A New York state judge has the future of Donald Trump’s business empire in his hands.
After a contentious 11-week trial, Judge Arthur Engoron is poised to rule how much money Trump and his co-defendants owe for alleged fraud as well as whether the former president can still do business in the state. He has already ruled that Trump engaged in fraud.
The civil lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, is seeking $370 million from Trump and the other defendants (the figure was originally $250 million). She alleges that Trump filed fraudulent financial statements that allowed him to obtain loans and insurance at more favorable rates.
The trial goes to the heart of Trump’s image as a successful billionaire and includes accusations of fraud regarding his Trump Tower apartment, Mar-a-Lago estate and several golf courses, among other assets.
Engoron has said he hopes to issue a decision by January 31.
James is asking for $370 million from Trump and the co-defendants in disgorgement – or ill-gotten gains.
Engoron has already ruled that Trump has engaged in fraud and ordered the dissolution of his business empire, an action that is on hold pending Trump’s appeal. Engoron canceled business certificates for many of Trump’s entities in New York, including the Trump Organization (a sprawling entity comprised of 500 limited liability companies).
Engoron also called for a receiver to oversee the dissolution of the entities, which include buildings such as Trump Tower, 40 Wall Street and the Seven Springs family compound in Westchester County, New York.
His upcoming ruling will address six additional claims including conspiracy, issuing false financial statements, falsifying business records and insurance fraud.
The attorney general’s office argued in its closing presentation that Trump “acted with intent” to fraudulently inflate the value of his assets in his financial statements.
“The buck stopped with him,” said Andrew Amer, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, saying that Trump was responsible for the conduct Trump Org. executives Allen Weisselberg and Jeff McConney participated in to inflate his assets.
“Mr. Trump was certainly in the loop to review and approve the statements,” Amer said. “The court should infer that he acted with intent to defraud based on his extensive knowledge about these assets.
The back and forth between the judge, Trump and the former president’s lawyers during the trial was repeatedly heated. Trump’s social media messages and comments outside the court even led to a partial gag order and fines.
Engoron was quotable during the trial and in two written rulings against Trump and has not held back in criticizing the former president.
“In defendants’ world: rent-regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in the summary judgment ruling against Trump.
“That is a fantasy world, not the real world,” the judge added.
And in December, the judge wrote a scathing denial of the former president’s attempt to toss the case.
In the three-page opinion rejection the motion for a directed verdict to dismiss the case, Engoron said that experts called at trial by Trump’s attorneys were not credible and that the defense’s key arguments were unconvincing.
A valuation can be based on different criteria and analyzed different ways, the judge wrote, “But a lie is still a lie.”
In addition to banning Trump from doing business in New York for life, the attorney general is asking for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the co-CEOs of the Trump Org., to be banned from doing business in New York for five years.
But during the closing presentations earlier this month, Engoron asked pointed questions to the attorney general’s office about whether Trump’s adult sons were liable for an intent to defraud and conspiracy. (He already found them guilty of fraud.)
“What evidence do you have – I just haven’t seen it – that they knew that there was fraud?” Engoron asked.
Ivanka Trump was originally named as a defendant, but claims against her were dismissed last year by an appeals court over the statute of limitations.
Trump turned the civil trial into a series of campaign appearances, speaking to TV cameras several times each day outside of the courtroom when he was there. He has consistently framed the entire affair as a political prosecution, sought to belittle James, fought with the judge and his clerk, and accused, without proof, the attorney general and White House of colluding to keep him out of office.
“This was a political witch hunt,” Trump said in a dramatic moment in court earlier this month while speaking to Engoron. “What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me.”
Legally, Trump and his team argue that there’s no proof of an intent to defraud and that lenders were obligated to conduct their own due diligence, regardless of the valuations at the Trump Org. supplied.
Furthermore, Trump says, companies like Deutsche Bank wanted to do business with Trump Org. and went into the deals with open eyes.
Trump has already appealed the earlier Engoron ruling and has pledged to appeal whatever he rules here. It’s unclear how quickly any decision would be put in force as well.
Trump’s demeanor in and out of the courtroom led to a remarkable gag order and fines issued by Engoron against the former president.
Engoron and one of his clerks became the subject of “serious and credible” death threats – the judge was even “swatted” on the day of closing arguments this month.
In early October, Trump posted on social media a baseless allegation about Engoron’s law clerk, leading to the gag order. The judge later extended the order to include Trump’s attorneys from commenting on the judge’s private communications with his law clerk.
The order does not limit public criticism of Engoron, the district attorney or other parts of the case.
As the trial neared an end in December, Engoron reminisced.
“In a strange way, I’m gonna miss this trial,” the judge said. “It’s been an experience.”
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