South Dakota: the Bermuda of the prairie, letting billionaires avoid millions in estate tax

America's billionaires are able to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes by renting empty storefronts in South Dakota in order to give their trust-funds an SD address, from which they can exploit a deliberate loophole in state tax-law. Over $121 billion in trust-funds is administered through South Dakota, mostly for out-of-state families — a figure that's tripled in four years. South Dakota's corrupt tax laws also allow for avoiding millions in tax from ordinary investments by the richest people in NY and MA.

South Dakota itself has some dire poverty — two of the 10 poorest counties in America are in SD — and lawmakers describe their project to turn the state into "the Bermuda of the prairie" as an economic development project, creating jobs for lawyers and bankers, and "[forging] ties with prosperous families that may one day decide to build a factory or a warehouse here."

The project has failed. The entire trust industry only employs about 100 South Dakotans, but Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, a former banker, says it's worth it: "If you've got several hundred well-paying jobs, it's worth it to us."

Trusts overseen in the Kresge five-and-dime building hold all kinds of assets, from stakes in private companies to a castle in Italy. While their holdings aren't public, securities filings sometimes offer a glimpse. In July, the two top executives at Monster Beverage Corp. (MNST), the Corona, California-based energy drink maker, shifted $478 million of their stock to undisclosed "entities" controlled by a trust company based in the building.

In 2010, the Pritzker family, whose members include U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, revealed in a securities filing that one branch had moved $360 million of Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H) stock to trusts overseen by a native South Dakotan named Thomas J. Muenster. Muenster, whose sister married a Pritzker, maintains an office in the Kresge building…

In 2007, the Wrigley family, heirs to the candy fortune, transferred oversight of family trusts holding $1.9 billion of company stock to a private trust company in the Kresge building, according to an SEC filing.

Moguls Rent South Dakota Addresses to Dodge Taxes Forever [Zachary R. Mider/Bloomberg]

(Image: South Dakota Mentor Series, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from chaunceydavis's photostream)