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Trump accused of extensive fraud in New York trial

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump has increased his net worth by billions of dollars and routinely misleads banks and others about the value of valuable assets like golf courses, hotels and his Mar -a-Lago, the New York attorney general said Wednesday. in a lawsuit that seeks to permanently disrupt the Republican’s ability to do business in the state.

Attorney General Letitia James dubbed it “The Art of Theft”.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan state court, is the culmination of the Democrat’s three-year civil investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization. Trump’s three oldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, were also named as defendants, along with two longtime company executives.

In its 222 pages, the suit struck at the heart of what made Trump famous, highlighting the image of wealth and opulence he embraced throughout his career – first as a promoter real estate, then as a reality TV host on “The Apprentice”. ” and later as president.

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It details dozens of alleged fraud cases, many of which involve allegations made about the annual financial statements Trump allegedly gave to banks, business associates and financial magazines as proof of his wealth as he sought loans and deals.

For example, according to the lawsuit, Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment — a three-story penthouse filled with gold-plated fixtures — was nearly three times its actual size and valued the property at $327 million. No apartment in New York has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.

Trump applied similar fuzzy calculations to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, according to the lawsuit, valuing the private club and residence at $739 million — more than 10 times a more reasonable estimate of his value. Trump’s figure is based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, but the terms of the deed prohibit this.

“This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of unlawful conduct to inflate his net worth, to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York,” James said at a press conference.

“To say that you have money that you don’t is not the art of the transaction. It’s the art of theft,” she said, referring to the title of Trump’s 1987 memoir, “The Art of the Market.”

James said the investigation also revealed evidence of potential criminal offenses including insurance fraud and bank fraud, but his office was referring those findings to outside authorities for further investigation.

Trump, in a post on his Truth Social platform, denounced the lawsuit as “another witch hunt” and denounced James as “a fraudster who campaigned on a ‘get Trump’ platform.”

Later, in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Trump said his company’s financial information warned banks not to trust the information provided.

“We have a disclaimer on the front,” he said, which warned banks: “‘You are at your own risk.’…”Be careful because it may not is not exact. It may be far.” … “Get your own staff. Use your own evaluators. Use your own lawyers. Don’t count on us.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba said the allegations were “without merit” and that the lawsuit “is not fact-driven or legal–rather, it’s solely focused on advancing the Trump’s political agenda.” Attorney General”.

In the lawsuit, James asked the court to bar Trump and his three oldest children from running a state-based business again.

She is also seeking payment of at least $250 million, which she says is the estimated value of the benefits from the alleged fraud. And she wants Trump and the Trump Organization to not make commercial real estate acquisitions for five years, among other penalties.

James’s trial comes amid an unprecedented whirlwind of legal challenges for a former president, including an FBI probe into Trump’s handling of classified records and investigations into his efforts to nullify the 2020 election.

As James’s trial continues in civil court, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg works with James’ office on a parallel criminal investigation.

Trump raised fears of prosecution in August when he refused to answer questions during a deposition with James, citing more than 400 times his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The chances of a criminal prosecution have been seen as declining in recent months after Bragg allowed a grand jury to dismiss without indictment. However, Bragg again said on Wednesday that the criminal investigation was “active and ongoing.”

A criminal prosecution would have a much heavier burden of proof than a civil prosecution. And in a criminal case, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump intended to break the law, which isn’t necessarily required in a civil case.

“Generally in criminal cases you have to prove intent. In civil cases, mere negligence or willful misrepresentation gives rise to liability,” said Neama Rahmani, a former San Diego federal prosecutor who now practices law at a Los Angeles firm.

The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said it was aware of James’ referral of potential criminal charges, but otherwise declined to comment. The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division said it “does not confirm the existence of any investigations until court documents are made public.”

The Trump Organization is set to go to trial in October in a criminal case alleging it conspired to provide untaxed benefits to senior executives, including its longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who single-handedly took more than 1 $.7 million in extras.

Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty Aug. 18. His plea deal requires him to testify at the company’s trial before beginning a five-month prison sentence. If convicted, the Trump Organization could be fined twice the amount of unpaid taxes.

Weisselberg and another Trump Organization leader, Jeffrey McConney, were also named defendants in James’s trial.

Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Trump’s storage of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, and a special grand jury in Georgia is investigating whether Trump and others attempted to influence state election officials.

All the legal drama is unfolding ahead of November’s midterm elections, where Republicans are trying to take control of one or both houses of Congress.

Meanwhile, Trump laid the groundwork for a possible 2024 run for the presidency and accused President Joe Biden’s administration of targeting him to damage his political chances.

Trump’s earlier refusal to answer questions during testimony could be held against him if a trial ever reaches a jury. In civil cases, courts are permitted to draw negative inferences from these Fifth Amendment pleadings.

“If Trump wanted to argue that an accounting decision was harmless instead of malicious, he might have already passed up the opportunity when he decided to remain silent,” said Will Thomas, assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan.

In a previous clash, James oversaw the shutdown of Trump’s charity for allegedly misusing its assets to resolve business disputes and boost his run for the White House. A judge ordered Trump to pay $2 million to a range of charities to settle the case.

James, who campaigned for the job of Trump’s critic and watchdog, began scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal attorney Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump had exaggerated his wealth on statements. financials provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to secure financing to purchase the Buffalo Bills from the NFL.

Associated Press reporters Bernard Condon, Bobby Caina Calvan and Jill Colvin in New York and Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed to this report.

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