New York state’s attorney general has accused Donald Trump’s family business of repeatedly misrepresenting the value of assets to obtain financial benefits, citing what the attorney general said was significant new evidence of possible fraud.
The accusations by attorney general Letitia James mark a substantial escalation of her civil investigation into the Republican former US president’s business, the Trump Organisation, and the roles of his adult children.
Neither Mr Trump nor his children have been accused of criminal wrongdoing. While Ms James cannot file criminal charges because her investigation is civil, she can sue the Trumps and the company.
Ms James is examining whether the Trumps violated a New York law targeting “persistent fraud or illegality”, allowing her to seek damages or a court-ordered halt to any wrongdoing.
Mr Trump has called the nearly three-year investigation by Ms James, a Democrat, a political “witch hunt”.
In filings late on Tuesday with a New York state court in Manhattan, Ms James described what she called misleading statements about the values of six Trump properties, as well as the “Trump Brand”.
The properties are golf clubs in Aberdeen, Scotland, and suburban Westchester County near New York City, the Seven Springs estate in Westchester, buildings on Wall Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, and Mr Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower.
Ms James’s investigation has been focusing on whether real estate values were inflated to obtain bank loans and reduced to lower tax bills, and her filings described evidence of misstatements to lenders, insurers and the Internal Revenue Service.
The attorney general wants a judge to order the Trumps to testify within 21 days.
“We have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J Trump and the Trump Organisation falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit,” Ms James said in a statement.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Mr Trump, in a statement called Ms James’s accusations “merely the latest in a long line of unfounded attacks against my client”.
The Trump Organisation in a statement said it will defend against Ms James’s “baseless” accusations, accusing her of twisting the facts and misleading the public because she faces “the stark reality that she has no case”.
Ms James’s inquiry also partially overlaps with a criminal inquiry by the office of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg into the Trump Organisation’s practices.
The attorney general said the Trump Organisation has “not made anything approaching a complete production of documents for Mr Trump”, including from cabinets holding his files.
Lawyers for the Trump family have argued that Ms James’s subpoenas are an improper means to gather evidence in the civil investigation that could then be used in the criminal inquiry.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Donald Trump jnr and Ivanka Trump, in a statement said Ms James’s filings ignore his clients’ constitutional rights by conducting overlapping inquiries.
In July, the Trump Organisation and its long-time chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty in the criminal inquiry to charges they awarded “off-the-books” benefits to company executives in a 15-year tax fraud.
Many of Ms James’s accusations centre on Donald Trump’s annual “statements of financial condition”, prepared by the Trump Organisation, which give lenders and other counterparties the values and liabilities associated with various assets.
Ms James said she found evidence that Mr Trump was “personally involved” in approving the statements, and used them “in numerous commercial transactions for his own financial benefit”.
She said one statement in June 2015 valued Mr Trump’s building at 40 Wall Street at $735.4 million, tacking on nearly $200 million to its appraised value, and coming a mere eight months after one lender valued the same building at $257 million.
Ms James said Mr Trump inflated the values of the Scotland golf club and Seven Springs estate in part based on assumptions that residential housing could be built there.
She also said Mr Trump in his 2015 and 2016 statements overstated the value of his penthouse apartment, putting it at $327 million by claiming it contained 30,000sq ft and not the 10,996sq ft described in various documents he signed.
Under questioning by her office, Weisselberg conceded that “this amounted to an overstatement of ‘give or take’ $200 million”, Ms James said in a filing.
Last month, Donald Trump sued Ms James in a federal court in Albany, the state capital, to halt her civil inquiry, calling it a means to harass and intimidate a political opponent. – Reuters