U.S. State Department Warns Citizens Against Going To Mexico Tourist Locations Because Of Violence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

The U.S. State Department has warned its citizens about traveling to Cancun and Los Cabos, two of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, after a surge in violence in those regions.

A travel advisory issued Tuesday upgraded the warnings for two states, Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, saying turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime and shootings in which innocent bystanders have been killed.

For years, both regions were largely insulated from the drug war violence that has engulfed other parts of Mexico, but this year they have each seen a major uptick in killings.

There have been deadly gun battles in downtown Cancun, and in January, five people were killed at a nightclub in nearby Playa del Carmen. In Los Cabos, a municipality on the Pacific Coast that includes the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, three people were shot to death this month at the entrance to a popular beach.

The travel warning could deliver a major blow to Mexico’s $20-billion-a-year tourism industry, which represents about 7% of the country’s gross domestic product..

“This is a very bad news for Mexico,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, director for the Center for U.S.-Mexican studies at UC San Diego, who said recent growth in Mexico’s tourism industry has been a rare bright spot in an economy that quaked after President Trump’s threats to tear up free trade agreements and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the rapid increase in development, especially in Los Cabos, may have helped contribute to the violence, Fernandez de Castro said, as migrants from around the country came to build new hotel rooms and resorts.

“The growth of Los Cabos has been way too accelerated in the last two years,” he said. “It’s creating a little bit of social chaos.”

The State Department’s decision to warn residents about travel to the resort cities “is a reality check for the booming towns and economy of Mexico,” he said.

Mexican officials have gone to lengths to portray the country’s beach resorts as family friendly and safe. Violent incidents “are extremely rare among the millions of international tourists who visit Riviera Maya each year, and the entire tourism industry works to ensure the safety and satisfaction of all visitors,” reads a statement on the website of the Assn. of Riviera Maya Hotels.

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But 10 years into the country’s military-led drug war, violence is surging across the nation. This year, Mexico is on track to record more homicides than in any year in the last two decades.

Rising demand for heroin in the U.S. and power struggles among the country’s top drug cartels, authorities say, have led to an increase in killings in 27 of Mexico’s 32 states.

In Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located, 169 killings were reported from January to July, more than twice as many as during the same period last year.

In Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas, 232 slayings have been reported this year, nearly four times as many as during the same period last year.

Although tourism from the U.S. dropped off about five years ago during another period of high violence in Mexico, it has substantially recovered, with the number of American visitors increasing 12% from 2015 to 2016, according to the World Tourism Organization. Mexico recently surpassed Turkey to become the eighth most popular travel destination in the world, drawing 35 million international visitors last year.

Tourism officials in the Riviera Maya, the 140-mile-long stretch of Caribbean coastline that includes Cancun as well as Playa del Carmen and Tulum, have already been on the defensive this year after reports that a young woman died after drinking tainted alcohol at a resort.

The State Department also issued a warning in response to those reports, cautioning vacationers to drink alcohol in moderation and seek medical help if they begin to feel ill.

Spanish Police Find And Kill The Driver Of Van Used In Barcelona Terrorist Attack

(THIS POST IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

 The driver of a van that careened through throngs of revelers in a tourist zone here last week was shot dead by police on a quiet country road Monday afternoon, capping a four-day manhunt for the last member of a 12-person terrorist cell likely led by a mysterious imam.

After receiving a tip from locals who spotted a suspicious character hiding in the vineyards around the village of Subirats, an hour’s drive west of Barcelona, rural law enforcement officers, accompanied by Catalan police, confronted Younes Abouyaaqoub.

Josep Lluís Trapero, chief of the Catalan National Police, said Abouyaaqoub threw open his shirt to reveal what officers believed was a suicide bomb belt around his waist.

The chief said Moroccan-born Abouyaaqoub then shouted “Allahu akbar,” or God is great in Arabic, and police shot him dead.

Authorities said Monday that forensic evidence, security camera images and a witness led them to conclude that Abouyaaqoub was the driver of the van that plowed through hundreds of pedestrians in a crowded Las Ramblas street on Thursday afternoon.

Spanish authorities said Monday that the death toll had risen to 15. Scores were wounded, some seriously.

Thirteen people were killed by Abouyaaqoub in his vehicular assault on La Rambla, a world-
famous avenue of cafes, shops, and stately old hotels in the heart of Barcelona.

