Trumps: Biggest tax frauds in history?

I’m trying to figure out, are the Trumps the perpetrators of the biggest tax fraud in US history?

The NYT reports that Donald Trump, rather than being a self-made man, received $413 million in wealth from his father. If we look at Donald and his 4 siblings together, they received $1 billion. When you transfer that much wealth, you’re supposed to pay taxes on it, but they engaged in legally dubious schemes in order to pay $500 million less than they should have.

The tax schemes were so extensive, The NYT spent 14,000 words describing it. I read a bit of it, and it was clear that Donald himself took a significant active role. But it’s seriously TL;DR, maybe you want to read the short version on WaPo or Vox or something. (ETA: NYT also has some highlights.)

$500 million is of course larger than the amount of money I will see in my life, so to get a sense for how large, I went and looked up the biggest tax frauds in history. I couldn’t find a definitive list, but here’s a page that lists some of the most famous cases. Most of them are for only a few million, or less than a million. By far the largest was Walter Anderson, who owed $141k in taxes (including penalties and interest, he paid over $200 million). I also found another article referring to a $11 million dollar scam as one of the biggest tax frauds in US history.

We don’t know exactly how many of these tax schemes are illegal tax evasion vs legal tax avoidance, but even if only a fraction of it was illegal, Donald Trump and his siblings stand to be among the biggest tax frauds in US history.


  1. anat says

    Well, there is the common situation that if you break rules in a big enough way people just assume you were right all along, or at least had a good enough reason to do so. You steal something small you go to jail (if you aren’t killed by cops before that), you tank the economy you are free to go.

  2. says

    I am a mere European who does not know much about this, but from where I look at the thing it seems the questionmark in the title should really be an exclamation mark.

  3. Some Old Programmer says

    I’d guess that they’re the biggest white-collar tax cheats. Organized crime figures might eclipse them.

  4. says

    Marcus Ranum @1,
    Lock ’em up indeed! Sadly, it could be difficult to criminally prosecute, because of statutes of limitations. But he could be tried in a civil suit.

    Some Old Programmer @2,
    White collar criminals are a bigger pool with bigger fish. In this list, the Trumps would rank at #9. Top of the list is Bernard Maddoff, to the tune of $65 billion. But hey, we haven’t totalled all of Trump’s cons yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *