N.Y. Attorney General Outlines Pattern of Possible Fraud at Trump Business – The New York Times

The attorney general, Letitia James, released new details of her investigation as she argued for the need to question Donald J. Trump and two of his children under oath.

The New York State attorney general, Letitia James, has been investigating Mr. Trump’s business practices since March 2019.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The New York State attorney general, Letitia James, accused Donald J. Trump’s family business late Tuesday of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of its assets to bolster its bottom line, saying in court papers that the company had engaged in “fraudulent or misleading” practices.

The filing came in response to Mr. Trump’s recent effort to block Ms. James from questioning him and two of his adult children under oath as part of a civil investigation of his business, the Trump Organization. Ms. James’s inquiry into Mr. Trump and the company is ongoing, and it is unclear whether her lawyers will ultimately file a lawsuit against them.

Still, the filing marked the first time that the attorney general’s office leveled such specific accusations against the former president’s company. Her broadside ratchets up the pressure on Mr. Trump as he seeks to shut down her investigation, which he has called a partisan witch hunt. Ms. James is a Democrat.

The filing outlined what Ms. James’s office termed misleading statements about the value of six Trump properties, as well as the “Trump brand.” The properties included golf clubs in Westchester County, N.Y., and Scotland, and flagship buildings such as Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street in Manhattan.

Ms. James’s filing argued that the company misstated the value of the properties to lenders, insurers and the Internal Revenue Service. Many of the statements, the filing argued, were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

Lawyers for Mr. Trump and his company could not immediately be reached for comment.

Because Ms. James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Mr. Trump and his company but cannot file criminal charges. Her inquiry is running parallel to a criminal investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, which is examining some of the same conduct. Lawyers from Ms. James’s office are working on that separate investigation, which is continuing. Mr. Bragg, also a Democrat, inherited the inquiry from his predecessor after taking office on Jan. 1.

In early December, Ms. James issued a subpoena for Mr. Trump as well as for Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, seeking to question them as part of her civil inquiry. Ms. James already questioned another of Mr. Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, in October 2020.

After receiving the subpoenas, lawyers for Mr. Trump filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt Ms. James’s civil investigation and to bar her office from participating in the district attorney’s criminal investigation. The lawsuit, which accused Ms. James of violating Mr. Trump’s constitutional rights, argued that her investigation was politically motivated and cited a long list of her public attacks on Mr. Trump.

This month, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also filed court papers in New York State seeking to block Ms. James’s subpoenas, prompting her filing on Tuesday.

Ms. James, who is running for re-election this year, argued in the court filing that while her office had compiled substantial evidence that Mr. Trump’s company had engaged in possible fraud, investigators needed to question Mr. Trump in order to determine who was responsible for “the numerous misstatements and omissions made by him or on his behalf” — and whether they were intentional.

Ms. James has been investigating Mr. Trump’s business practices since March 2019. In previous filings, she described the properties she was scrutinizing and said that her investigators were looking into whether Mr. Trump had inflated the value of various properties across the country in order to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits.

In Tuesday’s filing, she went further, giving specific examples in which she said the former president’s business had misrepresented the worth of some of its properties and showing how those misrepresentations had benefited the company, allowing it to receive favorable loans, insurance coverage and tax benefits.

The accusations center on Mr. Trump’s statements of financial condition, the annual record of his assets and liabilities that he gave to lenders and insurers. Ms. James’s office said that he “was personally involved in reviewing and approving the statements of financial condition before their issuance.”

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Numerous inquiries. Since former President Donald Trump left office, there have been many investigations and inquiries into his businesses and personal affairs. Here’s a list of those ongoing:

The filing argued that the statements made “frequent use of misleading asset valuations in order to obtain financial benefits.”

In 2015, for example, while seeking to refinance a loan on his 40 Wall Street tower in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Trump’s statement of financial condition estimated that the property was worth $735 million. Yet one lender concluded it was worth only $257 million.

Ms. James’s lawyers argue that Mr. Trump submitted at least two misleading statements to the Internal Revenue Service, saying that he substantially overstated the value of land at both his Seven Springs Estate in Westchester County and his Los Angeles Golf Club. The value of Seven Springs, Ms. James said, had been boosted by counting the value of seven nonexistent mansions, said to be worth $61 million.

They also accused the Organization of calculating the value of Trump Tower by falsely inflating the size of Mr. Trump’s longtime home: While Mr. Trump had claimed since 2012 that his triplex penthouse apartment in the building was 30,000 square feet, he had signed documents stating its size as 10,996 square feet.

The additional square footage allowed the company to claim a $327 million value for the apartment in statements of financial condition. Ms. James said that Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, had said during questioning by Ms. James’s investigators that the apartment was overvalued by “give or take” $200 million.

Mr. Trump’s company is already under indictment in Manhattan. In July, the former district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., charged the company and Mr. Weisselberg with carrying out a 15-year scheme to dole out off-the-books luxury perks to certain executives. That case is scheduled to head to trial later this year.