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‘I Won’t Be Used as a Guinea Pig for White People’



PITTSBURGH — The recruiters strode to the front of the room, wearing neon-yellow vests and resolute expressions. But to the handful of tenants overwhelmed by unemployment and gang violence in Northview Heights, the pitch verged on the ludicrous.

Would you like to volunteer for a clinical trial to test a coronavirus vaccine?

On this swampy-hot afternoon, the temperature of the room was wintry. “I won’t be used as a guinea pig for white people,” one tenant in the predominantly Black public housing complex declared. Another said she knew of five people who had died from the flu shot. Make Trump look good? a man scoffed — forget it. It’s safer to keep washing your hands, stay away from people and drink orange juice, a woman insisted, until the Devil’s coronavirus work passed over.

Then an older woman turned the question back on Carla Arnold, a recruiter from a local outreach group, who is well-known to people in the Heights:

“Miss Carla, would you feel comfortable allowing them to inject you?”

Ms. Arnold, 62, adjusted her seat to face them down, her eyes no-nonsense above a medical mask.

“They already did,” she replied.

The room stilled.

Recruiting Black volunteers for vaccine trials during a period of severe mistrust of the federal government and heightened awareness of racial injustice is a formidable task. So far, only about 3 percent of the people who have signed up nationally are Black.

Yet never has their inclusion in a medical study been more urgent. The economic and health impacts of the coronavirus are falling disproportionately hard on communities of color. It is essential, public health experts say, that research reflect diverse participation not only as a matter of social justice and sound practice but, when the vaccine becomes available, to help persuade Black, Latino and Native American people to actually get it. (The participation of Asian people is close to their share of the population.)

People of color face greater exposure to the virus, in part because many work in front line and essential jobs, and have high rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension, all of which are risk factors for severe Covid-19. But even when those factors are accounted for, people of color still appear to have a higher risk of infection, for reasons researchers cannot yet pinpoint, said Dr. Nelson L. Michael, an infectious-disease expert at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

“Historically, we test everything in white men,” said Dr. Michael, a member of the vaccine development team at Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership set up by the White House. “But the disease is coming after people of color, and we need to encourage them to volunteer because they have the highest burden of disease.”

Now, academic researchers at trial sites like Pittsburgh’s are turning to neighborhood leaders to attract more diverse pools of participants. The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh sponsored an information webinar and the New Pittsburgh Courier, which has a large, African-American readership, published articles about the trial.

And in the Hill District, which contains the city’s oldest Black neighborhoods, volunteers from the Neighborhood Resilience Project, a faith-based initiative that offers a food bank, clothing and a health clinic, are trying to reach people where the pandemic is raging in crowded, multigenerational homes.

The recruiters knock on doors and buttonhole neighbors. Sitting on worn sofas in small, close apartments, they address fears with respect and facts.

ImageCarla Arnold, right, discussing volunteering for a coronavirus vaccine trial with Cecilia Goshay in Ms. Goshay’s home.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Ms. Arnold carefully explained to the tenants her decision to participate in the trial for the vaccine being developed by Moderna, a company that has received pledges of $1.5 billion from the Trump administration for its effort.

“I am a proud African-American woman,” she said. “As African-Americans, we always seem to get less out of things that go on. I want us at the forefront of this. I want to make sure that Black people are represented. I’m going by faith that these people won’t do to African-Americans what they did to us in Tuskegee. I’m holding them accountable.”

The hard resistance in the room wobbled. Pandemic experiences tumbled forth.

A granddaughter was sick with it. A woman knew a 24-year-old who had caught it, and it was beating him up. Covid had put a neighbor down the hall in a coma.

In frustration, a woman shouted: “I asked paramedics why people here are getting sick, and they said, ‘There’s no social distancing.’ But you can’t social-distance in a place like this, everyone on top of each other.”

Ms. Arnold seized the moment. Go door to door with me, she pressed. Talk to folks about Covid-19 safety, about signing up for the vaccine registry.

The registry, a bank of people willing to be contacted about the clinical trials, does not commit you to getting the experimental vaccine, she added, only to being called by researchers.

“You’re not going to be the guinea pig,” the supervisor of the volunteers, Tyra L. Townsend, chimed in. “White people are.”

That is because, she said, most of the vaccine trial registrants so far are white.

The room hesitated, perched on the precipice of decision-making. No firm commitments. But interest, definitely.

The recruiters said they would return to the Heights at 6 p.m. to begin knocking on doors.

Join us?

Black and Latino people, along with Native Americans, are being hit far harder by the coronavirus than white people are. A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that from March through mid-July, people of color were five times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 than their white counterparts and that through Aug. 4, the rate of death among Black people, relative to their share of the population, was at least twice as high. In Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, the Black population’s rates of cases and hospitalizations have been almost as stark.

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While Black people stand to benefit greatly from a coronavirus vaccine, surveys show that they are the group least likely to trust one. In a poll last month by the Pew Research Group, only 32 percent of Black respondents said they were likely to take it, compared with 52 percent of white respondents. Historically, Black people have been more hesitant than other groups to get vaccines, especially the flu shot, and are also far less likely to volunteer for medical research; one study showed their participation hovering at about 5 percent. They are 13 percent of the population.

The mistrust is built on present disparities as well as a long history of abuse. Studies show that Black people in the United States have less access to good medical care than do white people and their concerns are more likely to be dismissed. Notorious medical experiments on Black people continue to exacerbate suspicion. They include surgeries by Dr. J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist, on enslaved Black women, the 40-year-long Tuskegee study, in which doctors deliberately allowed syphilis to progress in Black Alabama sharecroppers, and researchers’ taking of cells without permission from Henrietta Lacks, an African-American cancer patient, in 1951.

“It’s not the science we distrust; it’s the scientists,” said Jamil Bey, head of the UrbanKind Institute, a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization whose programs include virtual town halls on racism, the pandemic and vaccine trials.

Some public health experts said that the percentages of volunteers from various groups should replicate the disproportionate impact of the virus but that they hope at least to mirror the population so that about a third of participants are Black, Latino and Native American.

By mid-September, 407,000 people in the United States had enrolled in the vaccine trials through the website for the national Covid-19 Prevention Network, but only 11 percent identified as people of color.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Trials for vaccines developed by the drug companies Moderna and AstraZeneca are being conducted at local sites across the country, including the University of Pittsburgh. In June, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a co-director of the community engagement program for the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, reached out to local groups to help with recruitment.

At early meetings, Rev. Paul Abernathy, 41, an Orthodox Christian priest and Iraq War veteran who is Black, spoke up: The national strategy of radio commercials, online ads and church sermons was not enough to persuade people to enroll, he said. They needed to be pulled into conversation, one on one. And he had just the team to do so.

In 2011, Father Paul, as he is known locally, founded an organization that he recently renamed the Neighborhood Resilience Project. Run mostly by volunteers, it provides food, counseling, medical care and other services to the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In April, in response to the pandemic tearing through those communities, his group trained volunteers to check on their neighbors. These “community health deputies” offered masks to young people hanging out on corners and picked up food and medicine for older people.

Why not have the deputies recruit for the vaccine trials? suggested Father Paul, a Pittsburgh native whose ancestry is African-American, Syrian and Italian-Polish. “People trust folks who look like them, who know them,” he explained.

For weeks, his offer languished, and the registry remained stubbornly white.

“Do they think we are unable to comprehend the vaccine information?” Father Paul asked in exasperation.

In late August, as the deadline for enrollments approached, the researchers relented: Go for it.

On a recent morning, Father Paul’s team climbed aboard a modest R.V. to fan out to some of Pittsburgh’s struggling neighborhoods. “There is a great deal that is against us,” Father Paul said. “And we have to be honest about that. Our community needs more than what we have. But with a good spirit and a willing heart, miracles can happen.”

They rolled through the streets, carrying backpacks full of bottles of water, bags of Cheez-Its and cards with contact numbers. Father Paul rode shotgun, wearing his clerical collar and trademark fedora. As the R.V. paused at traffic lights, people waved at him. “How y’all doing?” he shouted back.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

At one stop, LaRay Moton, 61, a community health deputy, introduced Father Paul to her neighbors in the Bedford Dwellings, a public housing complex: Lori Strothers, 56, and her daughter Jayla, 26.

Then they learned that the vaccine was the reason for the priest’s visit.

“It’s scary,” said the younger Ms. Strothers. “You’re being filled with unknown things. There’s not enough data.”

“So how much data would you need to feel comfortable?” Father Paul asked.

“I’m a visual person,” she explained. “I need to see it on paper.”

He turned to his deputies. “Let’s work to get spreadsheets to her,” he said.

At a store in the housing complex’s basement, stocked with free surplus and secondhand goods, the air was musty and the aisles tight and twisting, crammed with clothes, dishes, bicycles, books.

Almost unseen amid the clutter was the store’s founder and proprietor, Effie Williams, 80, a tiny figure enthroned in her office chair.

Ms. Moton, the volunteer, knew better than to try to distract people who were shopping. Instead, she pitched to Ms. Williams, whom she wanted to help spread the word.

Ms. Moton is something of a community matriarch in the Bedford Dwellings. Earlier that day, she had been visiting older tenants, knocking loudly at every door and calling out: “Put your face mask on, baby! You got company!”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Then she had plopped herself down beside the tenants, asking about their chemotherapy and their blood pressure, deftly working up to flu shots and vaccine registries.

Now in the store, Ms. Moton launched into her spiel. “I’m here to talk about wellness checks and Covid-19, ” she said to Ms. Williams. “What are your thoughts about the vaccine?”

Ms. Williams cocked a dubious eyebrow.

Unruffled, Ms. Moton plowed ahead. She turned to two women who were minding young children and helping Ms. Williams with the store.

“What about you?” Ms. Moton asked. “Would you be interested in participating in the trial here in Pittsburgh?”

“I’m scared of side effects,” Shaquala Miller, 29, said.

Father Paul stepped forward, explaining that so far, the only reported reaction was a temporary swelling at the injection spot. This trial was already in Phase 3. Phase 1, he explained, was “high risk and low benefit.” By the time Phase 3 rolled around, “you’ve got low risk and high benefit.”

A handful of shoppers drew close. Father Paul cranked it up a notch.

“We want to make sure that the vaccine will get into our community and work for us,” he said. “I guarantee you it will be in other communities!”

“That’s right!”

“Don’t leave us out!”

“When is it starting?”

Ms. Moton practically shouted with glee: “Now!”

Ms. Miller said tentatively: “Maybe I’ll sign up. Just as long as you know it’s safe. I have three kids. ”

Ms. Williams suggested that Ms. Moton leave cards with the registry information in the store. And she decided to give the vaccine a try. “I guess it doesn’t bother me,” she announced. “I’m old.”

“I can help you register, Miss Effie,” Ms. Moton offered.

And then in a low voice, she asked, “Miss Effie, have you eaten today?”

Ms. Williams looked down at her lap.

Handing her a bag of Cheez-Its, Ms. Moton said, as she made a note: “Don’t you worry. I’ll get that taken care of right away.”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

To Father Paul, Covid-19 is one more deadly trauma in a litany that has shaken Black neighborhoods. People come to his organization seeking food, health care and clothes and wind up talking about stabbings, overdoses, robberies, fires, domestic violence.

“I was seeing more PTSD in my community than I saw in Iraq,” he said, referring to his yearlong tour of duty as a staff sergeant in 2003, during which he saw combat.

Upon his return, he became an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and completed masters degrees in divinity and in public and international affairs. About six years ago, Father Paul began working with researchers from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh to develop a manual for community development, informed by the sustained, incapacitating trauma so prevalent in the neighborhoods his group serves. Now, often summoned by the Pittsburgh police, Father Paul’s volunteers arrive after a shooting or a stabbing to administer emotional first aid.

The weight of so many traumas on a community, he said, is in part what makes it so hard to ask for volunteers for the trials. Daily survival can feel so all-consuming that participating in an institutional research experiment seems utterly beside the point.

“We cannot talk about a vaccine without acknowledging these other epidemics,” Father Paul said. “Our kids aren’t being educated, and food lines are longer. Hope is gone, too. So if you say to people, ‘That makes volunteering for the vaccine trials more meaningful,’ they will say: ‘Are you kidding me? My house got shot at last night. And you really want to talk about Covid?’”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

At 6 p.m., as promised, his teams returned to Northview Heights. But there would be no door-to-door vaccine pitches this evening.

A few nights earlier, during a gunfight, a stray bullet had pierced a wall of a nearby public housing complex, killing a 1-year-old baby as he slept in his crib. His two grieving grandmothers lived in Northview Heights.

Father Paul and his trauma response teams, wearing orange vests, had already been to the scene of the shooting the previous night. Orange tape marked the bullet holes. People peered at the teams through broken shade slats, and stared from stoops, turning away as they approached.

A woman who was sobbing and cursing beckoned. Her teenage stepson had also been killed over the weekend, and she wanted to let loose.

“I watched the officers try their hardest to save that baby!” said the woman, who identified herself only as Tyffani, 44.

Father Paul held her hand. She bowed her head as he prayed. “There is no prayer more powerful than the prayer of a broken heart,” he said. “Heal her in her brokenness and raise her up in peace.”

A bulwark had been breached. Neighbors who had watched warily began to accept comfort from the trauma teams, as well as masks and information cards.

Now, at Northview Heights, a balloon release to honor the grandmothers’ grief had been hastily arranged for the evening.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

More than 100 people, many carrying floating, bobbing bouquets of white and colored foil balloons, assembled on the sloping lawn next to the apartments. The weeping grandmothers, wearing T-shirts printed with the baby’s smiling face, were swarmed by mourners. On the periphery, children played tag, and teenagers set off firecrackers.

Almost no one wore a mask.

“This is our culture of death — memorial sites, murals and balloon releases,” said Father Paul. “This is what we do. We don’t even have to think about it.”

The teams’ backpacks included cards with information about vaccine trials, as well as cookies and small stuffed animals.

“We ask parents if we can give their kids a teddy bear,” explained Roxane Plater, a volunteer. “The kid smiles, the parents ask what we do — and that’s our opening.”

Ms. Plater scoped out the crowd. “Do you need a mask?” she asked. People looked startled, as if in a fog, and gratefully accepted one, or produced their own.

A domino effect unfurled: as more people put on masks, others pulled on their own. The teams offered cards with contacts.

The balloons were distributed, followed by keening, anguished speeches. A GoFundMe page for funeral expenses was announced. Then, all at once, flocks of balloons floated away, some tangling in trees and telephone wire, others sailing higher.

And, abruptly, the gathering was over.

As people walked away, Charniece Cabbagestalk approached a weeping grandmother of the dead baby and offered a black cloth mask imprinted with a photo of the woman’s grandson. Since the pandemic began, Ms. Cabbagestalk has made more than 100 such masks as gifts for people whose loved ones died violently.

Father Paul shook his head sadly. “A mask for Covid and violence,” he said. “Two pandemics hitting the Black community in one image.”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

By the following week, there were signs that the outreach efforts were helping. The portion of people of color in the Pittsburgh area in the vaccine registry had risen to 8 percent, from 3 percent. Because trial leaders can choose whom they finally enroll, they have been increasing the percentage of nonwhite subjects. Moderna reported that nationwide, as of Sept. 28, 26 percent of those enrolled were Black.

Dr. Miller, the University of Pittsburgh professor who coordinates outreach for the local vaccine trials, was elated. “The community health deputies have been instrumental in communicating about the vaccine registry in authentic ways,” she said.

During the week, the recruiters had confronted an array of questions.

Won’t melanin protect me from Covid?

If you had Covid, can you go in the trial?

How do you know that white folks won’t get one vaccine and Black folks another?

How do you know what they’re putting in the Black vaccine?

At a weekly meeting over Zoom, the health deputies and the researchers reviewed a new script to help answer those questions.

Then Ms. Townsend, who trains volunteers, asked Ms. Arnold, the Northview Heights community health deputy, to speak about why she had decided to lead by example and get an injection.

Years ago, Ms. Arnold said, she was visiting her father, a prostate cancer patient, in the hospital. She saw drip bags attached to him, including one filled with yellow liquid. What’s that? she asked. Platelets, she was told.

It was then that she learned that there weren’t enough African-Americans in the blood donor base to help all the Black patients with cancer or sickle cell disease. That was when she began to donate blood.

