WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida state representative wants Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club, shut down for violating local coronavirus safety restrictions during a New Year's Eve bash where attendees celebrated without wearing masks.
Social media posts from the New Year’s Eve event show a crowd of maskless revelers, including Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr., dancing and listening to bands in the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom at the club.
Palm Beach County officials said Monday they were reviewing the complaint from state Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democrat from nearby Lake Worth Beach.
“You are correct that there is a mask order in place in Palm Beach County and all individuals need to be in compliance with that law,” Todd Bonlarron, assistant Palm Beach County administrator wrote to Hardy. “We take these allegations very seriously as we do every complaint we have received regarding an individual or a business related to compliance issues.”
Hardy said “anybody with eyes” can see that partygoers at Mar-a-Lago were not complying with the order.
“They put their desire to have fun over the health of our residents,” Hardy said. “Imagine the most reckless thing you could possibly do, and that’s what they did. And they smiled and they laughed and they posted it on social media. They have no shame about it.”
Neither the club nor the Trump Organization responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
The county mask ordinance mandates facial coverings for anyone “visiting or working in any business or establishment, including entering, exiting, and otherwise moving around within the establishment.”
The county’s code enforcement “Covid Strike Team” has inspected more than 8,000 businesses since the mask mandate took effect on June 19, according to available data. The team issued 86 violations and ordered 27 businesses — bars, restaurants and adult clubs — closed, according to data from the county. All have been reopened.
Coronavirus cases have been spiking in Florida for weeks, with daily case numbers usually higher than 10,000 and one day reaching 17,000. South Florida, including Palm Beach County, has been the state’s hot spot for the virus for months. And on Friday, Florida became the third state to identify a case of the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, when it was found in a patient in Martin County, adjacent to Palm Beach County.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in September prohibited local officials from fining individuals for violating mask ordinances and he has not issued a statewide mask mandate. Localities are allowed, however, to levy fines against businesses.
The code enforcement teams generally try to educate business owners before fining them or shutting them down, according to Assistant County Administrator Patrick Rutter.
One of the guests at the Mar-a-Lago event on New Year’s Eve said the club took the temperature of everyone entering, and also made masks available.
“It was a great party. I don’t know why it’s being called a maskless party,” said George Santos, a New York Republican who recently lost his congressional bid. “I arrived wearing a mask, my fiance wore a mask, we wore masks until we sat down. They had mask stations, they had sanitizing stations. Every single one of the staff members had on a mask.”
Santos said photos and videos showing unmasked guests celebrating in close quarters don’t tell the whole story.
“Can you blame people for wanting to let loose just a little bit? We went through hell last year,” Santos said. “The venue did the best in their ability to go by the book.”
Santos said he and his fiance were doxed, in which their personal information was put online, after he posted photos of the pair at the event on social media.
“We got home and our house was egged. We live in a small townhouse, and our house was completely egged. We up and left. I was fearful,” he said, adding that his fiance was fired from his job as a pharmacist over the controversy.
“My fiance got a call from his pharmacy and they said, ‘We can’t let you come down here, they’re threatening to burn the place to the ground.’ . . . If he will ever be able to go back to work, I don’t know.”
The Post could not independently verify the information.
Ticket prices to the party were not disclosed, but in past years they have sold for $600 to $700.
Trump had been expected to attend the event, as he has in the past, but he left a day early to return to Washington.
Trump is expected to move to Mar-a-Lago after his presidency ends Jan. 20. Hardy said it’s important that local officials make sure he and his businesses follow local laws.
“Trump is going to be a full-time Palm Beach resident in less than 20 days. Either we stand up to Trump when he breaks the law, or we stand down and let him flout the law and walk all over us, endanger the health of our residents,” Hardy said. “We can’t afford to allow him or any other business to have special treatment, because the stakes are too high.”
Some of Trump’s Palm Beach neighbors sent a letter to the town council last month demanding that it tell him he can’t make Mar-a-Lago his residence while also operating it as a club. Their complaint dates to an agreement Trump signed in the early 1990s when he converted the historic estate — at the time a run-down mansion — from a residence to a private club.
The club’s popularity soared after he became president. The Trump Organization doubled membership initiation fees to $200,000 in 2017, with annual dues of $14,000.
Trump and the first lady changed their domicile from New York City to Palm Beach in 2018, using Mar-a-Lago as their official address. Both have voted in Palm Beach County since then. The president has made more than 30 trips to his club since he was elected in 2016. He has conducted White House business there and also frequently posed for photo ops with club members. He named two club members as ambassadors — Robin Bernstein to the Dominican Republic and Lana Marks to South Africa.
Palm Beach Town Manager Kirk Blouin said that while the town’s police enforce the mask mandate in public spaces, they don’t go into private businesses such as Mar-a-Lago.
“We can’t go into private property uninvited,” Blouin said. “We’re not in private clubs unless there’s public access.”
Blouin said the town has worked with civic groups and others to educate them on the mask mandate.
“You can lead a horse to water,” Blouin said. “But I don’t know what more we can do at this point.”
David A. Fahrenthold and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.