of public officials, including Supreme Court Justices, sharing their experiences, ideas, and judicial philosophy with members of the public at dinners and other events,” the Stand Together spokesperson wrote to ProPublica. “All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches, book tours, and social gatherings. Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Key Democrat slams Clarence Thomas disclosures: ‘Clean-up on Aisle Three’

September 5, 2023

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) went after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over his delayed disclosure of gifts and luxury vacations from a conservative donor on Thursday, August 31, pledging to fully investigate the justice, reports The Hill.

Thomas amended his financial disclosure forms on Thursday to include a slate of luxury vacations and other gifts from billionaire Harlan Crow, which were previously revealed by investigative reporters and ramped up broader scrutiny of Supreme Court oversight and ethics.

“This late-come effort at ‘Clean-up on Aisle Three’ won’t deter us from fully investigating the massive, secret, right-wing billionaire influence in which this Court is enmired,” Whitehouse said on Thursday—an apparent reference to Article Three of the Constitution, which regulates the Supreme Court.

Whitehouse, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Federal Courts and Oversight, has been a vocal critic of Thomas and a proponent of imposing binding ethics rules on Supreme Court justices.

He pushed back on claims from Thomas attorneys that previous disclosure form omissions were simply mistakes, and that the trips only needed to be disclosed because of recent rule changes.

“These are highly contestable and significant, but largely unsupported, assertions. They matter,” he said.

The amended disclosures relate to real estate transactions and private trips with conservative donor Harlan Crow. Investigative outlet ProPublica has revealed that Thomas took dozens more trips paid for by notable conservative donors; in addition to luxury gifts like VIP sports tickets, which have not been disclosed.

Thomas in his disclosure newly claimed he asked employees of the Judicial Conference, the organization which oversees the federal judiciary, for advice on disclosures and that the omissions of the trips were not willful, because they were not required to be disclosed in his understanding of the rules.

“If there is a plausible question of willfulness, the Judicial Conference is obliged by statute to make a referral to the Attorney General to make that determination [to investigate],” Whitehouse continued. “They are obviously desperate to avoid that, to keep this mess in the clubby precincts of the Court and the justices’ own private lawyers.”

Thomas’s attorney defended the justice’s disclosures and actions. “Justice Thomas’s critics allege that he failed to report gifts from wealthy friends. Untrue,” Elliot Berke said in a statement.

“He has never accepted a gift from anyone with business before the Court. For anyone who knows him at all, it is clear that no one influences Justice Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence. But friends are dear, close, and separate,” Berke continued.

Democrats, including Whitehouse, have advocated for efforts to implement a code of ethics on the Supreme Court. An ethics reform bill passed through the Judiciary Committee on party lines in July.\

Research contact: @thehill

‘No accountability’: Nancy Pelosi calls for term limits for Supreme Court justices

June 27, 2023

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has endorsed term limits for Supreme Court justices following a series of ethics revelations about members of the high court, reports USA Today.

Pelosi in an interview released on Sunday, June 25, told MSNBC host Jen Psaki Supreme Court justices “have the opportunity to write some ethics rules for themselves,” but she lauded Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who has been one of the most vocal Democratic critics of the Supreme Court.

“It’s shameful how Justice Thomas and Justice Alito have been so cavalier about their violations and what would be expected of a justice of the Supreme Court. Here we have a body, chosen for life, never have to run for office, nominated, confirmed for life with no accountability for their ethics behavior,” Pelosi said.

“Thirty percent seems high,” Pelosi said, referencing a recent poll from Quinnipiac University that showed approval of the court has dropped to 30%.

The process of implementing term limits for Supreme Court justices is complicated. It would require a constitutional amendment, or Congress could pass legislation requiring justices to retire, take “senior” status with lesser duties or move to an appeals court.

Pelosi’s comments come after Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito last week  acknowledged that he flew to Alaska for a fishing trip on a private jet in 2008 that belonged to a hedge fund manager who brought cases before the Supreme Court.

Reporting about Alito comes after a series of stories in ProPublica earlier this year that revealed private jet trips and yacht travel that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted from GOP donor Harlan Crow. Crow also purchased property from Thomas and his family, none of which was reported on disclosure forms.

Chief Justice John Roberts last month said he’s committed to ensuring the “highest standards of conduct” at the Supreme Court. “We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment,” Roberts said.

Research contact: @USATODAY

Health insurer sends letter to baby denying coverage: ‘You are drinking from a bottle’

June 15, 2023

Health insurance providers, it seems, are as cruel as ever, as evidenced by a letter sent to a newborn’s family denying the infant coverage for neonatal care in an intensive care unit (NICU), reports Futurism.

