NEW YORK: Donald Trump and his family business were found liable for fraud on Tuesday by a New York judge in state attorney-general Letitia James’ civil lawsuit accusing the former US president of illegally inflating his assets and net worth.
The decision by Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York state court in Manhattan is a near total defeat for Trump, and limits the scope of a scheduled Oct 2 trial largely to how much the defendants should pay in damages.
Engoron also ordered the cancellation of business certificates for the Trump Organization and other corporate defendants, and sanctioned Trump’s lawyers for contributing to their clients’ “obstreperous” conduct and making “preposterous” legal arguments during the case.
Lawyers for Trump and the other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
James sued Trump in Sept 2022, accusing him, his adult children and the Trump Organization of lying for a decade about asset values and his net worth to get better terms on bank loans and insurance.
The attorney general has said Trump inflated his net worth by as much as US$2.23 billion, and by one measure as much as US$3.6 billion, on annual financial statements given to banks and insurers.
James has said assets whose values were inflated included Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, his penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, and various office buildings and golf courses.
Engoron said James had established liability for false valuations of several properties, including Mar-a-Lago and the penthouse.
The judge also chided Trump for offering defenses in a deposition that were “wholly without basis in law or fact.”
“He claims that if the values of the property have gone up in the years since the (financial statements) were submitted, then the numbers were not inflated at that time,” Engoron wrote.
“He also seems to imply that the numbers cannot be inflated because he could find a ‘buyer from Saudi Arabia’ to pay any price he suggests.”
Slew of litigation
Engoron ruled three months after a state appeals court said some of James’ claims were too old because statutes of limitations had expired in either July 2014 or February 2016.
Trump has said the decision essentially gutted James’ lawsuit, while James has said Trump’s conduct reflected a series of “continuing wrongs” that she could prove at trial.
Despite facing a slew of litigation, Trump holds a commanding lead in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges in four indictments accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election, hoarding classified materials, and covering up hush money payments to a porn star.
Trump also faces a January civil trial over damages he owes for defaming a writer who claimed he raped her.
Engoron’s decision does not automatically mean the trial will begin next Monday.
Trump has sued to delay the trial, accusing Engoron and James of ignoring the appeals court order to narrow the case.
He and the other defendants have said this made it impossible to prepare for trial because they did not know which claims they would have to defend against.
The appeals court is expected to rule on that request this week. - Reuters