“I was just trying to save him and other African-Americans,” she said, “because we didn’t have a fair shot at getting better sooner.”

And now, she said, how could she ask people in the community to volunteer for the coronavirus vaccine trials if she hadn’t done so herself?

“That’s why I joined this vaccine study,” Ms. Arnold said. “So African-Americans can have a seat at the table.”

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times


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Two Companies Restart Virus Trials in U.S. After Safety Pauses



Late-stage coronavirus vaccine trials run by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have resumed in the United States after the companies said on Friday that serious illnesses in a few volunteers appeared not to be related to the vaccines.

Federal health regulators gave AstraZeneca the green light after a six-week pause, concluding there was no evidence that the experimental vaccine had directly caused the neurological side effects reported in two participants. The AstraZeneca news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Johnson & Johnson said that its trial, which had been on pause for 11 days, would restart after learning that a “serious medical event” in one study volunteer had “no clear cause.” In an interview, the company’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Paul Stoffels, said that no one at the company knew if the volunteer had received the placebo or the vaccine, in order to preserve the integrity of the trial.

An F.D.A. spokesperson declined to comment on the trial restarts.

Dr. Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, welcomed the announcements, citing the urgent need for multiple vaccines to remain in the race for a product that could protect the global population from the coronavirus, which has already killed more than a million people worldwide.

“The demand for safe and effective Covid vaccines exceeds any single manufacturer’s production capacity,” Dr. Borio said. “We really need several in the field.”

AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are two of the four companies now in late-stage clinical trials in the United States for experimental coronavirus vaccines. Both companies are using adenoviruses, which typically cause harmless colds. The adenovirus is engineered so that it can chauffeur a coronavirus gene into human cells.

Their two high-profile competitors, Moderna and Pfizer — also in advanced trials — are instead using a technology based on genetic material known as mRNA. Delivered into human cells, the mRNA prompts the production of coronavirus proteins, triggering an immune response.

AstraZeneca moved swiftly into clinical trials, enrolling thousands of volunteers for its vaccine trials around the world in countries including Brazil, India, South Africa and Britain. A large, late-stage trial kicked off in the United States at the end of August. But all of the trials were halted days later, on Sept. 6. A volunteer who had received the vaccine in the United Kingdom reportedly experienced symptoms of transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord, triggering a global pause to the company’s efforts.

The incident drew some concern among experts, who noted that a similar adverse neurological event, reported months ago, had occurred in another vaccinated volunteer. Although this earlier event prompted its own pause in AstraZeneca’s trials, an independent safety board ultimately determined it was unrelated to the vaccine, allowing studies to resume.

After the second AstraZeneca halt in September, trials abroad rapidly restarted in most countries. But the American hiatus persisted, with few details released as to why.

“I think this points to the rigor of the F.D.A. review process — they don’t want to rush things when it comes to safety and it takes time to gather the data, review the evidence and come to a decision,” said Mark Slifka, a vaccine expert at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

The six-week timeline might sound slow in the context of the pandemic. But it suggests the agency “made this a high priority for review and discussion but without cutting corners,” Dr. Slifka said.

Johnson & Johnson started its Phase 3 trial on 60,000 volunteers in September. On Oct. 12, the company announced its own trial pause, citing concerns that an illness had happened in one of its volunteers as well. The company has kept mostly quiet about the details of the incident.

“There are many possible factors that could have caused the event,” the company said. “Based on the information gathered to date and the input of independent experts, the company has found no evidence that the vaccine candidate caused the event.”

Adverse events are not uncommon in large-scale vaccine trials. In some cases, they are caused by a vaccine. But investigations usually reveal that they’re coincidental — a simple matter of chance.

Now that the trials are resuming, Dr. Borio said, changes may need to be made “to augment safety measures,” at least in the case of AstraZeneca, which, for instance, will likely need to monitor its volunteers for milder neurological symptoms, now that there’s precedent.

Based on recent events, “it seems there was no safety concern” with the two neurological episodes, said Dr. Maricar Malinis, an infectious disease expert at Yale University. The trial’s restart, she emphasized, should be considered good news and an indication that regulators did their due diligence.