In an editorial for the The Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation senior contributing editor Elizabeth Rosenthal described the problem of insurance claim denials in the starkest terms: by providing examples of real letters people had gotten denying them and their loved ones coverage. One such letter, sent directly to a newborn baby, was so absurd that—if it weren’t real and published in WaPo—we would think it was satire.

“You are drinking from a bottle,” read the denial for the infant’s fourth day in the NICU ward. “You are breathing on your own.”

“If only the baby could read,” Rosenthal quipped, to devastating effect.

This issue, the KFF editor noted, goes all the way back to the drafting of the Affordable Care Act during President Barack Obama’s first term.

“Because the law prohibited insurers from deploying a number of previously profit-protecting measures such as refusing to cover patients with preexisting conditions,” she wrote, “the authors worried that insurers would compensate by increasing the number of denials.”

The Department of Health and Human Services was supposed to monitor insurance claim denials on Obamacare marketplace plans. Instead, arbitrary and cruel denials like the aforementioned became more common, Rosenthal wrote.

There are, previous research has found, a number of reasons for this ever-increasing trend.

In March, Rosenthal noted, ProPublica published the results of an investigation into the insurance giant Cigna, which employs an automated claims-approval system that allowed “medical reviewers to sign off on 50 charts in 10 seconds presumably without even examining the patients’ records.”

Another salient change: over the past decade, insurance has begun being employed for everything from inhalers to heart medication, when before, “insurers’ reviews were reserved for a tiny fraction of expensive treatments to make sure providers were not ordering with an eye on profit instead of patient needs.”

“Automation makes the reviewing cheap and easy,” Rosenthal said—even as shifting relationships with drug companies make it ever more complicated on a claim-by-claim basis.

The Department of Health’s refusal, in essence, to comply with the law tasking it with insurer denial oversight has allowed insurance giants to get away with this barbaric practice for more than a decade—and as Rosenthal argued, a bit of government strongarming seems more than due.

“The government has the power and duty to end the fire hose of reckless denials that are harming patients financially and medically,” she wrote. “Thirteen years after passage of the ACA, perhaps it is time for the mandated investigation and enforcement to begin.”

Research contact: @futurism

Harlan Crow again refuses to give Senate Dems details of his relationship with Clarence Thomas

May 25, 2023

A lawyer for Republican donor Harlan Crow has told Senate Judiciary Democrats that the billionaire businessman will not provide them with information about his relationship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, reports NBC News.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have asked Crow to provide a full accounting of the gifts, trips, and travel accommodations given to Thomas, or to any other justices or their family members.

Indeed, a May 8 letter from 11 Democratic members of the Judiciary panel, led by Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), directs Crow to provide the committee with itemized lists of all gifts worth more than $415, real estate transactions, and transportation or lodging given to Supreme Court justices or their family members; as well as a list of the occasions when Crow provided any of the justices with entrance to any private, members-only clubs.

Michael D. Bopp, Crow’s attorney, told Durbin in a letter on Monday, May 22, that he believes the committee doesn’t have the authority to “investigate Mr. Crow’s personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Congress “does not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules and standards on the Supreme Court,” Bopp wrote. “Doing so would exceed Congress’s Article I authority and violate basic separation of powers principles. That precludes the Committee from pursuing an investigation in support of such legislation.”

In response, Durbin released a statement saying the letter “did not provide a credible justification for the failure of Crow and three corporate entities to respond to the Committee’s written questions.”

“The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order, and will continue to seek a substantive response to our information requests in order to craft and advance the targeted ethics legislation needed to help restore trust in the Supreme Court,” Durbin said in a statement. “As I’ve said many times before: The Chief Justice has the power to establish a credible, enforceable code of conduct for the Court today.  However, if the Court will not act, this Committee will.”

Bopp argued that the committee lacks a legislative purpose in its request for such a list. He said the “Supreme Court has explicitly stated that Congress has no authority to engage in law enforcement investigations or to conduct investigations aimed at exposing citizens’ private affairs for the sake of exposure.”

Thomas has been under fire over allegations reported by ProPublica that he failed to properly disclose trips and gifts paid for by Crow, the sale of Thomas’ and his relatives’ properties to Crow, and tuition that Crow had paid for one of the justice’s relatives.

Thomas said after ProPublic’s reports that he had been advised that the trips and gifts were “personal hospitality from close personal friends” and did not have to be reported in disclosures.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Prominent retired judge calls for ethics rules for Supreme Court

May 3, 2023

A prominent conservative former federal judge joined a chorus of legal experts from across the political spectrum on Tuesday, May 2—in calling on Congress to enact new ethical standards for Supreme Court justices, after a series of revelations about the justices’ undisclosed gifts, luxury travel, and property deals, reports The New York Times.

