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Trump hit with $354.9 million penalty, 3-year ban in NY civil fraud case

Trump hit with $354.9 million penalty, 3-year ban in NY civil fraud case

Saturday, February 17, 2024, 15:54 GMT+7
Trump hit with $354.9 million penalty, 3-year ban in NY civil fraud case
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Justice Arthur Engoron of the state Supreme Court listen to opening arguments from his lawyer Alina Habba, during the trial of Trump, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, at a Manhattan courthouse, in New York City, October 2, 2023, in this courtroom sketch. Photo: Reuters

NEW YORK -- Donald Trump must pay $354.9 million in penalties for fraudulently overstating his net worth to dupe lenders, a New York judge ruled on Friday, handing the former U.S. president another legal setback in a civil case that imperils his real estate empire.

Justice Arthur Engoron, in a sharply worded decision issued after a contentious three-month trial in Manhattan, also banned Trump, who is running to regain the presidency this year, from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years. Trump's lawyer Alina Habba vowed to appeal.

Engoron canceled his prior ruling from September ordering the "dissolution" of companies that control pillars of Trump's real estate empire, saying on Friday that this was no longer necessary because he is appointing an independent monitor and compliance director to oversee Trump's businesses.

Trump and the other defendants in the case, Engoron wrote in the ruling, "are incapable of admitting the error of their ways."

"Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological," Engoron wrote. "Instead, they adopt a 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' posture that the evidence belies."

The lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Trump and his family businesses of overstating his net worth by as much $3.6 billion a year over a decade to fool bankers into giving him better loan terms. Trump, who faces criminal charges in four other cases, has called the lawsuit a political vendetta by James, a Democrat.

In posts on his social media platform, Trump called Engoron "crooked," James "corrupt," and the case against him "ELECTION INTERFERENCE" and a "WITCH HUNT."

"This 'decision' is a Complete and Total SHAM," Trump wrote. "We cannot let injustice stand."

Engoron, who decided the case without a jury, also barred Trump and his companies named in the suit from applying for loans from any financial institution chartered in New York for three years, which could curtail his ability to obtain credit from major U.S. banks.

The judge said Trump and his companies' past run-ins with the law were part of the reason for the stiff penalties. The Trump Organization was found guilty of criminal tax fraud in 2022. Two other entities Trump ran previously settled allegations of wrongdoing brought by New York state.

Trump's adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, also were defendants in the case. The judge ordered them to pay $4 million apiece. Their lawyer Clifford Robert called the decision a "gross injustice" and said he believes it will be overturned on appeal.

Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud in a separate criminal case, was ordered to pay $1 million and barred for life from managing any New York company's finances.

James said the penalties paid by all defendants totaled more than $450 million, including interest.

"Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating and staggering fraud," James said in a statement. "Because no matter how big, rich or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law."

Presidential race

The judge's decision could deal a major blow to Trump's real estate empire even as the businessman-turned-politician leads by a wide margin in the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

During defiant and meandering trial testimony in November, Trump conceded that some of his property values were inaccurate but insisted banks were obligated to do their own due diligence.

Engoron criticized Trump for his behavior during his testimony - and wrote that the testimony hurt his cause.

"Donald Trump rarely responded to the questions asked, and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial," the judge wrote. "His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility."

Trump could be required to deposit his portion of the full judgment plus interest during an appeal. Trump could also post a smaller amount with collateral and interest by securing a type of loan called an appeal bond. But he may have trouble finding a willing lender after Engoron found he lied to banks about his wealth.

It is unclear how much access to cash Trump has, and estimates of his fortune vary, with Forbes pegging his net worth at $2.6 billion. Trump testified in a deposition last year that he had roughly $400 million in cash.

Trump's stake in the parent of his social media app Truth Social is worth about $4 billion, based on how the shares of a black-check acquisition vehicle with which it has agreed to merge trade. Trump will be allowed to sell shares in the combined company six months after the merger is completed, according to a regulatory filing. U.S. financial regulators greenlighted the deal this week.

While Trump could also sell of parts of his real estate portfolio to satisfy the judgment, it is unclear how much his holdings are worth, and selling them could take time. Trump will not be able to use campaign funds to pay the judgment because the case was not related to his campaign or his conduct as a president or political candidate, according to some legal experts.

In another civil case, a jury last month found that Trump must pay writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defaming her by denying her claim that he raped her decades earlier. Trump has vowed to appeal. Another jury last year ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million in a separate case.

Criminal cases

Trump is under indictment in four criminal cases, including one in New York related to hush money paid to a porn star. The judge overseeing that case on Thursday set a March 25 trial date. Trump has also been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents after leaving office and in Washington and in Georgia for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in those cases.

During the civil fraud case, Trump lashed out in the courtroom on Jan. 11 - the day of closing arguments - against the judge and James while proclaiming his innocence. "You have your own agenda," Trump scolded Engoron, who told Trump's lawyer "control your client." The judge during the trial fined Trump $15,000 for twice violating a gag order against disparaging court staff.

Engoron ruled in September that Trump's financial statements were fraudulent, leaving the focus of the trial on how much Trump should pay in penalties.

Reuters

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