Judge rules Trump engaged in repeated fraud, effectively deciding central question in $250M civil trial

The civil case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 2.

September 26, 2023, 7:02 PM

Former President Donald Trump submitted "fraudulent valuations" for assets that were then used by himself, his eldest sons and his business to obtain better loan and insurance terms, a judge in New York decided Tuesday before ordering the cancelation of the company's business certificates in New York.

The judge's determination came as he granted partial summary judgment in New York Attorney General Letitia James' multimillion-dollar civil fraud lawsuit.

Judge Arthur Engoron cites "false and misleading square footage" of Trump's Fifth Avenue apartment among other faulty valuations.

The judge immediately canceled all of the defendants' business certificates in New York, and ordered that they must recommend no more than three potential independent receivers to manage the dissolution of the canceled LLCs within 10 days.

The move severely restricts Trump's ability to conduct business in New York going forward.

The judge said Trump and the other defendants have a "propensity to engage in persistent fraud," severely undercutting the defense Trump will offer when the case goes on trial next month.

Engoron wrote in his order that Trump, his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr., and the other defendants fraudulently inflated the value of properties including Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and his own triplex apartment in New York City, as well as 40 Wall Street, Trump Park Avenue, multiple golf courses, and an estate in upstate New York.

PHOTO: In this June 24, 2023, file photo, Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at an event in Washington, D.C.
In this June 24, 2023, file photo, Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at an event in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images, FILE

Eric Trump, who runs the Trump Organization's day-to-day operations, responded on X, previously known as Twitter, saying, "Today, I lost all faith in the New York legal system. Never before have I seen such hatred toward one person by a judge."

"We have run an exceptional company -- never missing a loan payment, making banks hundreds of millions of dollars, developing some of the most iconic assets in the world. Yet today, the persecution of our family continues..." he said.

Donald Trump, also on X, reposted a previous post in which he said, "THE BANKS WERE PAID BACK IN FULL, SOMETIMES EARLY, THERE WERE NO DEFAULTS, THE BANKS MADE MONEY, WERE REPRESENTED BY THE BEST LAW FIRMS, & WERE VERY 'HAPPY.' THERE WERE NO VICTIMS!"

In a statement to ABC News, Trump attorney Alina Habba said they intend to "immediately" appeal the decision, calling the Trump Organization "an American success story."

James, in a statement, said, "Today, a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud. We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial."

Trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 2, although upcoming rulings may alter that schedule. Among other determinations, the trial will decide how much Trump will have to pay in penalties.

In his ruling Tuesday, Engoron said Trump inflated the value of his own Trump Tower residence between $114 million and $207 million -- including claiming the property was triple its actual size in square feet.

"A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud," Engoron said in his order.

Engoron also found that Trump inflated the value of his Mar-a-Lago club by at least 2,300%, claiming the property assessed by the county between $18 million and $27.6 million was actually worth between $426,529,614 and $612,110,496.

In total, Engoron wrote that the New York attorney general "submitted conclusive evidence" that the defendants overvalued their assets between $812 million and $2.2 billion.

In his 35-page order, the judge described the conduct of the defendants in the case as belonging in a "fantasy world," and sharply criticized what he called the "bogus arguments" made by the defense.

"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, citing multiple arguments made by defense to justify the allegedly inflated valuations of Trump's assets. "That is a fantasy world, not the real world."

Engoron also appeared to use the words of former President Trump against him, citing a transcript from a deposition of Trump about the inclusion of so-called "worthless clauses," disclaimers included in financial statements which defense has argued insulate the defendants from liability.

"However, defendants' reliance on these 'worthless' disclaimers is worthless," Engoron wrote, rejecting a frequent argument cited by the defense.

Engoron similarly disagreed with the defense's argument that property values were "subjective" and therefore could not be fraudulent.

"The defenses Donald Trump attempts to articulate in his sworn deposition are wholly without basis in law or fact," Engoron wrote, saying that the documents presented to the court "clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business."

Engoron also sanctioned Donald Trump's lawyers for peddling "bogus arguments," ordering five attorneys to pay $7,500 each. Christopher Kise, Michael Madaio, Clifford S. Robert, Michael Farina and Armen Morian were each ordered to pay within 30 days.

A lawyer for the New York attorney general's office had earlier described "staggering" misrepresentations about the value of Trump's properties and assets, arguing that Trump engaged in a prolonged "bait-and-switch" to lower his tax burden while inflating his assets to obtain favorable loan terms.

ABC News' Olivia Rubin and Lalee Ibssa contributed to this report.

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