The statement by Judge J. Michael Luttig, a retired appeals court judge revered by some conservatives, came as the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to hold a hearing on Supreme Court ethics. Pressure has mounted among progressives for a stricter code of conduct for the justices, the nation’s highest judges, who are appointed to lifetime terms and are bound by few disclosure requirements.

Congress “indisputably has the power under the Constitution” to “enact laws prescribing the ethical standards applicable to the nonjudicial conduct and activities of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Judge Luttig said in a written statement presented to the Judiciary Committee.

The judge, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and was close to being nominated for the Supreme Court, was among several legal experts across the political spectrum who released testimony before a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in which they supported strengthening ethical rules at the court.

“It is time for Congress to accept its responsibility to establish an enforceable code of ethics for the Supreme Court, the only agency of our government without it,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the committee’s chairman, said in a statement released in the days before the hearing.

During the hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers are expected to hear from five experts, including:

  • Jeremy Fogel, a former federal judge who directs the Berkeley Judicial Institute at the University of California, Berkeley;
  • Kedric Payne, a vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign watchdog group;
  • Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in legal ethics;
  • Michael B. Mukasey, who served as attorney general in the George W. Bush administration from 2007 to 2009; and
  • Thomas H. Dupree Jr., a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Judge Luttig and Laurence Tribe, an emeritus professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School who is a hero among some progressives, both released statements in support of ethical guidelines, but both declined to appear before the committee.

Tribe said he would leave it to others to say whether the current “crisis is sufficiently grave to call for particular legislative measures,” but that he saw the attempt to use legislation “to impose ethical norms in a binding way on the justices as eminently sensible.”

“I see such legislation as a necessary though probably not sufficient response to the current situation,” Tribe wrote.

Tribe added that he believed it would be “entirely prudent for Congress to enact norms in the form of rules binding on the justices if only as a prophylactic measure” to stop the court from being cast into “an ever darker shadow unhelpful to the esteem required for it to perform its function as a branch of government lacking both the sword and the purse and thus dependent on public respect for its integrity.”

Calls for the Supreme Court justices to be subject to an ethics code have grown in recent weeks after revelations about justices’ gifts, luxury travel, and property deals highlighted how few reporting requirements are in place and how the justices are often left to police themselves.

ProPublica revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas had failed to disclose gifts, trips and a real estate deal with a wealthy Republican donor and real estate billionaire, Harlan Crow. The justice accepted flights on Crow’s private jet to Bohemian Grove, an exclusive retreat in Northern California; an island vacation aboard his superyacht in Indonesia; and trips to Mr. Crow’s 105-acre lakeside resort in the Adirondack Mountains. None appeared on the justice’s financial disclosure forms.

The justice also failed to disclose a real estate deal with Crow in which the billionaire bought properties from the justice and his family, including Justice Thomas’s mother’s home in Savannah, Georgia. Crow paid $133,363 to the justice and his family for the property, according to records filed at Chatham County courthouse, dated Oct. 15, 2014. Justice Thomas’s mother, Leola Williams, still lives in the home.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch sold property to the chief executive of a major law firm that often has business before the court and did not disclose the identity of the buyer, as was first reported by Politico.

Durbin sought the testimony of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., but the chief justice released a letter last week declining an invitation to testify, citing separation of powers issues. In a statement that accompanied his letter, all nine justices signed onto a “statement of ethics principles and practices” laying out the guidelines that they use to govern their behavior and disclosures.

They said that they follow the same general ethical standards that apply to other federal judges. But they also said they may be limited in what to disclose because of security concerns. In fact, financial disclosures are not filed immediately and must be submitted each year in May.

There has been discussion in recent years that the justices adopt rules governing their behavior.

The chief justice wrote in 2011 in his year-end report that the justices did not need to be bound by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which applies to other federal judges.

“All members of the court do in fact consult the code of conduct in assessing their ethical obligations,” he wrote, adding: “Every justice seeks to follow high ethical standards, and the Judicial Conference’s code of conduct provides a current and uniform source of guidance designed with specific reference to the needs and obligations of the federal judiciary.”

Justice Elena Kagan told a House committee in 2019 that Chief Justice Roberts was “studying the question of whether to have a code of judicial conduct that’s applicable only to the United States Supreme Court.”

The justices have not announced such a code of conduct.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s failure to take action, Congress must step in to protect the justices from themselves,” Frost, the University of Virginia professor, said in prepared testimony.