An hour after the van attack, police say Abouyaaqoub killed another man to steal a getaway car. His accomplices, fleeing a police roadblock, ran over a woman.

Of the 15 people killed, two were children. Six were Spaniards, three Italians, two Portuguese. There was also a Belgian, a Canadian and dual citizen of Australia and Britain. One was an American, Jared Tucker, on his honeymoon.

After Abouyaaqoub was shot dead by police, a bomb squad deployed a robot to get near the prone body and discovered that the suicide vest was a fake, officials said.

The terrorist attack was the worst in Spain since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when 191 people were killed and 1,700 were injured.

The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the Barcelona attack. Catalan police said that it is possible the terrorist cell, composed of Moroccan-born youths and young men, was inspired or steered by Islamic State actors, but that the investigation was ongoing and definitive links have not been established.

Security camera images released Monday by police showed Abouyaaqoub making his escape on foot through Barcelona’s La Boqueria market after the attack.

Those images were given to the public on Monday and probably led to the assailant being identified up in the mountain vineyards.

Catalan Justice Minister Carles Mundo identified Abouyaaqoub’s latest victim as Pau Perez, who was found dead in his Ford Focus several miles from the scene of the van attack. Police said that Abouyaaqoub knifed Perez to death when he stole his car to escape after the van attack. He dumped Perez into the back seat and drove away.

Abouyaaqoub then rammed through the barricades at a police checkpoint as officers fired on the car, authorities said. That vehicle was found abandoned a few miles away with Perez’s body still in the back seat.

Where Abouyaaqoub spent the last four days is unknown.

Trapero, the Catalan National Police chief, told reporters that authorities found DNA remains of at least two people killed in an explosion the day before the attack.

Trapero said it was likely that one of the bodies found at the explosion site was Abdelbaki Essati, a Muslim cleric who is suspected of radicalizing young men in the mountain town of Ripoll and organizing the terrorist cell.

Essati, a Moroccan national who lived in Ripoll for the last two years, served as imam in a mosque, where he taught the Koran and the Arabic language. Police revealed Monday that he was a convicted drug trafficker who had served time in the Castellon prison outside Valencia from 2010 to 2014.

Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia, told The Washington Post that police here were not given timely information by the Spanish federal government and were in the dark — until now — about the imam’s time in prison.

While serving his sentence in prison, Spanish media reported that Essati may have met Rachid Aglif, known as “the Rabbit,” one of the main plotters of the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks.

Ali Yassine, the director of the mosque in Ripoll, said that Essati was paid about $1,000 a month to serve as imam. Local benefactors paid his rent and helped with groceries.

Yassine told The Washington Post that he had given Essati’s name to local police more than a year ago as part of standard security protocol to keep a closer eye on Muslim preachers. But authorities did not flag Essati on a watch list even though he had a conviction for trafficking drugs.

If only authorities had alerted the Muslim elders in Ripoll that Essati was a convicted drug smuggler, the Moroccan families say, he would have been fired as imam and would never have had the chance to radicalize their sons.

“We have trusted the mosque and the authorities and send our children to learn about Islam and Arabic. How could they allow such a criminal and monster to get involved with our children?” said the aunt of Moussa Oukabir, one of the cell members. The aunt spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared a backlash for what her relatives did.

“We must find out what has happened to them, so we can make sure not to loose the next generation of our children as well,” she said.

Police had another chance to stop the terrorist cell members before they struck — after a large explosion occurred Wednesday.

For almost 24 hours, until the van attack, police assumed the explosion was caused by criminals manufacturing methamphetamine.

Authorities said they investigated the blast site as quickly as possible. On Monday, police said they found 120 propane canisters at the site in Alcanar, about a two-hour drive south of Barcelona, alongside explosive material that has been employed in bombs.

Police concluded that the material and propane tanks were to be used in the attack on Barcelona’s crowded La Rambla promenade or at another site in the city.

At the bomb house, police said they also found remote-controlled detonators.

Raul Gallego Abellan in Subirats and Angel García in Barcelona contributed to this report.

Ohio Judge Has Been Shot Several Times Outside Courthouse, Shooter Is Dead

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN) A judge was shot and wounded Monday in a deliberate “ambush-style” assault outside a courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, and a suspect died during a shootout, a local sheriff told reporters.

