20th January, 2022
New York state’s attorney general, Letitia James has accused Donald Trump’s family business of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets to obtain financial benefits.
She cited significant new evidence of possible fraud.
The accusations by Attorney General Letitia James mark a substantial escalation of her civil probe into the Republican former U.S. president’s business, the Trump Organisation, and the roles of his adult children.
They are part of her effort to force Donald Trump and his children Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump to comply with her subpoenas to testify under oath, which the family has asked a judge to block.
Neither Trump nor his children have been accused of criminal wrongdoing. While James cannot file criminal charges because her probe is civil, she can sue the Trumps and the company.
James is examining whether the Trumps violated a New York law targeting “persistent fraud or illegality,” allowing her to seek damages or a court-ordered halt to any wrongdoing.
Many of James’ accusations centre on Donald Trump’s annual “statements of financial condition,” which give lenders and other counter-parties the values and liabilities associated with various assets.
The properties are golf clubs in Aberdeen, Scotland, and suburban Westchester County near New York City, the Seven Springs Estate in Westchester, buildings on Wall Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, and Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower.
James said she found evidence that Trump was “personally involved” in approving the statements, and used them “in numerous commercial transactions for his own financial benefit.”
She said one statement in June 2015 valued Trump’s building at 40 Wall Street at $735.4 million, tacking on nearly $200 million to its appraised value, a mere eight months after one lender valued the same building at $257 million.
James said Trump inflated the values of the Scotland golf club and Seven Springs in part based on assumptions that residential housing could be built there.
She also said Trump in his 2015 and 2016 statements overstated the value of his penthouse apartment, putting it at $327 million by claiming it contained 30,000 square feet and not the 10,996 square feet described in various documents he signed.
Under questioning by her office, Weisselberg conceded that “this amounted to an overstatement of ‘give or take’ $200 million,” James said in a filing.
Trump has called the nearly three-year probe by James, a Democrat, a political “witch hunt.”
In filings late Tuesday with a New York state court in Manhattan, James described what she called misleading statements about the values of six Trump properties, as well as the “Trump Brand.”
James has been investigating whether real estate values were inflated to obtain bank loans and reduced to lower tax bills, and her filing described evidence of misstatements to lenders, insurers and the Internal Revenue Service.
The attorney general wants a judge to order the Trumps to testify within 21 days.
“We have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organisation falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit,” James said in a statement.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, in a statement called James’ accusations “merely the latest in a long line of unfounded attacks against my client and an obvious attempt to distract the public from her own inappropriate conduct. Letitia, you are not above the law.”
The Trump Organisation in a statement said it will defend against James’ “baseless” accusations, accusing her of twisting the facts and misleading the public because she faces “the stark reality that she has no case.”
James’ probe also partially overlaps a criminal probe by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, which James joined in May, into the Trump Organisation’s practices.
The attorney general said the Trump Organisation has “not made anything approaching a complete production of documents for Mr. Trump,” including from cabinets holding his files.