What to Know
- A company tied to Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump owns a 171-acre hunting preserve that is being used as a private shooting range
- One neighbor complained that it rattles the windows of his home; another said it ruins the serenity of the surrounding woods
- Neither the Trump Organization's spokeswoman nor its general counsel acknowledged requests to discuss the property
President Donald Trump's two grown sons arrived at this tranquil, rural upstate New York hamlet with a bang.
A company tied to Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump owns a 171-acre hunting preserve in Wingdale that is being used as a private shooting range, where the sound of rifle fire from a wooden tower and exploding targets has riled nearby residents, neighbors told The Associated Press.
One neighbor complained that it rattles the windows of his home; another said it ruins the serenity of the surrounding woods. A third confronted the property's representative over the summer.
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"It's like you're in a war zone," said Elisabetta Berghold, who lives on 42 acres down the road from the Trumps' land.
Neighbors said while they knew there would be occasional rifle fire from deer hunting on the property, the thunderous noise from target practice on a stretch of land closest to other neighbors was unexpected and unwelcome.
"It's bad. It shakes the windows," said neighbor Mike Dougherty.
Four neighbors interviewed by the AP described the shooting. All said it had become less frequent in recent months but peaked on summer weekends.
The de facto shooting range is located on a strip of land on the easternmost border of the Trumps' property, an easement that was cleared of trees years ago for an AT&T Inc. cable. A wooden tower on that stretch is visible from the public road.
The Trumps appear to have acquired the property via limited liability companies that contain some version of the property's address in their names but do not reveal the Trumps' connections. LLCs are often used to buy property or conduct business in ways that obscure the people behind the transactions.
The entity that purchased the land in 2013, Leather Hill Preserve LLC, lists its agent as a Manhattan company that provides registration services to LLCs across the country.
Incorporation records filed with the state show that the LLC's articles of organization were filed by a Trump Organization executive based out of Trump Tower and that Trump Jr. designated himself in July 2013 as the company's authorized person. In disclosure reports filed with New York City and obtained by the AP under a public records request, Trump Jr. lists himself as the owner of "DT Leather Hill Road LLC" and Eric Trump lists himself as the owner of "194 Leather Hill Road LLC."
A money manager from Connecticut, Jeffrey Ferraro, is listed as the company's organizer and in sales records as a representative for the LLC. He was a state delegate at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and appears with Eric Trump in a photo posted on his Facebook page.
Neither the Trump Organization's spokeswoman nor its general counsel acknowledged requests to discuss the property. An email to Trump Jr. about the property was not returned.
Berghold, an active Democrat and no fan of the president, said after she confronted Ferraro on July 3, he apologized and said they would keep down the noise. She said when she confronted Ferraro about the shooting, he said that his "partners have the Secret Service coming, and they shoot, too."
A spokeswoman for the Secret Service said the agency had no comment. Ferraro would not discuss whether Secret Service agents shoot on the property.
Ferraro obtained a license from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation granting the property the right to act as a noncommercial shooting preserve for invited guests and relatives only. The license is set to expire in April.
Ferraro said he was the primary person in charge of the company that owns the land. He would not discuss how he knows the Trumps or their ownership of the property and would not discuss the use of exploding targets. He said there was no shooting range on the land and said no one has visited the tract without him being there.
"Who I bring and what I do on my private property, as long as it's within my legal rights, is not a story for anyone," he said. He called the Trumps "private citizens just like anyone else."
"You're not asking me about other guests who are up there who are better known than the names you mention," he said, but declined to elaborate. "Guns make noise. That's all I can tell you."
No complaints about the property have been lodged with the Town of Dover, which governs the hamlet of Wingdale, said Donn Andersen, the town's building inspector. He said there was nothing in the town code governing the use of exploding targets, and the tower wouldn't require a permit since it's not occupied. The chapter of the town's code on noise makes no mention of guns, shooting or target practice.
The Trumps have deep ties to Dutchess County, a red-leaning part of the state in the bucolic Hudson Valley that voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The president's brother, Robert, lives in nearby Millbrook and the family business owns and operates the Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in Hopewell Junction.
Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid hunters and fishermen, but their presence in the tightknit upstate community has become known only through the rumor mill. Ferraro, not the Trumps, introduced himself to neighbors when the property was acquired in 2013, though one neighbor met Trump Jr. after the election, neighbors said. Dougherty said he has seen a white Range Rover with Eric Trump's initials on the license plates drive to the property on days when there is loud shooting.
Others said that since the presidential campaign, it was clear the Trumps were around because they were accompanied by Secret Service agents traveling in black SUVs.
The property sits at the end of a dirt-packed road in Wingdale where a metal gate stops uninvited guests. Around the time of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, orange posters warning visitors that the area was patrolled by the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office began to appear, neighbors said.
The previous owners of the land, which on one side abuts the old potter's field of an abandoned state psychiatric hospital said to be haunted, told the AP they knew they were selling to an anonymous buyer who wanted to hunt on the property but had no idea the Trumps were behind the purchase.
During negotiations, said Joe Kleinman - who with his wife, Jocelyn, sold the property in August 2013 for $665,000 - the buyer's agent tried to reduce the price by invoking a 1991 state court decision that requires buyers disclose to sellers if a property is known to be haunted.
Kleinman refused, saying anyone who truly believed it was haunted would either abandon the sale or pay a premium.
"That was the end of that conversation," he said.