TRUMP ACCUSED OF FRAUD IN NY
STATE AG SAYS FORMER PRESIDENT EXAGGERATED HIS PROPERTY VALUES
Baraboo News-Republic (WI)
NEW YORK - New York's attorney general sued former President Donald Trump and his company for fraud on Wednesday, alleging they padded his net worth by billions of dollars by lying about the value of prized assets including golf courses, hotels and his homes at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.
Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization. Trump's three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, were also named as defendants, along with two longtime company executives.
In its 222 pages, the suit struck at the core of what made Trump famous, taking a black light to the image of wealth and opulence he's embraced throughout his career - first as a real estate developer, then as a reality TV host on "The Apprentice" and later as president.
It details dozens of instances of alleged fraud, many involving claims made on annual financial statements that Trump would give to banks, business associates and financial magazines as proof of his riches as he sought loans and deals.
For example, according to the lawsuit, Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment - a three-story penthouse replete with gold-plated fixtures - was nearly three times its actual size and valued the property at $327 million. No apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.
Trump applied similar fuzzy math to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, the lawsuit alleged, by valuing the private club and residence as high as $739 million - more than 10 times a more reasonable estimate of its worth. Trump's figure is based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, but deed terms prohibit that.
"This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth, to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York," James, a Democrat, said at a news conference.
"Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal. It's the art of the steal," she said, referring to the title of Trump's 1987 memoir, "The Art of the Deal."
James said her investigation uncovered potential criminal violations, including falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, insurance fraud, conspiracy and bank fraud. She said her office will refer those findings to federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said the lawsuit "is neither focused on the facts nor the law - rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General's political agenda."
James seeks to remove the Trumps from businesses engaged in the alleged fraud and wants an independent monitor appointed for no less than five years to oversee the Trump Organization's compliance, financial reporting, valuations and disclosures to lenders, insurers and tax authorities.
She also seeks to permanently bar Weisselberg and McConney from serving in the financial control function of any New York corporation or similar business entity registered and/or licensed in New York State.
James' lawsuit comes amid a swirl of unprecedented legal challenges for the former president, including an FBI investigation into Trump's handling of classified records and inquiries into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The Trump Organization is scheduled to go on trial in October in a criminal case alleging that it schemed to give untaxed perks to senior executives, including its longtime finance chief Weisselberg, who alone took more than $1.7 million in extras.
Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty Aug. 18. His plea agreement requires him to testify at the company's trial before he starts a five-month jail sentence. If convicted, the Trump Organization could face a fine of double the amount of unpaid taxes.
While James' lawsuit is being pursued in civil court, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been working with James' office on a parallel criminal investigation.
Trump cited fear of prosecution in August when he refused to answer questions in a deposition with James, invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
The odds of a criminal prosecution have been seen as falling in recent months after Bragg allowed a grand jury to disband without bringing charges. Bragg said again Wednesday, though, that the criminal investigation was "active and ongoing."
State law allows a broad range of civil remedies against companies committing commercial fraud, including revoking licenses to conduct business in the state, removing company officers and forcing the payment of restitution or disgorgement of ill-gotten gains.
James' office could also seek to ban Trump from being involved in certain types of businesses, as happened in January when a judge barred ex-drug company CEO Martin Shkreli from the pharmaceutical industry for life.