Research contact: @nytimes

Over 30 progressive groups initiate nationwide push for structural changes at the Supreme Court

April 20, 2023

In the aftermath of ethics questions emerging around Justice Clarence Thomas and a series of politically charged rulings, a coalition of more than 30 progressive groups plans to initiate next week a new nationwide campaign calling for structural changes to the Supreme Court, reports The New York Times.

The effort will include progressive leaders and organizations that have not previously been engaged in the push to overhaul the court, including by imposing term limits on justices or increasing their numbers. But leaders of the organizations say they now see the need to spur a larger public discussion about the role of the court in American life.

“This is new to us,” said Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She said her organization’s decision to join the campaign was driven in part by recent court decisions on abortion rights, gun control and other issues that run counter to well-documented public opinion.

“We feel a special obligation to jump in now,” she said. “It feels the time is right to start having this conversation about expansion. Everything has to be on the table.”

Those taking part in the “Just Majority” drive, with the theme “democracy demands a fair and ethical court,” say one goal is to motivate voters to make the direction of the court part of their calculation in next year’s elections. The organizations participating are active on abortion rights, gun control, voting laws, civil rights, racial justice and the environment, along with more traditional judicial advocacy groups.

The campaign kicks off on Monday, April 24, in Boston, the first city in a 20-stop nationwide bus tour, and is scheduled to end in late June in Washington. Democratic lawmakers are expected to make appearances along the way, beginning in Boston with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, and Representative Ayanna S. Pressley, all of Massachusetts.

The effort follows new disclosures about Justice Thomas’s unreported financial ties to a billionaire Republican donor as well as evidence of the court’s declining credibility with the public after overturning Roe v. Wade and other decisions.

“The revelations about Clarence Thomas are extremely upsetting,” said Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood, who will be taking part in the campaign. “For years, Republicans have made the court an issue. I think it is time that Democrats actually talk to voters about what is going on.”

In the case of Justice Thomas, he has said he intends to revise his financial disclosures to reflect his relationship with the donor, Harlan Crow, who has provided extensive travel for the justice and also purchased property in Georgia that Justice Thomas owned and where his 94-year-oldmother lives, according to reports by ProPublica.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing in the next few weeks—exploring the disclosures about Justice Thomas, as well as considering longstanding demands that the court adopt a more stringent set of ethics guidelines and disclosure requirements.

Republicans have so far dismissed the Democratic efforts and say they believe the court is fully capable of taking care of any issues it might have.

“I have total confidence in the chief justice of the United States to deal with these court internal issues,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said on Tuesday, April 18,  in response to questions about Justice Thomas. He suggested that the attacks by Democrats were in response to rulings they opposed.

After McConnell blocked President Barack Obama from filling a court seat for nearly a year in 2016, progressive activists who then watched President Donald Trump name three justices to the court began clamoring for a new approach, including a larger court.

Under pressure from the left, President Joe Biden created a 34-member commission of legal experts and academics to study various proposals to change the court, including enlarging it and establishing term limits. Biden, himself, expressed reservations about pursuing significant changes to the court and the final report by his commission reflected that view, analyzing the proposals rather than recommending any significant revisions.

Some former members of the commission who disagreed with that approach will participate in the bus tour. Organizers say the court continues to provide ammunition for its critics with persistent ethical issues and contentious decisions.

“It continues to invite more people into our struggle and it will put more fuel not just in our bus, but in our message to fight,” said Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group taking part.

In a mission statement, those organizing the new campaign said that “an unaccountable, unethical majority on the Supreme Court is behaving as if the rules don’t apply to them.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Billionaire Harlan Crow bought property from Clarence Thomas in an undisclosed deal

April 17, 2023

In 2014, one of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased a string of properties on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t a marquee acquisition for the real estate magnate—just an old single-story home and two vacant lots down the road. What made it noteworthy were the people on the other side of the deal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relatives, ProPublica first exclusively reported.

The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners—Thomas, his 94-year-old mother, and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated October 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He had gained ownership of the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living—and continues to live today, according to neighbors. It has not been established whether she pays rent to Crow, an article posted by HuffPost now reports.

Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof, and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.

The disclosure form Thomas filed for that year also had a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, such as a real estate deal. That space is blank.

“He needed to report his interest in the sale,” said Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer now at the watchdog group CREW. “Given the role Crow has played in subsidizing the lifestyle of Thomas and his wife, you have to wonder if this was an effort to put cash in their pockets.”

Thomas did not respond to detailed questions for this story.

