After winning a behind-the-scenes power play in which she ousted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Ivanka Trump has assumed a larger role in her father’s presidential campaign.
This change has heartened worried Republican elites. Ivanka’s public persona is a stark contrast from her father’s. He is a hotheaded, conspiracy-theory spouting vulgarian. She is poised and comes off as smart and cool. He is a world-class con artist. She seems to be squeaky clean.
But an investigation by the Los Angles Times into one Donald Trump’s many failed real estate ventures found that Ivanka, along with her brother, Donald Jr., played a supporting role in one of her father’s cons, a real estate deal in Baja, Mexico, that plundered the life savings of hundreds of unwitting condo buyers from Southern California.
Announced in 2006, the Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico project was to be located on 17 beachfront acres on the Pacific coast south of the U.S.-Mexican border — had it been built, it would have been about 10 miles south of the wall Trump claims he’ll build if he’s elected president.
Plans included three 25-story buildings with 526 units ranging in cost from $275,000 to $3 million. Buyers were required to make a 30 percent deposit in installments.
The project was a joint venture between the Trump Organization and Irongate, a Los Angeles-based developer. But marketing for the project focused entirely on the Trumps, according to the Times:
As the Trumps and their partners promoted the condos with sleek brochures and what they called “VIP” cocktail receptions in San Diego County, they often left the impression — or said outright — that Trump was one of the developers. Their marketing team determined that the Trump name was the No. 1 draw for buyers, according to documents that surfaced in the lawsuit.
“We are developing a world-class resort befitting of the Trump brand,” Ivanka Trump said in a video on the Trump Baja website. “I’m very excited about it. I actually chose to buy a unit in the first tower.”
Her father appeared in the same video saying he was proud “that when I build, I have investors that follow me all over.”
“They invest in what I build, and that’s why I’m so excited about Trump Ocean resort,” he said.
One buyer, Stephanie Simms, told the Times that she met Ivanka at reception. “She was joking around that she was my upstairs neighbor, and she could borrow sugar from me,” Simms said.
Later Trump Jr. appeared at a similar event. The Times reports that “a Trump Baja newsletter, sent by the sales team to those who put down deposits, reported that he ‘flew in from New York to purchase a suite at the event and meet with fellow buyers.'”
In fact, according to court documents, Trump Jr. did not buy a condo at the Baja resort.”
Trump Sr. will later deny he ever claimed to be a developer of the project, but the Times uncovered a July 2007 newsletter sent to buyers that stated that the Trump Ocean Resort was being “developed by one of the most respected names in real estate, Donald J. Trump.”
The investigation also found an August 2007 letter to buyers personally signed by Trump that specified his role as the project’s developer.
After two years of marketing the project as a Trump development, the owners collected $32.5 million in deposits from buyers. But by 2009, even though no work was ever done — ground had never been — all those millions had vanished.
It was then that the Trumps changed their story, claiming that they had merely licensed the Trump name for the project — a deal that they said had netted them just $500,000.
“When the project went south, no one from the Trump organization even contacted us to take responsibility,” a buyer from Southern California told the Times. “We were misled — all the marketing materials, the brochures, the name of the building, the fact that Trump’s daughter was at the event, saying she and her brother bought units.”
When questioned about the scam in an interview on CBS, Ivanka claimed that as far as she and her father were concerned, they had “lived up to [their] obligation under a license agreement.”
The Trump Organization was “never the developer of this project, and that was made clear,” she said.
“We never took anyone’s deposit,” said Ivanka, which, of course, does not rule out the possibility she received cash from others who took the deposit.
“I am sorry for everyone,” said Ivanka, whose father says he’s worth $10 billion and whose husband, Jared Kushner, reportedly has a net worth of $200 million, “but we are in the same boat.”
Many people who bought condos at the Trump Ocean Resort lost their entire life savings when the developers absconded with their deposits. Many of them couldn’t even afford the legal fees required to sue. Those who could afford lawyers settled collectively for $7.25 million.