NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — Donald Trump and his sons Eric and Don Jr committed fraud by inflating the value of the real estate and financial assets of the Trump Organization for years, a New York judge ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling by Judge Arthur Engoron is a setback for the former president ahead of a trial in the civil case due to begin on Monday and a partial victory for New York state Attorney General Letitia James.
James has accused Trump, his two eldest sons and other Trump Organization executives of lying to tax collectors, lenders and insurers for years in a scheme that routinely exaggerated the value of their properties.
Trump’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the case ahead of the trial by granting what is known as a summary judgment in his favor.
James had also asked for a summary judgment, however, seeking that Trump be found liable ahead of the trial and the judge sided with the attorney general.
In addition to finding that Trump and his sons committed fraud, the judge also revoked the business licenses that allowed the Trump Organization to operate some of its New York properties.
James is seeking US$250 million in penalties and the removal of Trump and his sons from management of the family empire, the Trump Organization.
James claims that Trump and his associates submitted “grossly inflated” numbers to banks and insurers each year between 2011 and 2021 “to secure and maintain loans and insurance on more favorable terms.”
They allegedly fraudulently overvalued the net worth of Trump company assets by billions of dollars, resulting in “hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings and profits.”
James has alleged that the overvaluation of Trump’s assets was between US$1.9 billion and US$3.6 billion per year.
In his ruling, Engoron accused Trump, who gave a sworn deposition in the case, and his attorneys of “reliance on bogus arguments.”
“In defendants’ world: rent-regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land,” the judge said. “This is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
Among the properties falsely overvalued — by between US$114 million to US$207 million — was Trump’s apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, whose square footage was given as 30,000 square feet when it is actually 10,996 square feet.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” the judge said.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denounced the case as a “witch hunt,” calling James, who is a Democrat and Black, “racist.”
In January, the Trump Organization was fined US$1.6 million by a New York judge in a criminal tax and financial fraud case.
The 77-year-old twice-impeached Trump also faces federal criminal charges for the mishandling of classified documents and conspiracy charges for trying to overturn the 2020 election results.
He also faces charges in New York for alleged hush money payments to a porn star and in Georgia for pressuring officials to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory in the southern state.
Trump was also found liable in a civil trial in May for sexually abusing a onetime magazine columnist in 1996 and for defaming her in comments made last year.
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