In a statement, Crow said he purchased Thomas’ mother’s house, where Thomas spent part of his childhood, to preserve it for posterity. “My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.”

Crow’s statement did not directly address why he also bought two vacant lots from Thomas down the street. But he wrote that “the other lots were later sold to a vetted builder who was committed to improving the quality of the neighborhood and preserving its historical integrity.”

ProPublica also asked Crow about the additions on Thomas’ mother’s house, like the new carport. “Improvements were also made to the Thomas property to preserve its long-term viability and accessibility to the public,” Crow said.

Ethics law experts said Crow’s intentions had no bearing on Thomas’ legal obligation to disclose the sale.

The justice’s failure to report the transaction suggests “Thomas was hiding a financial relationship with Crow,” said Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis who reviewed years of Thomas’ disclosure filings.

There are a handful of carve-outs in the disclosure law. For example, if someone sells “property used solely as a personal residence of the reporting individual or the individual’s spouse,” they don’t need to report it. Experts said the exemptions clearly did not apply to Thomas’ sale.

The revelation of a direct financial transaction between Thomas and Crow casts their relationship in a new light. ProPublica reported last week that Thomas has accepted luxury travel from Crow virtually every year for decades, including private jet flights, international cruises on the businessman’s superyacht and regular stays at his private resort in the Adirondacks. Crow has long been influential in conservative politics and has spent millions on efforts to shape the law and the judiciary. The story prompted outcry and calls for investigations from Democratic lawmakers.

In response to that reporting, both Thomas and Crow released statements downplaying the significance of the gifts. Thomas also maintainedthat he wasn’t required to disclose the trips.

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends,” Thomas wrote. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips.” Crow told ProPublica that his gifts to Thomas were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

Research contact: @ProPublica

Donald Trump gets a tax break by burying ex-wife Ivana at his golf club

August 2, 2022

Donald Trump’s first wife Ivana was buried in a gold-hued coffin at the former president’s New Jersey golf club last month, following an Upper East Side funeral service  at which she was remembered as a woman who was “adored,” reports Fortune Magazine.

However, the Trump family has been accused of having ulterior motives, Fortune says, for choosing the golf course as her final resting places—motives that could benefit the family patriarch’s finances.

Trump’s first wife—and mother to his three oldest children Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric—passed away in July.

She was laid to rest at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to the New York Post, which reported that her grave was “not too far from the main clubhouse” and below the backside of the first tee.

Documents  published by ProPublica show that the Trump Family Trust previously sought to designate a property in Hackettstown—around 20 miles from the golf course where Ivana now is buried—as a non-profit cemetery company.

Indeed, defining the golf course as a cemetery could grant the business a whole raft of tax breaks.

Under New Jersey law, land being used for cemetery purposes is exempt from real estate and personal property taxes, as well as sales tax, inheritance tax, business tax and income tax.

Cemetery property is also exempt from sale for collection of judgements, with cemetery trust funds and trust income exempt from both tax and sale or seizure for collection of judgments against the company.

Ivana Trump is the only known person to have been buried onsite at Trump National Golf Club, according to reports.

Brooke Harrington, a tax researcher and professor of sociology at Dartmouth, said in a tweet on Sunday, July 31, that using the golf course as a cemetery was “a trifecta of tax avoidance.”

She added that in New Jersey, there was “no stipulation regarding a minimum [number] of human remains necessary for the tax breaks to kick in.”

“Looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least three forms of tax vanish,” she said.

A representative from the Trump Organization told Fortune in an email on Monday that links being made between Ivana Trump’s grave site and tax laws were “truly evil.”

Trump himself has previously expressed wishes to be buried at his New Jersey golf club, telling the New York Post  in 2007 that he wanted to be laid to rest in the “beautiful land” of Bedminster.

“Mr. Trump … specifically chose this property for his final resting place as it is his favorite property,” his company wrote in a 2014 filing  seen by The  Washington Post.

The filing sought approval to build a ten-plot private family mausoleum at Trump National Golf Club.

Resistance from local decisionmakers reportedly led to withdrawals and resubmittals of proposed burial sites over the years, with Trump’s ideas ranging from a small but opulent family mausoleum to a 1,000-grave site that would see plots for sale to members of the golf club.

While registering the golf course as a cemetery would exempt it from taxes, the former president already found a way to slash his tax bill for the New Jersey club by registering it as a farm, the Huffington Post  reported in 2019.

Trump reportedly owns several goats and farms hay at the resort, which reduced his tax bill by around $88,000 a year, according to a Huffington Postanalysis

Under this arrangement, the golf course was taxed at just over $6 an acre in 2019, rather than $462 an acre.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine