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Trump should pay $370m and be barred from New York business, state AG argues

Letitia James submits final briefs before closing arguments in a case that imperils his business empire

Alex Woodward
Friday 05 January 2024 19:34 GMT
The Trump Organization on trial: How it happened

Donald Trump and his co-defendants in a sprawling civil case alleging years of fraud within his real estate empire should be forced to pay more than $370m and effectively barred from doing business in New York, according to the state’s attorney general.

Several lengthy final briefs submitted to New York County Supreme Court on Friday summarise arguments from Mr Trump’s attorneys as well as Attorney General Letitia James’s long-running case and arguments against the former president and his chief associates, who faced a 44-day trial stemming from her blockbuster lawsuit against them.

The filings arrive one week before closing arguments in the case. Judge Arthur Engoron is expected to issue a decision by the end of January.

The judge’s pretrial ruling effectively ordered the dissolution of Mr Trump’s New York-based real estate empire, what the former president has labelled the “corporate death penalty” against him.

That order has been put on hold pending appeal while the trial played out in lower Manhattan.

On Friday, Ms James’s office added several other sanctions in her request, including “lifetime injunctions” that bar Mr Trump and former Trump Organization executives Allen Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney from “participating in the real estate industry in New York State or from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation or other legal entity are necessary and appropriate.”

Evidence collected by her office, expert witness testimony and courtroom testimony from Mr Trump himself, as well as his adult sons and co-defendants Donald Trump Jr and Eric Jr, is “conclusive,” according to the filing.

The evidence proves “numerous overt acts by Weisselberg, McConney, Trump, Donald Trump Jr, and Eric Trump in furtherance of the conspiracy to falsify business records and the conspiracy to issue false financial statements,” the brief states.

Ms James’s lawsuit accuses Mr Trump and his co-defendants of defrauding banks and other financial institutions by inflating his net worth and assets on annual statements of financial conditions – documents at the heart of the case – to secure favourable financing terms for some of his star properties.

Judge Engoron’s pretrial judgment found the defendants liable for fraud, leaving a trial to determine what they owe and whether the attorney general succeeds on six other claims against them, including insurance fraud and conspiracy.

Ms James initially sought $250m in so-called “ill-gotten gains” that Mr Trump and others received as a result of favourable financing terms.

Her new figure in the sanctions outlined on Friday stems from testimony from a star financial expert witness who claimed that Deutsche Bank, the former president’s former chief lender, lost tens of millions of dollars in interest that lenders should have charged if they based those terms on financial documents that accurately captured Mr Trump’s net worth.

“Defendants reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains through their unlawful conduct,” according to the filing from Ms James’s office.

“That misconduct occurred on the watch” of the Trump Organization’s current officials, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, “who perpetuated the scheme” to inflate those financial documents, the attorney general’s office stated.

And “on their watch,” the company’s then-chief financial officer Mr Weisselberg and controller Mr McConney “confessed to committing multiple acts relating to tax fraud, and a jury convicted the company for that same criminal conduct.

They were allowed to remain on the payroll and were rewarded “with lucrative severance packages that restricted their ability to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, rather than immediately terminating their employment,” according to the attorney general’s office.

Ms James’s office has asked the judge to appoint an independent monitor “to closely oversee the company for at least the next five years” and “to impose statewide permanent industry bars” against Mr Trump, Mr Weisselberg and Mr McConney, with five-year bans against Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

A filing from an attorney for the Trump family argues that the trial failed to show that Mr Trump and his sons “had anything more than a peripheral knowledge or involvement in the creation, preparation, or use” of those allegedly fraudulent statements of financial condition.

“Accordingly, the court should render judgment in favor of Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, dismissing this action against them in its entirety,” according to a filing from attorney Clifford Robert.

Ms James’s office “has woefully failed to prove her case and is not entitled to any of the relief sought in this action,” defendants’ attorneys argued.

Any errors in accounting “happen all the time” and, if they do not indicate fraud such as “concealment, forgery, or deceit, then there is no basis to determine that these [statements of financial condition] are fraudulent, and any misstatements are just accidental errors,” attorneys wrote.

Attorneys will return to Judge Engoron’s courtroom on 11 January to deliver closing arguments in the case, which Mr Trump’s attorneys have repeatedly tried to toss out entirely.

The case is among several legal challenges facing Mr Trump as he seeks the Republican nomination for president, and one that targets the narrative of his financial success that built up his political persona in the first place.

Mr Trump, who is not obligated to attend any of the proceedings, has sat with his attorneys for several days of the trial. He has also used the news cameras pointed outside the court’s doors to rage against the case, his political opponents, the judge, the attorney general, witnesses and court staff.

Judge Engoron issued two gag orders in the case after Mr Trump and his attorneys targeted his chief clerk, and a state appeals court upheld the orders after the lower Manhattan courthouse was flooded with death threats.

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