NEW YORK - New York's attorney general is suing former President Donald Trump and his company, accusing business fraud involving some of their most prized assets, including properties in Manhattan, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit, which follows a three-year civil investigation by Attorney General Letitia James, also names Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump — the former president's eldest children — as well as two longtime executives for the Trump Organization, former CFO Allen Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney.
"Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself, and cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us," James said at the news conference.
Her office has investigated what she said were the company's fraudulent or misleading valuations for its properties on annual financial statements that were given to potential business partners, banks or tax officials. The goal of the fraud was to burnish Trump's billionaire image and the value of his properties when doing so gave him an advantage, while playing down the value of assets at other times for tax purposes, the attorney general's office has said.
"All told, we uncovered more than 200 examples of false and misleading asset valuations that were used on his statements," James said. "The pattern of fraud and deception that was used by Mr. Trump at the Trump Organization for their own financial benefit is astounding, inflating the values of assets by whatever means necessary to increase Mr Trump's purported net worth. And then that net worth was used to further enhance his financial standing, intentionally misrepresenting his financial, his financials to obtain incredible economic benefit."
In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump called the lawsuit "Another Witch Hunt." He also denounced James as "a fraud who campaigned on a 'get Trump' platform" and said she filed the lawsuit because of "her really bad poll numbers." (James is running for re-election; she had a double-digit lead over her GOP challenger in a poll released in early August.)
Donald Trump (Official White House photo)
Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, said the lawsuit is "neither focused on the facts nor the law" but is about "advancing the Attorney General's political agenda."
"It is abundantly clear that the Attorney General's Office has exceeded its statutory authority by prying into transactions where absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place," Habba said. "We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General's meritless claims."
James is seeking to remove the Trumps from businesses engaged in the alleged fraud and wants an independent monitor appointed for no less than five years to oversee the Trump Organization’s compliance, financial reporting, valuations and disclosures to lenders, insurers and tax authorities.
She is seeking to replace the current trustees of Trump’s revocable trust, which controls his business interests, with independent trustees, to bar Trump and the Trump Organization from entering into commercial real estate acquisitions for five years, from obtaining loans from banks in New York for five years and permanently bar Trump and three of his adult children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation or similar business entity registered and/or licensed in New York State.
"This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth to achieve to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York," James said. "Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal. It's the art of the steal. And there cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in the state. And former presidents are no different."
In August, Weisselberg, a senior Trump Organization adviser and the former CFO, pleaded guilty to state tax-evasion charges in connection with accepting a free apartment and other benefits from the company. In a plea deal with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, he agreed to testify at a criminal trial against the Trump Organization before serving a five-month jail sentence.
For several years, the DA's office has been conducting a criminal probe into Trump and his company in parallel to the attorney general's civil investigation. When Alvin Bragg Jr. became district attorney in January, he raised questions internally with his staff about the viability of a criminal case against the former president. However, after some public backlash, Bragg said the investigation was moving forward.
"Our criminal investigation concerning former President Donald J. Trump, the Trump Organization, and its leadership is active and ongoing," Bragg said in a statement released Wednesday.
Former federal prosecutor Doug Burns, so far, does not see this as a compelling case. He said lying to get bank loans can be just a part of doing business as long as the banks get paid back.
"If I lie to get a loan, that's the crime. But in the real world, let's not kid ourselves, if the loan then fully performs, prosecutors look at that much, much differently," Burns said. "The bottom line is, banks aren't bringing the case."
Trump, once again, said that he is being unfairly targeted. He appeared on Hannity on Fox News Wednesday evening.
"This was just a continuation of the witch hunt that began when I came down the escalator at Trump Tower," Trump said.
With The Associated Press.