NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Tuesday that Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House.
Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that the former president and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing financing.
Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee the Trump Organization’s operations.
A message seeking comment was left for a Trump spokesperson. Trump has long insisted he did nothing wrong.
The decision, days before the start of a non-jury trial in James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.
Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance costs, Engoron found.
Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing.
“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 his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
Manhattan prosecutors had looked into bringing criminal charges over the same conduct but declined to do so, leaving James to sue Trump and seek penalties that aim to disrupt his and his family’s ability to do business in the state.
Engoron’s ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolves the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but several others remain. He’ll decide on those claims and James’ request for $250 million in penalties at a trial starting October 2. Trump’s lawyers have asked an appeals court for a temporary delay.
Trump’s lawyers, in their own summary judgment bid, had asked the judge to throw out the case.
They argued James wasn’t legally allowed to file the lawsuit because there wasn’t any evidence that the public was harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Engoron, noting that he had “emphatically rejected” those arguments earlier in the case, equated them to the “time-loop in the film ‘Groundhog Day.’” With his ruling, he fined five defense lawyers $7,500 each as punishment for “engaging in repetitive, frivolous” arguments, but denied James’ request to sanction Trump, his two eldest sons and other defendants.