Common Pleas Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. received medical attention after being shot about 8 a.m. outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in the eastern Ohio city more than 38 miles west of Pittsburgh.
“Fran and I are praying for Judge Bruzzese and his family at this difficult time,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said, referring to his wife.
He said it appears the suspect walked up to the judge as he approached the courthouse and shot him several times.
Abdalla said the suspect’s gun was in point-blank range, near the judge’s stomach.
He said the shooter was hit three times and his body remains at the scene. The judge was carrying a weapon and may have shot the suspect at least once.
However, Abdalla said, a probation officer on the scene also shot the suspect. Once the bullet slugs are removed from the body, it will be determined who shot the suspect.
One person was being flown by medical helicopter to a Pittsburgh-area hospital, according to Steubenville Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi. He would not disclose the person’s identity.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation at the Ohio attorney general’s office is investigating the shooting.

Forced Out: When Leaving the Country Means Leaving Your Kids Behind

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF KQED NEWS)

 

Forced Out: When Leaving the Country Means Leaving Your Kids

Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, a Highland Hospital nurse in Oakland, and her husband this week ended their fight to remain in the U.S. after federal immigration authorities denied a last-ditch plea to stay.

Maria, her husband Eusebio Sanchez, and their 12-year-old son, Jesus, boarded a flight at San Francisco International Airport for Mexico City less than an hour before a federal deportation order expired late Wednesday for the couple — leaving behind their three daughters, two of them adults and one a teenager.

Maria Mendoza-Sanchez sits on a couch in her Oakland home on Aug. 16, 2017, hours before she, her husband and son leave Oakland for Mexico City. Her daughter, Melin Sanchez, 21, cries as she watches her mother with concern. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Sanchez spent her last day in the U.S. doing somewhat routine things: She took her daughter, Elizabeth, 16, to her first day of school as a sophomore and she went to the bank.

But she did some out-of-the-ordinary things, too: She granted power of attorney to her eldest daughter, Vianney, 23. She packed her belongings. And she put her nursing uniforms into a storage box.

“I’m sorry I won’t be there to serve them anymore,” she said of her patients in the oncology and cardiology unit of Highland Hospital, Alameda County’s trauma center. “But one day I will be back, that’s for sure.”

Eusebio Sanchez supports his wife, Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, in their Oakland home on Aug. 16, 2017, hours before they leave for Mexico City after federal immigration authorities denied their request for a reprieve. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

The couple came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago, settling in Oakland in 1994. Maria graduated from Holy Names University with a nursing degree while raising their children. Eusebio worked in construction and eventually became a truck driver.

The couple have no criminal records, and have been undocumented during their time in the U.S. Vianney is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while their three younger kids are U.S. citizens.

“Fighting an immigration case when you are a Mexican is really three times as difficult as it is other communities,” Maria said as she tried to hold back tears. “It doesn’t matter how hard you work. It doesn’t matter what you do.”

Melin Sanchez, 21, cries as she hugs a neighbor who lives across the street. People drop by the Oakland home on Aug. 16, 2017, hours before Melin’s mother and father leave for Mexico City after federal immigration authorities rejected their last-ditch appeal to stay. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Under the Obama administration, the couple received two stays, along with legal work visas, to remain in the U.S. But when they applied for another stay in May 2017, federal immigration officials limited it to 90 days — after which they would be deported.

The family was hoping for a reprieve with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But on Tuesday afternoon, Feinstein called to tell them that federal immigration agents had denied their request for another stay, the senator’s office said.

“All possible avenues to delay their departure have been denied by the Trump administration in what I believe is an act utterly devoid of humanity,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This is a travesty, plain and simple, and evidence that Donald Trump’s immigration ‎policy is nothing more than a hateful deportation program targeting law-abiding families. It’s shameful and stands against the very ideals upon which this country was founded.”

Melin Sanchez, right, is comforted by a friend as they listen to Sanchez’s mother, Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, talk to the press hours before she, her husband and their son leave for Mexico City on Aug. 16, 2017. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

In a statement to KQED from  Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Western Region, the agency confirmed the denial. But ICE added that it gave the couple enough time “to get their personal affairs in order and make preparations for their departure.”

