The New York State Attorney General’s investigation into possible misuse of funds at the Eric Trump Foundation is casting a shadow over the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where a former foundation vice president now works as a key adviser to Secretary Ben Carson.
Before joining HUD in March, Lynne Patton was a vice president and board member at the Eric Trump Foundation between January 2009 and January 2017, according to her public financial disclosure report.
Forbes last week reported that the foundation funneled around $1.2 million in charity money into Trump businesses, in part through golf course bills that appear wildly inflated.
According to Forbes, the foundation began paying the Trump Organization higher fees to use its golf course in 2011 at the urging of President Trump. “He said, ‘I don’t care if it’s my son or not–everybody gets billed,'” one former employee told the magazine.
On Friday, a spokesperson for attorney general Eric Schneiderman told Forbes he is “looking into the issues raised by this report.” Schneiderman’s office has also led investigations into the Trump Organization and Trump’s charitable organization, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
As a board member, Patton would have had oversight over the Eric Trump Foundation’s finances. A March profile of Patton in the Daily Mail claimed she “oversaw millions of dollars” for the foundation and Patton herself has said that she had “an executive position as it pertains to the distribution of (the Trumps’) charitable funds.”
A HUD spokesperson declined to comment on whether Patton’s connection to the AG investigation caused any concern. A spokesperson for Schneiderman’s office did not respond when asked if Patton is a person of interest in the probe.
Patton released her own statement via Twitter on Monday night, slamming what she called “irresponsible claims” by Forbes. “If we are guilty of anything, it is of trying to save too much money for the children of St. Jude inasmuch that we made the conscious decision to operate an extremely ‘detail intensive’ non-profit for nearly 10 years without a single paid employee while relying heavily on donated professional services,” she wrote. “But if this is our greatest error, then I have no regrets and will own it for the rest of my life.”
“Eric Trump remains – and will always be – one of the most compassionate, caring & philanthropic human beings I’ve ever known,” she added. “May God forgive those trying to infer otherwise.”
Patton appears to hold a key position at HUD. According to New York City Housing Authority chair Shola Olatoye, Patton was the first high-ranking agency official to tour New York public housing facilities during a visit several weeks ago (Carson has yet to visit the Big Apple in an official capacity). Several key positions at the agency remain unfilled, according to the HUD website.
The Carson-led department is already facing scrutiny over the possibility that its programs could benefit the Trump real estate empire. “Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president-elect or his family?” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked Carson at a January hearing. “I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values and therefore I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone,” Carson responded.
Patton, who is black, rose to national prominence in May 2016 when she narrated a video called “The Trump That I Know,” dismissing accusations that Trump is a racist. The Trumps “continue to trust me with their lives and the lives of their families,” she said in the video, her voice cracking. “They invite me into their homes and welcome me at their family gatherings.” She also described herself as a “highly intelligent, free thinking and independent woman.” The video has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube. In July, she gave a speech at the Republican National Convention.
The daughter of Yale University epidemiologist Curtis Patton, she attended the University of Miami and Quinnipiac University School of Law, according to her Linkedin profile. She told the Daily Mail that she was given a choice between joining the White House as a special assistant to Trump or working for Carson at HUD. She chose the latter because she thought she could have “a more immediate and significant impact” on keeping President Trump’s promise to improve the lives of minorities.
The Eric Trump Foundation never paid Patton a salary, according to her disclosure. She concurrently worked as a Trump Organization vice president and a “senior aide to the Trump family.” The filing lists her income as $106,000 although that figure includes “tangible bonuses” such as golf membership and complimentary hotel stays.
Will Parker contributed reporting