On Tuesday, the #NeverTrump PAC posted an attack ad on Youtube accusing Donald Trump of stealing $150,000 of taxpayer money intended to help small businesses recover from the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The ad is pretty much correct, but didn’t mention Trump’s other, weirder post-9/11 financial activity: a $1,000 donation to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, which was co-founded by Tom Cruise and offered firefighters a treatment program designed by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Here’s how it all went down.
In 2003, the Empire State Development Corporation—the state agency administering the federally-financed World Trade Center Business Recovery Grant Program—took back $1.2 million from 66 companies, after a federal audit suggested that about 1 percent of the $558 million in payments it made to 14,215 businesses might have been overpaid. The New York Times reported:
Under the grant program, businesses from 14th Street to the Battery with fewer than 500 employees could apply for aid. The amount a business received depended on its proximity to ground zero, its revenue in the fiscal year immediately before Sept. 11, 2001, and its economic losses related to Sept. 11 that were not reimbursed by insurance.
The grants averaged around $40,000. Firms in the financial industry received an average of about $70,000; stores and restaurants averaged $20,000.
Kevin Corbett, then ESDC’s chief operating officer, declined at the time to identify which companies had had grants retracted. “Some cases involved figures they gave us that on auditing didn’t match up,” he told the Times.
A few years later, a New York Daily News investigation identified some of those businesses, and the Trump Organization was among them. Part of the issue, the Daily News reported, was that the ESDC had used a different definition of “small business” than the federal government did: The state agency used head count, and federal law used annual revenue.
Trump was one of several business owners to—at least temporarily—benefit from the confusion. (So did the Rockefeller Group, Ford Models, Morgan Stanley, the AXA, the Bank of China, and Larry Silverstein.) The Trump-owned 40 Wall Street LLC received a $150,000 grant for losses at what is otherwise known as the Trump Building. From the Daily News:
The grant application describes the corporation through which Trump owns that building as having 28 employees and $26.8 million in annual revenues. That passed the ESDC’s small business test of less than 500 employees. But the revenue amount would put the single Trump property over the federal definition of a small business—which is $6 million annually for lessors of nonresidential buildings.
Not only was the Trump Organization ineligible for federal aid intended for small businesses, but Trump himself, in an interview conducted shortly after the actual attacks, said that 40 Wall Street had not been damaged. “I have a lot of property down there, but it wasn’t, fortunately, effected by what happened to the World Trade Center,” he said. “We will be involved in some form in helping to reconstruct.” He added, “The location is such, and the importance of the monument is such that we have to rebuild, not necessarily in the form of the Two Towers, but something that’s very big and very majestic.”
Indeed, as it happened, Trump had nothing to do with rebuilding the World Trade Center. But around the time that construction began on the project, the Donald J. Trump Foundation—the charitable organization of which Trump is president—finally did take action, according to The Smoking Gun: it made its first and only charitable contribution to any group dedicated to ameliorating the suffering of 9/11 victims in 2006. The foundation donated $1,000 to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, which, according to a 2004 Slate article, “purports to ‘flush’ poisons from the body’s fat stores using an intensive regimen of jogging, oil ingestion, sauna, and high doses of vitamins, particularly niacin.”
Trump’s generosity to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund was matched only by the generosity of his constructive criticism: “In a nutshell,” he told reporters in 2005, “the Freedom Tower should not be allowed to be built. It’s not appropriate for Lower Manhattan, it’s not appropriate for Manhattan, it’s not appropriate for the United States, it’s not appropriate for freedom.”
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.