Sanchez said she and her husband prepared their three daughters for life without them in the U.S.: Vianney, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, will be the legal guardian of Elizabeth as she finishes high school. Their middle daughter, Melin, 21, will stay to finish her last year at UC Santa Cruz.

In Maria’s last hours before flying to Mexico City, Elizabeth came home from her first day of school. She sat on the couch next to her mom and rested her head on her mom’s shoulder.

The two discussed her first day of school — knowing moments like these were coming to an end.

Maria said she also had a conversation with her kids that a parent doesn’t ever think they’ll have.

“Yes, indeed, you separate from your parents but you don’t have to worry about rent, you don’t have to worry about food, and then you’ll be able to finish school,” she recalled telling her daughters.

Luggage for Maria Mendoza-Sanchez, her husband Eusebio, and their 12-year-old son, Jesus, stacked near the door of their Oakland home on Aug. 16, 2017. They left for Mexico City late Wednesday after living in the U.S. for more than 20 years. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Though she is having to leave, Sanchez said what she’s taking with her to Mexico — her memories — no one can take away.

“Because it’s in my heart and it’s in my mind,” she said.

Photos of the Sanchez family and a sign about nursing decorate a shelf in their home in Oakland on Aug. 16, 2017. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

People wait to enter the area after a van crashed into pedestrians near the Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2017Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular cities for tourists

There have been two attacks in Spain’s Catalonia region involving people driving cars at crowds at high-speeds.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

On Thursday afternoon at 16:50 local time (14:50 GMT) a white van smashed into people on Las Ramblas, a famous boulevard in central Barcelona that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) and was packed with tourists.

The van driver is said to have zig-zagged to try and hit as many people as possible along the pedestrianised area, knocking many to the floor and sending others fleeing for cover in shops and cafes.

He killed 13 people and injured more than 100, and managed to flee the scene.

Spanish police have described it as a terror attack.

Barcelona map

What was the second attack?

About eight hours later, an Audi A3 car ploughed into pedestrians in the popular seaside resort town of Cambrils, 110km (68 miles) south-west of Barcelona.

Six civilians were injured, one critically, and a police officer was hurt too.

Five attackers, some of whom appeared to be wearing suicide belts, were then shot by police. Four died at the scene and one later died of his injuries.

Controlled explosions were carried out and authorities later said the explosive belts were fake.

Both the Las Ramblas and Cambrils attacks are believed to be linked.

Who has been arrested?

On Thursday, one person from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla was arrested in Alcanar and a Moroccan was arrested in Ripoll. Both are towns in Catalonia – the same region as Barcelona.

Police say neither of the pair arrested was the driver.

Documents belonging to the Moroccan, 28-year-old Driss Oubakir, were allegedly used to rent the van used in the Las Ramblas attack but local media report he says his papers were stolen and used without his knowledge.

He arrived in Barcelona from Morocco on 13 August, the El Pais newspaper reports, citing police sources.

On Friday, police announced another arrest in Ripoll. It remains unclear how many people were involved in the plots.

Weren’t there other incidents too?

On Thursday evening at 19:30 local time, a car was driven into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The car was later found with a dead man inside it, but the interior ministry has denied earlier reports he was killed by police gunfire. He is not believed to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing

On Wednesday night, an explosion completely destroyed a house in Alcanar, 200km south of Barcelona, killing one person and wounding seven.

Media caption What was it like to be caught up in the Barcelona attack?

The house was filled with bottles of propane and butane, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported (in Spanish).

That incident is believed to be connected to Thursday’s events.

Who are the victims?

They come from all over the world, with at least 24 nationalities represented.

People from Ireland, France, Australia, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Algeria, Peru, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines are all reported to be among the victims.

Aftermath of Barcelona attack in pictures

Belgium said one of its citizens was killed and France said 26 of its nationals were injured, 11 seriously. The Australian government said at least four citizens were injured.

Who is responsible?

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack and that IS “soldiers” carried it out. But it did not provide any evidence or details to back up the claim.

Why Spain?

The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations but in recent years has not seen the kind of jihadist violence that has rocked France, the UK, Belgium and Germany.

Still, Spain has been targeted before – several trains in Madrid, the capital, were bombed by al-Qaeda inspired militants in 2004, killing 191 people.

