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Donald Trump Sued by New York Over Misleading Asset Valuations

Sept. 21, 2022, 3:27 PM

Donald Trump was sued for allegedly using fraudulent asset valuations at his real estate company, the culmination of a years-long probe by the New York attorney general into dealings by the former president and his family.

Attorney General Letitia James filed suit Wednesday in New York state court. In addition to Trump, the suit names the Trump Organization and three of the former president’s adult children -- Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump -- who are senior executives at the company.

The lawsuit is the latest legal threat to Trump as he weighs another run for the presidency in 2024. Trump has been under intense scrutiny ever since his Florida home was searched last month by FBI agents who unearthed highly classified documents taken from the White House. The Justice Department continues to probe his actions preceding the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol as well.

James’s case also comes just before the Trump Organization goes on trial on criminal tax-fraud charges next month. The company’s longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to similar charges in August, agreed to testify for the prosecution as part of a deal with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Trump has denied the allegations against him and long argued that the New York civil and criminal investigations were politically motivated. Like most elected officials in state, James and Bragg are both Democrats. Trump sued James in federal court, claiming her “harassing and overreaching” probe was tainted by her political animus toward the former president. A judge dismissed his case in May.

James has said she started the probe after Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified to Congress in 2019 that the Trump Organization regularly manipulated asset valuations to get favorable loans or tax benefits. Her office reviewed hundreds of thousands of Trump Organization records and interviewed numerous employees and lawyers involved in the company’s asset valuations to build her case.

Trump long fought subpoenas in the case, and much information about James’s probe first emerged as he and his company tried to avoid turning over documents or providing testimony. In a January motion seeking a court order compelling Trump to comply with her subpoenas, James gave detailed preview of her preliminary findings, saying her office had uncovered “significant” examples of “fraudulent or misleading” valuations.

Among other things, Trump’s financial filings have “misstated objective facts, like the size of Mr. Trump’s Trump Tower penthouse” and “miscategorized assets outside Mr. Trump’s or the Trump Organization’s control as ‘cash,’ thereby overstating his liquidity,” James said in January. She said the misleading valuations helped Trump win better terms on loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions.

Read More: Trump Asset Value Probe ‘Well Founded,’ Appeals Court Says

Foreshadowing the Justice Department’s suspicions in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, James’s lawyers thought Trump was withholding documents even after his lawyers said he complied with her subpoenas. The former president was held in contempt of court in April and fined $10,000 a day as part of James’s investigation after he failed to properly respond to a related subpoena for documents and records in his personal possession.

Trump eventually resolved the contempt finding after employees signed sworn affidavits attesting to their efforts to recover documents and racking up $110,000 in fines. Some commentators have since questioned the validity of those representations in light of similar statements by Trump lawyers that all classified documents were returned to the government.

The former president also long fought against answering James’s questions under oath. After losing an appeal, he finally sat for a deposition in August but asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and didn’t answer any questions other than to confirm his name.

Eric Trump, the former president’s son and an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, was deposed by state investigators in 2020 after fighting in court to delay the questioning. He also invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times over six hours.

Pleading the Fifth carries risks for the Trumps, especially since James’s case is civil rather than criminal. A criminal defendant’s failure to testify can’t be held against them, but jurors in a civil case are allowed to draw a negative inference about someone’s refusal to answer questions.

Read More: Trump Deposition Day: Invoking the Fifth in Showdown With AG

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Anthony Lin

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.