The Real Deal New York

Pro-Trump PAC slow to return donations to NYC industry players

Contributors to Make America Great Again PAC include members of Adjmi, Sitt and Chera families

June 10, 2016 04:48PM
By Adam Pincus

Make America Great Again

From left: Donald Trump, Michael Dezer, Charles Kushner, Michael Cayre and Nikki Field

On Wednesday, Donald Trump reportedly met with several New York real estate machers over lunch. The group, which Bloomberg reported included Howard Lorber, Steve Roth, Michael Fascitelli and Richard LeFrak, discussed how best to raise funds for Trump’s battle against Hillary Clinton.

The meeting was one of the first serious overtures the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and Trump Organization chief has taken to finance his general election campaign. But he’s had plenty of outside help before.

A controversial pro-Donald Trump political action committee that the developer later disavowed quickly returned $1 million to its top donor, a close friend and business partner of Trump’s. Yet despite Trump calling for refunds, some of the PAC’s backers from the New York real estate industry are still waiting to be paid.

The Make America Great Again PAC was formed on July 1 and its first donation, for $100,000 on July 8, was from Seryl Kushner, mother to Kushner Companies CEO Jared Kushner. On July 16, Phil Ruffin, a billionaire casino magnate, co-owner of Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas and a longtime Trump buddy — Trump served as best man at his wedding in 2008 — contributed $1 million to the PAC, Federal Election Commission records show.

In October, after several reports raised questions about ties between the PAC and the Trump campaign, Mike Ciletti, the consultant running the group, said he was shutting the PAC down. Ruffin’s $1 million was returned in full on Dec. 3.

But as of Dec. 31, several prominent New York players who contributed between $2,500 and $100,000 including members of the Dezer, Adjmi, Cayre, Chera, Sitt, and Chebehar families, were yet to get their money back.

The Kushners throw a party

On a sunny Sunday in late August, Trump attended a fundraiser at the seaside mansion of Seryl and Charles Kushner, in-laws to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

The property is in Elberon, a town on the New Jersey shore just north of Deal, a summer retreat for the Brooklyn Syrian Jewish community. Dozens of members of the community attended the event, at which Trump spoke with his characteristic mix of breezy charm and blunt humor, according to several people who were in attendance.

Many wrote checks: Two attendees told TRD that Charles contacted them ahead of time and made a request for money.

Some, including members of the Adjmi, Cayre, Chera, Sitt, Gindi and Chebehar families, ponied up. Those who gave a certain amount — two attendees said the figure was $10,000 and up — got a photo-op with Trump in a side room.

Others who contributed to the PAC, though not necessarily at the event, include Michael Dezer, of Dezer Development, who gave $100,000, Iron Hound’s Robert Verrone, who gave $10,000, and Sotheby’s International Realty’s Nikki Field, who gave $10,000.

Cease and desist

Trump has insisted right from the start that he would be self-funded, and has ridiculed other candidates with outside backers.

But on Oct. 18, the Washington Post revealed connections between the Trump campaign and the Make America Great Again PAC. On Oct. 23, Trump’s campaign counsel sent letters to nine super PACs — including Make America Great Again — that disavowed their work and asked them to return any donations already received, the Post reported.

“We ask that you refund all funds received by you in connection with any fundraising undertaken to specifically support and/or done in the name of Donald J. Trump,” the letter stated, according to the Post.

Some outside observers told TRD they expected the Make America Great Again PAC to issue refunds, given that Trump requested the PAC to do so, and because Ruffin received one. Two real estate players who supported the PAC said earlier this week that their money has not been returned. Several of the other real estate industry donors reached by TRD declined to comment.

Michelle Knoll, a representative for Ruffin, said “Mr. Ruffin told me that he sent $1 million and they sent it back. He did not request it back.”

Ciletti did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Jonathan M. Anderson, an attorney in Colorado who represents the committee in campaign filings. Representatives for Trump didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The PAC, which operated for four months before it announced publicly it would be shuttered, spent $551,969 last year, the bulk of it on polling and consulting expenses. As of Dec. 31, the committee had $157,714 in the bank. The PAC has not yet filed to close down, a review of FEC records shows. The latest filings from the PAC were due April 15 but have yet to be filed.

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