The IS news agency, Amaq, said the attack was carried out as part of efforts to target states fighting in the US-led anti-IS coalition.

A few hundred Spanish soldiers are in Iraq, training local forces fighting the Sunni militant group.

How much jihadist activity is there in the country?

The number of operations carried out against jihadists has increased significantly since Spain raised its terror alert level to four out of five in June 2015, meaning there was “high risk” of a terror attack.

Before these attacks, 51 suspected jihadists had already been detained in the country this year, while 69 were detained last year, and 75 were detained in 2015, according to El Pais.

Security and surveillance was stepped up in the wake of truck attacks in the French city of Nice in July 2016 and the German capital Berlin in December.

Related Topics

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

7 White Helmets rescuers shot dead in Syria gun attack

People gather Saturday for the funeral of slain members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Idib province.

Story highlights

  • The attack occurred in rebel-controlled Idlib province amid recent spikes in violence
  • The unidentified attackers stole vehicles and equipment, activists said

(CNN)Seven members of the White Helmets rescue group were shot dead Saturday by unidentified gunmen who stormed the volunteers’ office in northwestern Syria, the group and opposition activists said.

The attackers also stole two vans, helmets and walkie-talkies, according to a statement from the group, which is formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense.
The Aleppo Media Center activist group also said seven volunteers were killed in an attack — and posted video and photos of their funeral.
A procession of mostly men carried the dead to be buried, the images show. Many of the mourners wore the White Helmets badge and broke down in tears.
The Syrian Civil Defense called for northern Syrian checkpoints to detain any vehicles bearing the White Helmets logo that were not verified.

Attacked amid spikes in violence

The attack occurred in the city of Sarmin in Idlib province, which last month came mostly under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a coalition of Salafi jihadist groups that includes Fateh al-Sham. The latter group had been known as Jabhat al-Nusra before renouncing its ties to al Qaeda.
Idlib, one of the last Syrian provinces still beyond regime control, has been experiencing spikes in violence.
After the Syrian government — with the help of Russian air power — regained control of the key city of Aleppo last year, masses of opposition rebels were bussed to Idlib as part of a people-swap agreement.
The White Helmets have brought to light the scale of the Syrian conflict in a painfully visceral way, documenting their recovery operations through video and photo.

Total Horses Ass In A Restaurant On A Date Gets His Due Reward: From An Off Duty Cop

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK.COM)

 

Someone asked “What has been your worst ‘nice guy’ experience?”, and this person just shared the best story ever

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Image credits: shutterstock

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FBI Raided Paul Manafort’s Home July 26th, 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Washington (CNN) FBI agents raided a home of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort last month, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The agents seized materials in Manafort’s home as part of the ongoing Russia investigation led by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the source said.
“FBI agents executed a search warrant at one of Mr. Manafort’s residences. Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well,” Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, told CNN. He declined to provide further details.
The so-called no-knock warrant, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was served at Manafort’s home in Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs on July 26, the day after Manafort met with Senate intelligence committee investigators.
The tactic appears unusual for a case that has been under investigation for months and for which Manafort has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators. The source told CNN the documents seized included financial and tax records and at least some of the information had already been provided to Senate investigators.
Since his appointment in May, Mueller has quietly gathered a team of more than three dozen attorneys, investigators and other staff in a nondescript office in Washington. Officials familiar with the probe describe it as akin to a small US attorney’s office, with FBI agents and prosecutors assigned to separate groups looking into various aspects of the investigation.
These include groups of investigators and lawyers focused separately on Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, as well as the investigations focused on Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a US official briefed on the investigation has told CNN.
So far, Trump’s campaign has turned over approximately 20,000 pages to the Senate judiciary committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the election, while Manafort turned over approximately 400 pages and Donald Trump Jr. turned over about 250 pages.
Fusion GPS, the firm that compiled a dossier at the center of the federal Russia probe, has not yet turned over any documents, according to the committee’s spokesperson, though a source told CNN the firm plans to provide the committee with “thousands” of pages of documents Wednesday.
The spokesperson declined to provide details about the specific contents of the documents.

This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Outlook

This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud

Two tax lawyers break down the president’s sale of two condos to his son.

