Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers and New York state investigators duked it out in court Friday morning as both sides sought to score a decisive victory in a trial that threatens to topple his real estate empire and drain his bank accounts.
“There was rampant fraud in the preparation of Trump’s personal financial reports,” said Andrew Amer, an attorney with the New York Attorney General’s Office. “The defendants repeatedly and persistently used these fraudulent statements with banks and insurance companies in transactions to obtain financial advantage.”
Amer argued that Trump bears “ultimate responsibility” for how he falsified personal financial reports to inflate the value of his properties, increasing his net worth by $2.2 billion or more. The former president’s own records form the backbone of the $250 million lawsuit the AG’s office filed last year against Trump, his top deputies and the heirs he appointed as Trump Organization executives.
“To the extent that they try to blame others or downplay their role, that does not protect them from liability,” Amer said, pointing out that the evidence shows the former president cannot possibly claim that he is not directly responsible.
In one example, Amer noted how Trump repeatedly valued his coastal Mar-a-Lago property in South Florida at 28 times more than the Palm Beach County government’s official property appraiser. A graphic displayed in the courtroom showed the former president’s winter home was valued by the county at $25 million in 2018 – while the real estate mogul pegged the value at $714 million.
In another example, the AG’s office pointed out that the Trumps simply collected a 30% “brand premium” at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida. They also increased the theoretical purchase price of this company by buying up $41 million in club memberships – although these contributions are refundable and would have to be repaid under certain circumstances.
“He can’t have it both ways,” Amer said, pointing out that Trump added value on one side of the balance sheet while setting that liability at zero dollars.
The evidence presented was extensive. Investigators found that Trump deceived insurance companies by lying about his cash reserves. They claimed the Trumps inflated the value of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan by an estimated $178 million by falsely declaring funds as “stabilized income” when that was not the case. And in one of the most brazen examples, investigators pointed out that when the Trumps were supposed to list deals with outside companies, they actually included management contracts between business units of the Trump Organization.
“Money that just flowed from one pocket to another,” Amer said.
To dispel the notion that these real estate deals are too old to sue — a key sticking point in this case — government investigators explained how Trump continued to profit handsomely from the lies years after he made them. In his presentation to the judge, Amer pointed out that the Trumps made a deal to acquire the Doral Resort & Spa in suburban Miami in 2012, but then filed fake financial reports with the bank every year until 2021.
Abandoning this would amount to a “license to commit fraud on any existing loan,” years later in terms of mandatory financial disclosures, Amer said.
At the end of their presentation, the AG’s lawyers urged the judge to firmly declare that fraud had already been proven – paving the way for the upcoming trial to be simply an assessment of how much money the Trumps will pay in punishment should.
As of 11:25 a.m., Trump’s lawyers had not yet spoken to the court. But they questioned the AG’s authority to pursue this lawsuit, arguing that it aims to crack down on real estate deals that are too old to even be tested in court.
The AG hopes that Judge Arthur F. Engoron, already familiar with the long-running investigation and the case, will conclude that Trump’s lies have been fully proven – and clearly side with law enforcement before the trial begins .
In the meantime, Trump’s team wants to convince Engoron that there is no real case here. The five-member legal team in court has also asked the judge to punish the attorney’s office for wasting everyone’s time on “frivolous” litigation.
However, in previous court hearings, Engoron has repeatedly expressed complete astonishment at the extent of Trump’s lies and often pointed out that on paper, Trump tripled the size of his Manhattan penthouse in Trump Tower, simply compensating for the existence of 20,000 square feet, which is the In this case alone, his assets decreased by more than $200 million.
At Friday’s hearing, prosecutors presented testimony from the Trump Organization’s disgraced chief financial officer, convicted tax cheat Allen Weisselberg, who admitted that the penthouse size listed in official business documents was completely fake. The judge raised the possibility that this outright fabrication was an “honest mistake,” but then quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who served on the Supreme Court in the early 20th century.
“Even a dog knows the difference between kicking and tripping. There is a difference between lying and making false statements,” Engoron said.
This is the last major fight expected before a trial scheduled to begin Oct. 2.
In the background, however, a cloud temporarily hangs over the fall. Both sides are simultaneously engaged in a dispute in the state’s appeals courts over the planned start of the trial. Last week, Trump’s team took the unusual step of suing the judge directly to force him to make key decisions about the statute of limitations – an attempt that could delay the trial if the First Department appeals court takes longer than a few days .
But the move was widely viewed as premature – and foolish. Engoron is expected to make a decision soon on Friday’s arguments, which would render the appeal moot.
The AG’s attempt to hold Trump accountable for decades-old deals has long been a point of contention in the case. In his testimony last May, Trump appeared particularly outraged at how far the attorney general’s office had gone in its lawsuit, and railed against Kevin Wallace, an investigator who interviewed him.
“I don’t know how you look back on 2011 because I always thought there was a statute of limitations. I’m the only one who doesn’t have a statute of limitations. So at some point you have to explain it,” Trump said. “Well, I think it’s very unfair.”