The New York City prosecutor probing possible financial improprieties within former President Donald Trump’s businesses has queried Cook County officials about property records involving the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.
Between September and November of last year, a representative from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau in the New York City District Attorney’s office exchanged emails with the Cook County recorder to inquire about obtaining records associated with Trump’s high-rise here, according to documents obtained exclusively by WBEZ.
The documents signal that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s criminal investigation into Trump’s taxes and potential financial wrongdoing within his businesses could run, at least in part, through Chicago.
A Vance spokesman declined to comment on the email exchange, which has not been previously reported.
An email from Vance’s office on Sept. 10, 2020, suggests prosecutors in New York were hoping to obtain records for the Trump building in lieu of issuing a subpoena, which could require involvement by an Illinois judge given that this particular investigation is based out of state.
Documents obtained by WBEZ through an open records request show Daniel Kenny, a financial intelligence analyst under Vance, asked about a specific property identification number in the Trump building, whether online records could be downloaded and “would those be the same records I would receive if we sent you a subpoena?
“In other words, are there any other records that the Recorder of Deeds maintains for that property that are not available to download?” he wrote to the recorder’s office.
The recorder’s chief legal counsel, Khang P. Trinh, later responded that all property records except for those filed prior to 1985 and land drawings known as plats could be retrieved online.
The recorder’s office is a clearinghouse for mortgage records, loan-forgiveness documents and property deeds for 1.8 million parcels in Cook County.
The property identification number cited in Kenny’s email traces back to a particular condominium in the Trump building, but WBEZ could find no connections between its owner and the ex-president, his family or anyone else affiliated with the Trump Organization.
The Recorder of Deeds office did not receive a subpoena from the New York District Attorney’s office, according to an open records request.
Records associated with that parcel and dozens of others in the high rise are listed on some of the major financing documents tied to construction loans that Trump’s business originally took out and that appear to be the object of the New York prosecutor’s attention.
Democratic Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who now oversees duties formerly handled by the county recorder, said her office fully cooperated with Vance’s office and said the prosecutor’s interest in the Trump property in Chicago seems entirely plausible given his interest in Trump’s financial affairs.
“They’re good at turning over rocks, OK?” she told WBEZ. “And the fact that they’re in Chicago turning over rocks, I’m not surprised, not surprised at all. As I said, we’re going to see where this is going or if it’s going anywhere. But I’m not surprised at anything that I see and hear about what’s going on with the New York District Attorney’s office, but clearly there is some smoke.”
Earlier this month, CNN reported that the Manhattan DA’s office issued a subpoena to an investment company that provided the Trump Organization $130 million in financing to build the luxury hotel and condominium tower on the Chicago River. The company later forgave $100 million of that loan.
The network reported that Vance’s office is seeking to determine whether Trump and the Trump Organization accurately logged that forgiven debt in federal tax filings, and whether they paid any taxes that may have been owed.
Vance’s investigation gained momentum last October when a federal appeals court ruled the Manhattan prosecutor could access Trump’s personal tax returns. Vance finally laid hands on those filings in February, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Trump to delay having to hand them over.
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions from WBEZ about this unreported development in Vance’s probe involving Chicago. No one has been charged in connection with the New York investigation.
One former federal prosecutor told WBEZ that the prosecutor’s interaction with Cook County last fall could be an important signal about the case being built against the ex-president and that Vance’s office is in a rush to get as much information as possible before the district attorney leaves office later this year.
“What it says is that they believe that Trump Tower is potentially part of their investigation, that these records are going to reveal information that could be useful to them that might actually help them establish facts that can move forward their case in New York,” said Renato Mariotti, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago and a cable-news legal affairs analyst.
“If this ends up panning out, what we could end up seeing is evidence about Trump Tower Chicago being presented in a courtroom in Manhattan,” Mariotti said.
The circumstances behind the handling of loans to build Trump’s Chicago property also are known to be of interest to New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Last August, in court filings in New York, her office raised similar questions about whether debt forgiveness that occurred in relation to the Trump property in Chicago was accurately reflected as taxable income on the ex-president’s taxes.
Here in Chicago, some members of the City Council have their own interest in the Trump building – specifically the garish Trump signage that exists on the riverside high-rise. They’re attempting to tie its fate to potential legal action surrounding Trump over his role in inciting the fatal Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In late January, 18 aldermen signed on as sponsors to the measure that would enable the city to yank a sign permit if the applicant or “any controlling person of the applicant … has been convicted in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding of treason, sedition, or subversive activities.”