Trump says American people ‘don’t care at all’ about his tax returns
Speaking at his first news conference since winning the presidential election, Donald Trump defended his decision not to release his tax returns, saying the American people “don’t care at all.” (The Washington Post)

 August 4  

About the authors

President Trump clearly doesn’t want to release his income tax returns to the public. Members of the public and commentators have progressed through stages of outragespeculation and acceptance that they’ll never see the goods, while others have made attempts to pry the documents free (such as proposed legislation in New York and other states that would require presidential candidates to release their returns). But Trump’s most pressing tax problem may come from somewhere else entirely: a pre-election transfer of property to a company controlled by his son that could run afoul of the IRS.

According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016, a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump’s LLC, they were advertised for $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.

If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent. (In this case, that might have run the president somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000.)

Each taxpayer has a $5.49 million lifetime exemption (a married couple has a combined $10.98 million exemption), meaning you can give away that much money without incurring the tax. To claim that a transaction is covered by the exemption, though, you must file a gift tax return. Well-advised wealthy individuals typically fully use their $5.49 million exemption by making gifts to family members as soon as they have the assets to do so.

Trump scolds protesters demanding his tax returns
President Trump on April 16 issued two tweets in which he criticized protesters who marched the day before to demand that he release his tax returns. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

So if Donald Trump sold the apartments to his son’s company for less than fair market value, he needed to file a gift tax return, even if he wanted to claim that the sale was not taxable because of the exemption. The government wants to know what gifts people make, because gifts are taken into account when determining the value of a person’s taxable estate at death. If Trump had already used his exemption, he would owe gift tax on the difference between the fair market value of the apartments and the amount paid by Eric Trump.

It’s possible the president filed the right paperwork. But without a full release of his tax returns, the available evidence suggests he hasn’t. According to New York City property records, Trump paid $13,000 in state and local transfer taxes for these two sales. That is the correct amount for a sale between strangers. But if he paid state and local transfer taxes, that means he didn’t treat the transfers as gifts. And on the real estate forms filed in New York, Trump didn’t check any of the boxes indicating that these were sales between relatives or sales of less than the entire property. It would seem, then, that he treated the transactions as if they were sales for fair market value to a stranger.

Since Trump did not cast the transactions as gifts for state and local tax purposes, it is almost certain that he did not do so for federal gift tax purposes, either. In our combined 40 years of experience as tax lawyers, we are unaware of a situation in which a taxpayer would report a transaction as a fair market value between strangers on the state level (and thus incur real estate taxes) but treat it as a gift at the federal level (and thus incur an additional tax). It’s fair to infer that Trump didn’t follow the rules.

Willful failure to file a tax return, including a gift tax return, is a misdemeanor , punishable by a $25,000 fine, imprisonment of up to one year or both. Fraudulent failure to file — meaning an overt act of evasion — may elevate willful failure to a felony . That carries a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of up to five years or both, along with the costs of prosecution. According to internal guidance provided by the IRS to its agents, factors indicating potential fraud include repeated contacts by the IRS, failure to cooperate with IRS agents or employees, knowledge of the filing requirements, offering implausible or inconsistent explanations, substantial tax liability, and refusal or inability to explain failure to file.

Presidential income tax returns are subject to mandatory audit . The IRS can decide whether Trump’s transfers were truly gifts. If they were, which seems likely, Trump’s failure to file a gift tax return opens him up to penalties and fines, or even criminal charges. Perhaps such a charge wouldn’t go anywhere, since the president must consent to being indicted by a federal prosecutor. But tax law would permit them.

Trump says American people ‘don’t care at all’ about his tax returns
Speaking at his first news conference since winning the presidential election, Donald Trump defended his decision not to release his tax returns, saying the American people “don’t care at all.” (The Washington Post)

Twitter: @professortax
@ProfBCrawford

National Conference of State Legislatures Passes Resolution Urging De-Scheduling of Marijuana

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF MPP)

 

MPP Blog


National Conference of State Legislatures Passes Resolution Urging De-Scheduling of Marijuana

Posted: 07 Aug 2017 02:40 PM PDT

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) approved a resolution Monday urging that the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove marijuana from scheduling in order to give federally approved banks the ability to work with marijuana businesses. This would also allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without the threat of federal interference. For a resolution to pass, it must be supported by a majority of participating legislators in each of 75% of the states represented at the conference’s general business meeting.

