Fred Grimm

Trump’s charity begins (and ends) at the Trump Doral

A painting by artist Havi Schanz of Donald Trump. Trump used $10,000 of the Trump Foundation's money to buy the portrait of himself.
A painting by artist Havi Schanz of Donald Trump. Trump used $10,000 of the Trump Foundation's money to buy the portrait of himself. Handout

Here was the face of charity itself. Or rather himself, given that this particular charitable act involved the donation of a highly stylized portrait of Donald Trump.

But donated to whom? That was the mystery. What worthy cause was the recipient of a $10,000 Trump likeness, purchased by Trump’s very own charitable foundation?

Why ... none other than Donald Trump. Via way of a bar at his namesake golf club and resort right here in Doral. Where, thank goodness, poor beleaguered duffers can now find solace by gazing at the great one’s beneficent face. Or rather a 1990 version of the old guy’s face.

The Donald J. Trump Foundation had purchased the four-foot-tall portrait at an auction staged at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach palace, back in 2014. The painting was among several rather peculiar purchases by the Trump Foundation that reporter David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post has been trying to locate (with no cooperation from Trump or his campaign team).

Reportedly, a $20,000 six-foot tall portrait of Donald Trump bought by the foundation in 2007 had been shipped to his Westchester, New York, golf club. A $12,000 autographed Tim Tebow football helmet the foundation also purchased remains at large. But the $10,000 painting of Trump’s face by Miami Beach artist Havi Schanz — noted for his fanciful celebrity portraits — has finally been found. Thanks to some dandy 21st century reporting by Fahrenthold, Univision’s Enrique Acevedo and the mighty Twitter nation.

For months now, the Washington Post has been investigating Trump’s Foundation, which seems to have adopted a very charitable definition for its charitable giving, which included a $25,000 campaign donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. That occurred about the time when Bondi’s office decided not to investigate consumer complaints about Trump University (which was even less of a university than Trump Foundation was a charitable operation).

Unhappily, that was an illegal contribution. Federal tax law forbids foundations from dabbling in political campaigns, though this seemed to escape the notice of Bondi, our state’s chief legal officer. (The IRS fined the foundation $2,500. Bondi, so far, has remained unscathed.)

Fahrenthold also reported that the famously litigious Trump had dipped into the foundation money to money to settle $258,000 in various legal claims. Which also would not please the IRS. The reporter discovered that since 2008, Trump apparently seemed to have donated little, if any, of his own money to his namesake foundation. (All his pursuits are preceded by “namesake.”) The money seemed to come from friends and business associates.

All this only added to a number of other questions about Trump’s opaque financial dealings, including allegations this week in Newsweek that his hotel and casino operations had violated the Cuban embargo back in 1998, spending money disguised as — you guessed it — a charitable endeavor.

Still, Fahrenthold wanted to find that elusive Havi Schanz painting. He did it through social media, enlisting the help of his 95,000 Twitter followers. The Twitter scavenger hunt turned up a photo on a site devoted to the Trump National golf resort in Doral of a painting that looked a lot like Schanz’s Trump.

Univision’s Enrique Acevedo was intrigued. Not so intrigued that he wanted to fork over either his or his company’s cash to a Trump business. So he booked a room on Sept. 20 at the Trump Doral (just down the street from Univison’s Doral studio) using his personal credit card points. He arrived after midnight and began his search.

“It’s a huge complex,” Acevedo told me. He spent more than an hour searching through hallways and conference rooms. Then he found it, hung just inside the entrance to Champions Bar & Grill — the middle-aged Trump in acrylic, painted over what seemed to be an architectural blueprint.

Acevedo was not impressed by the artwork. “I spend a lot of time at art museums. I wouldn’t want it if somebody paid me $10,000.”

But he snapped a picture and tweeted it along to Fahrenthold. Acevedo described the effort as a modern, cooperative approach to investigative reporting. Both the Post and Univision have been dissed by the Trump campaign. Univision, early on in Trump’s candidacy. “We were aggressively covering Trump. And were banned [from Trump events] right out of the gate.”

He said Univision reporters in particular feel compelled to give Trump a hard look. “We’ve seen people like him in Latin America make it all the way to the top.”

The Trump campaign last week claimed that Trump’s Doral golf club was actually doing the foundation a good turn by “storing” the Trump portrait at the Champions Bar & Grill. The Post, however, talked to tax experts who were extremely doubtful that the IRS would accept that explanation.

At least the mystery of the painting’s whereabouts has been solved. But the whereabouts of the foundation’s $12,000 Tim Tebow autographed football helmet remains a mystery.