Amid the gilded tower blocks, luxury hotels and high-end golf clubs of Donald Trump’s vast global property portfolio is a much smaller holding that looks more than a little out of place.
It’s a quarter-acre lot of overgrown woodland in one of Florida’s poorest counties that the US president has owned and paid property taxes on since 2005 – having bought it for $1 from a woman who owned a photographic studio specialising in adult lingerie shoots.
The plot brings in no income, has no roads, pavement or immediate prospect for development, and provides an environment that is friendly only to the swarms of mosquitoes that thrive in the humidity of the scorching Florida summer.
Trump’s interest in such a tiny and inaccessible plot of land in Sebring, 120 miles from the garish surroundings of his coastal Mar-a-Lago palace in Palm Beach, is a mystery to those familiar with the area.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Raymond MacIntyre, property appraiser for Highlands County, a region of central Florida popular with retirees and prime growing territory for the orange groves of the state’s struggling citrus industry.
“Like so many of these plots of land in our county, you need a Jeep, a helicopter or a parachute just to get to it. But the property tax bill gets sent to Trump Tower in New York every year, and every year the taxes get paid.”
Trump’s small parcel of land, for which records show he paid $69.87 in taxes in 2016, is one of hundreds of similarly sized and individually owned lots in an area west of Sebring’s Lake Jackson known as Orange Blossom Estates.
In the late 1960s, a company called Land Services Sebring acquired large tracts of county land and sold subdivisions with the intention of developing them into homesteads. Florida’s era of land speculation was at its peak, McIntyre says, and developers were clamouring for a piece of the action.
The company, however, became mired in a number of lawsuits and eventually folded, leaving landowners with effectively worthless lots. Some were privately developed but many more, including the majority of those in the neighborhood where the Trump lot is located, remain untouched. County records list thousands of single undeveloped plots that have been vacant for decades.
“For many of these land owners, they’ll pay more in property taxes in 15 years than the land is actually worth,” McIntyre says.
All of which makes Trump’s interest in the land, valued at only $4,280 according to the county roll, all the more curious. There are no natural resources such as gas or oil anywhere close, the county’s zoning department says. There is a nearby golf course, but it is municipally owned and not available for development. Furthermore, there are environmental restrictions on the land, which features a protected, endemic Florida grass called cut-throat, which would place further obstacles in the way of any new development.
“It’s beautiful, peaceful and quiet around here just the way it is,” said Clovena Minkah, Trump’s “next-door neighbour” who has lived there for 20 years and whose house occupies the only developed lot in the immediate vicinity.
“The deer sometimes come and sit in the yard and it only gets noisy when the kids come through on their ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] at night. And the track to my house floods every time it rains. I’ve been trying to get the county to fix that for years.”
The circumstances of Trump’s acquisition of the land, meanwhile, are equally as bewildering as his reasons for maintaining it for more than a decade. It was effectively gifted to him for $1 in July 2005 by a woman named Nazeema Carrico, who was listed in Palm Beach County records as the owner of a photographic studio specialising in adult lingerie shoots.
Carrico owned the land for only a few weeks, having bought it in June 2005 for $3,300 from a man in Ohio, who died earlier this year.
Since her divorce in 2015, Carrico, 41, now goes by the name of Nazeema Moonab and lives in a $550,000 mansion in Covington, Georgia. Records show that members of her family continue to own hundreds of small, undeveloped plots of land in Highlands County, but Carrico surrendered her own joint ownership in about 50 more to her former husband as part of a divorce settlement.
Carrico did not return messages from the Guardian seeking comment and removed her Facebook and Instagram profiles the same day the requests were made. A cousin of Carrico’s in Tamarac, South Florida, denied knowing anything about her, and two other close relatives reached by telephone elsewhere in the state hung up on the calls.
“I wouldn’t have anything to say to him anyway,” said Salmeron, who lives in South Florida and admits she has never visited the plot of land she owns.
“I bought it as a land investment, not for development, but it never worked out. I’m surprised that Trump would also be an owner.”
The Trump Organization, which manages Trump’s portfolio of real estate holdings, did not respond to requests for comment.