Due to the Schedule I status of marijuana under federal law, federally insured banks risk penalties if they offer financial services to marijuana-related businesses. For that reason, many of these businesses are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, making them a target for criminals. While limited guidance has been issued, which intended to encourage financial institutions to serve marijuana businesses, access to banking remains a problem.

The full resolution can be found here.

MPP’s Karen O’Keefe said the following statement in a press release:

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which tracks marijuana policy in all 50 states and lobbies in state legislatures throughout the country.

“Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety,” O’Keefe continues. “Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

The post National Conference of State Legislatures Passes Resolution Urging De-Scheduling of Marijuana appeared first on MPP Blog.

  

South Dakota Has 90 Days to Collect Enough Signatures for 2018 Ballot

Posted: 07 Aug 2017 10:22 AM PDT

New Approach South Dakota has 90 days to collect the remaining signatures needed to place marijuana initiative measures on the 2018 ballot.

Two petitions are being circulated — one seeks to legalize marijuana for medical uses and the other to legalize certain amounts of marijuana for adult use and to regulate and tax marijuana businesses.

Signatures are tied to the number of votes cast in the state’s most recent gubernatorial election, so each petition needs at least 13,871 signatures by November 2017 to make it on the November 2018 ballot.

To read the petitions and for more information about adding your signature, check out New Approach South Dakota’s website.

The post South Dakota Has 90 Days to Collect Enough Signatures for 2018 Ballot appeared first on MPP Blog.

  

Burning Man and Marijuana Laws

Posted: 07 Aug 2017 10:15 AM PDT

Heading to Burning Man? Here’s what you need to know about Black Rock City’s and Nevada’s marijuana laws.

If you are heading to Burning Man this year, you may be thinking about bringing cannabis to the playa, now that Nevada finally legalized marijuana. Not so fast! Before you head out, there are some important things you need to know:

  • Burning man is held on FEDERAL land, and the Bureau of Land Management will enforce federal law, which unfortunately considers all marijuana possession a criminal offense — even if you have a medial card! BLM may also ticket you for violations of various rules in the “closure order,” though these, thankfully, are civil rather than criminal.
  • “Gifting” marijuana to others is drug trafficking under federal law, even though no money is being exchanged. And if you are caught selling marijuana, or are found in possession of more than 1 oz., you will likely be prosecuted under Nevada law by the local Pershing County Sheriffs, who also patrol Burning Man.
  • Especially important: GATE ROAD is also federal property, and in the past, a lot of the law enforcement activity has occurred while people are driving into the event. Keep in mind that you have fewer rights while driving than you do in your home (or in this case, your tent or RV), and can be stopped for a broken taillight or any other minor infraction by law enforcement, who may ask you for consent to search your vehicle (you have the right to refuse). Any marijuana consumption while on the Gate Road could result in a ticket or charges for DUI or marijuana possession.
  • Before or after Burning Man, when you are not on federal land: Adults ages 21 and older may legally purchase marijuana from retail establishments in Nevada! MPP supported the initiative that made Nevada the fifth of eight states to end prohibition.
  • Public consumption could result in a misdemeanor charge, with a fine of up to $600. And because the casinos’ regulators directed them to follow federal law, you cannot consume in hotel-casinos. MPP and our allies hope to establish safe, legal consumption spaces for tourists, but that won’t happen before Burning Man 2017. But you can consume in private homes, which may include private homes for rent.
  • You should also know that Nevada has very strict laws on driving under the influence of marijuana. There is a “per se” threshold of 2 ng/mL of THC in your blood, meaning that you can be convicted based on a positive test result whether you were impaired or not. If you are a regular marijuana consumer, please note that you can have this amount in your system even if you haven’t consumed in a couple of days.
  • If you do have an encounter with law enforcement, it’s always a good idea to know your rights. In addition, Burning Man would like to know about your experience, and if you get into trouble, you can reach out to the volunteer group Lawyers for Burners for help after you return home.

This legal information is provided as a courtesy and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, which is an interpretation of the applicable law to your specific circumstances, we encourage you to consult an attorney. MPP is offering this information as a public service and is in no way affiliated with the Burning Man Project.

The post Burning Man and Marijuana Laws appeared first on MPP Blog.

  

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