Before the pauses, both companies had indicated they would likely submit their vaccines for emergency authorization from the F.D.A. within a few months’ time — perhaps even by the year’s end. It remains unclear how much these plans have now been thrown into flux in the wake of trial delays. Results from AstraZeneca’s late-stage trials are still expected later this year, according to the statement.

Dr. Stoffels of Johnson & Johnson said that the pause would not push the company’s timetable much. “We have the ability to catch up,” he said. “But if there is a delay, it’s in the one or two week time frame.”


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In Trump Donations, Big Tax Write-Offs and Claims That Don’t Always Add Up



In President Trump’s telling, he is a committed philanthropist with strong ties to many charities. “If you don’t give back, you’re never ever going to be fulfilled in life,” he wrote in “Trump 101: The Way to Success,” published at the height of his “Apprentice” fame.

And according to his tax records, he has given back at least $130 million since 2005, his second year as a reality TV star.

But the long-hidden tax records, obtained by The New York Times, show that Mr. Trump did not have to reach into his wallet for most of that giving. The vast bulk of his charitable tax deductions, $119.3 million worth, came from simply agreeing not to develop land — in several cases, after he had shelved development plans.

Three of the agreements involved what are known as conservation easements — a maneuver, popular among wealthy Americans, that typically allows a landowner to keep a property’s title and receive a tax deduction equal to its appraised value. In the fourth land deal, Mr. Trump donated property for a state park.

The New York attorney general is investigating whether the appraisals on two of Mr. Trump’s easement donations were improperly inflated to win larger tax breaks, according to court filings.

Mr. Trump’s pronouncements of philanthropic largess have been broadly discredited by reporting, most notably in The Washington Post, that found he had exaggerated, or simply never made, an array of claimed contributions. His own charitable foundation shut down in 2018 amid allegations of self-dealing to benefit Mr. Trump, his businesses and his campaign.

But the tax data examined by The Times lends new authority and far greater precision to those findings. The records, encompassing his reported philanthropic activity through 2017, reveal not only its exact dimensions; they show that much of his charity has come when he was under duress — facing damage to his reputation or big tax bills in years of high income.

Of the $7.5 million in business and personal cash contributions reported to the Internal Revenue Service since 2005, more than 40 percent — $3.2 million — came starting in 2015, when Mr. Trump’s philanthropy fell under scrutiny after he announced his White House bid. In 2017, his first year in office, he declared $1.9 million in cash gifts. In 2014, by contrast, he contributed $81,499.

And his first two land-easement donations were made in what the tax records show was a period of significant taxable income — 2005 and 2006, prime time for his reality TV fame.

The president’s Trump Organization biography says he is “involved with numerous civic and charitable organizations.” When he announced his campaign in 2015, he said he had given more than $102 million to charity over the previous five years.

While it is possible that he chose not to report some of his giving, his tax records for 2010 to 2014 reflect far less than he claimed — $735,238 in cash and $26.8 million in land easements and other noncash gifts. Six months into the campaign, in December 2015, another easement, valued at $21.1 million, was completed.

In response to questions from The Times, Amanda Miller, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said: “President Trump gives money privately. It’s impossible to know how much he’s given over the years.”

The tax information analyzed by The Times includes annual totals for business and individual giving but lists only certain corporate donations.

The single largest cash donation he reported for his businesses, made to his own foundation, was the $400,000 he received in 2011 for being roasted on Comedy Central. In 2014, his Virginia winery contributed a glass sculpture valued at $73,600 to a small historical society in Pennsylvania. And in 2016, another one of his companies gave $30,000 to the American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation.

ImageMr. Trump donated $400,000 from a Comedy Central special to his foundation, which later shut down after accusations of self-dealing.
Credit…Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Even without the details of Mr. Trump’s individual giving, The Times was able to identify public philanthropic promises that appear either to have been exaggerated or to have never materialized. In each case, the size of his pledge exceeded what he told the I.R.S. he had given in a particular year.

In 2009, for example, he agreed to rent his Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, N.Y., to the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who hoped to stay in a tent on the grounds during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

Though the plans fell apart when local residents objected, Colonel Qaddafi made a payment of $150,000, which Mr. Trump told CNN in 2011 that he had given to charity. His 2009 tax returns, however, reported only $22,796 in business and personal cash gifts.

