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Donald Trump hit with $355 million penalty, 3-year ban for fraudulently inflating property price to get loans

The lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Trump and his family businesses of overstating his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion a year over a decade to fool bankers into giving him better loan terms.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 New York Updated on: February 17, 2024 7:20 IST
Former US President Donald Trump
Image Source : AP Former US President Donald Trump

New York: In a major blow to former US President Donald Trump before the elections, a New York judge imposed a USD 364 million penalty for fraudulently overstating his net worth to dupe lenders. Besides, Trump also was barred from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years.

Judge Arthur Engoron issued his decision after a two-and-a-half-month trial that saw the Republican presidential front-runner bristling under oath that he was the victim of a rigged legal system. The stiff penalty was a victory for New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, who sued Trump over what she said was not just harmless bragging but years of deceptive practices as he built the multinational collection of skyscrapers, golf courses, and other properties that catapulted him to wealth, fame and the White House.

Trump's lawyers had said even before the verdict that they would appeal.

Why did Donald Trump inflate property prices?

James sued Trump in 2022 under a state law that authorised her to investigate persistent fraud in business dealings. The suit accused Trump and his co-defendants of routinely puffing up his financial statements to create an illusion his properties were more valuable than they were. State lawyers said Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as USD 3.6 billion one year. By making himself seem richer, Trump qualified for better loan terms, saved on interest, and was able to complete projects he might otherwise not have finished, state lawyers said.

Even before the trial began, Engoron ruled that James had proven Trump's financial statements were fraudulent. The judge ordered some of Trump's companies removed from his control and dissolved.

An appeals court put that decision on hold. In that earlier ruling, the judge found that, among other tricks, Trump's financial statements had wrongly claimed his Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size and overvalued his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, even though he had surrendered rights to develop it for any uses but a club.

What Trump says

Trump, one of 40 witnesses to testify at the trial, said his financial statements understated his net worth and that banks did their research and were happy with his business. “There was no victim. There was no anything,” Trump testified in November. During the trial, Trump called the judge “extremely hostile” and the attorney general “a political hack.” In a six-minute diatribe during closing arguments in January, Trump proclaimed “I am an innocent man” and called the case a “fraud on me.”

Trump and his lawyers have said the outside accountants that helped prepare the statements should've flagged any discrepancies and that the documents came with disclaimers that shielded him from liability. They also argued that some of the allegations were barred by the statute of limitations.

The suit is one of many legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House. He has been indicted four times in the last year — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels on his behalf.

Trump and his controversies 

On Thursday, a judge confirmed Trump's hush-money trial will start on March 25 and a judge in Atlanta heard arguments on whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from his Georgia election interference case because she had a personal relationship with a special prosecutor she hired. Those criminal accusations haven't appeared to undermine his march toward the Republican presidential nomination, but civil litigation has threatened him financially.

On January 26, a jury ordered Trump to pay USD 83. 3 million to writer E.Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. That's on top of the USD 5 million a jury awarded Carroll in a related trial last year. In 2022, the Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud and fined USD 1.6 million in an unrelated criminal case for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars.

James had asked the judge to impose a penalty of at least USD 370 million. Engoron decided the case because neither side sought a jury and state law doesn't allow for juries for this type of lawsuit. Because it was civil, not criminal in nature, the case did not carry the potential of prison time.

James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, started scrutinising his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to obtain financing to buy the NFL's Buffalo Bills. James' office previously sued Trump for misusing his charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Trump was ordered to pay USD 2 million to an array of charities as a fine and the charity, the Trump Foundation, was shut down.

(With inputs from agencies)

Also Read: Trump not immune to prosecution for attempting to overturn 2020 elections, rules US federal court


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