In 2015, Mr. Trump promised to donate the earnings from his book “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.’’

“The profits of my book? I am giving them away to a lot of different — including the vets,” he said at a news conference.

Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The tax records show that Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, which represented Mr. Trump’s book, made two payments to him in 2015 and 2016, totaling roughly $4.5 million. In those years, Mr. Trump reported giving a total of $1.3 million in cash to charity.

Many wealthy individuals create their own foundations, often as a way to have greater control over their philanthropy. While Mr. Trump’s foundation, started in 1988, gave millions to charity before shutting down in 2018, most of it was other people’s money. Mr. Trump himself donated $5.4 million to the foundation, with the last contribution in 2008, according to the organization’s tax filings.

The vast bulk of the president’s philanthropy, though, has been the four land deals with conservation groups or the government.

His first easement donation, which yielded a tax deduction of $39.1 million in 2005, involved a parcel of land at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The next year, he donated 436 acres of land for a state park in Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York after development plans ran up against tough regulatory restrictions. While the precise value of the easement is not clear, he reported noncash charitable contributions of $34 million that year.

Mr. Trump had bought the property in the 1990s for $2 million, according to numerous published reports. Today the property is overgrown and has few facilities or visitors.

The two most recent easement deductions are being examined by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, part of a broader investigation into whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of assets to get loans and tax benefits.

In 2014, after abandoning plans to develop an 11.5-acre property being used as a driving range at his Los Angeles golf club, Mr. Trump received a $25.1 million tax deduction for an easement agreement with a land conservancy. Few details of the inquiry into the deal have emerged.

Court papers shed more light on the other easement under investigation.

In late 2015, Mr. Trump got a $21.1 million tax break for 158.6 acres of land at the Seven Springs estate, after years of unsuccessful attempts to build a golf course on it.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The attorney general’s court filing says that after Mr. Trump abandoned plans to develop Seven Springs, he asked Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer at Morgan Lewis who had advised him in the past, to have the land appraised.

Ms. Dillon told Cushman & Wakefield, the firm that did the appraisal, that “the client blew up at her,” and she leaned on the appraisers to take steps that would push the value up, according to the court filing.

Several weeks ago, after months of delays, Mr. Trump’s son Eric gave a deposition in the case.

Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. “President Trump was not involved in the appraisals mentioned, which were done by the most respected appraisal and brokerage company in the country,” said Ms. Miller, the Trump Organization spokeswoman.


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Guitar Center Prepares for Possible Bankruptcy



Guitar Center has begun to prepare for a potential bankruptcy filing that could come as soon as next month, people with knowledge of the situation said. The retailer missed an interest payment of roughly $45 million earlier this month, setting off a 30-day grace period that could end in default, the people said.

The country’s largest retailer of musical instruments has reached out to creditors to discuss a plan that would involve the company filing for bankruptcy this year and emerging from it in early 2021, said the people, who requested anonymity because the talks are confidential. A spokesperson for Guitar Center did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s still possible that Guitar Center could avert bankruptcy, as it did earlier this year when it resolved a skipped interest payment in April with a distressed debt exchange. That led to a downgrade by the credit ratings agency Moody’s in May, which noted that the transaction did not “fundamentally change” the company’s “untenable” capital structure. It was the third cut in the company’s credit rating this year.

Guitar Center, whose roots go back to 1959, has nearly 300 stores nationwide. It is owned by private equity firm Ares Management, which acquired a majority stake in 2014 by converting some of the debt it owned in the retailer into equity. The retailer generated about $2.3 billion in sales its most recent fiscal year, according to Moody’s. It has about $1.3 billion in debt. Ares declined to comment.

For years, the company has struggled with the shift to online shopping and debt built up from a leveraged buyout by Bain Capital in 2007. There had been signs of a turnaround — it notched 10 consecutive quarters of sales growth through the end of February, one of the sources said — before the pandemic hit its business hard, as it has for much of the store-based retail industry.

If Guitar Center files for bankruptcy, it would follow the path of other retailers including J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney, which were unable to withstand the impact of the downturn during the pandemic. Some, like Neiman Marcus, have already emerged from bankruptcy protection.


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